Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do You Have a New Year's Resolution?

I'm working on my print column for this month's book page of the Catholic Post, and since my theme for January is "New Year" and books on things people might have resolutions about, I was searching around for information about the most common New Year's Resolutions.  Wikipedia has a moderately interesting article here, but what I loved was the image from the page (above), of a postcard from the early 1900s.

Now, liturgically speaking, I know that the "New Year" starts on the first Sunday of Advent, so talking about a "New Year's Resolution" from a Catholic perspective, we are actually a few weeks late.  But since culturally here most people do make resolutions starting the calendar year (you know, a new calendar, a fresh start), I thought it would be fun to talk about our new year's resolutions.

With all my writing about New Year's resolutions and books related to it, I actually have not made any official resolutions.  A number of bloggers write about how they choose a word for the year.  You can read an example from last January of how Elizabeth Foss writes about the trend and her word.  I have long been completely terrified of doing this, primarily because of how dramatically different the past five or six years have been in our family's life than my expectation of each year, both for good and for ill.  So I think I will stick with the basic personal New Year's resolutions for now.  I'm pretty goal-oriented, so having specific things in mind (clean out a room, sign up and train for a race), is more appealing to me.

So inspire me.  What is your New Year's Resolution?   What's your word for the new year?  (Note I'm not against other people choosing a word of the year, just "me!")  Do you avoid making resolutions?  Share away!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Behold Conference

Just a quick reminder that there are still a few days for the early registration discount to the 2nd annual Behold Conference:  A Conference on the Dignity and Vocation of Women being held here in the Peoria Diocese.

I just want to say how terrific last year's conference was, and how excited I am personally to attend and get to benefit from the fellowship of other women, the speakers, the opportunity for Mass and adoration--I could go on and on but know that it is a worthwhile event, almost like a mini-retreat.

I am particular excited to get to hear the excellent blogger Jen Fulwiler, who has an amazing story of journeying from atheism to Catholicism, essentially through blogging.  If you haven't visited her blog, Conversion Diary, please take a moment to do so; there's always lots of food for thought there.

You can register for the conference by visiting the Behold webiste here.  I hope to see local friends and new friends there!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Q&A with Nancy Carabio Belanger, author of "Olivia's Gift"

We have an unusual Q&A with children's author Nancy Carabio Belanger, in that the questions all come from girls!  

The questions in the following Q&A come from a few girls from the Girls Book Group that my daughters and I host monthly at our house.  Last September, Nancy was kind enough to do a phone call “visit” with our book group and answer some questions about her first novel, Olivia and the Little Way.  Since then, the sequel, Olivia’s Gift has been released, and my two daughters have read it (and I recommended it highly in my December book column).  Other girls from the book group, (who have not had the chance to read it yet, but I’m sure are requesting it for Christmas!),  also had the chance to ask general questions.  Thanks, Nancy, for agreeing to this non-traditional Q&A, and thank you for writing two such great books for young readers.

We're going to have a giveaway of "Olivia's Gift," and you can enter by commenting either on this post or a giveaway-specific post in future days.  Check back for that!


How long have you been a writer?  

I’ve been writing ever since I was a little girl.  I loved to create stories in notebooks and I had a favorite pen that I used.  I wish I still had that pen!

Have you always loved St. Therese?  

St. Therese nudged me to get to know her several years ago.  I read her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” and I couldn’t put it down.  I loved it so much that I picked it up and read it all over again!  From then on, I have always felt her presence.

What gave you the idea in Olivia’s Gift for Olivia’s family to go to the beach?  

A few years ago, my family and I took a trip to Virginia Beach.  It was our first time there and we loved it so much.  I especially loved driving there through the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains.

Why did you write about “boy trouble” in this book?

Ah, because most everyone in middle school can relate to having boy trouble!

Did any of the things in either book happen to you? 

Grandma Rosemary’s story is loosely based on my own grandma’s life living in a small town in Ohio.  Certainly the drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and some of the struggles, thoughts and prayers of Olivia’s are mine.  I like to cook, just like Olivia.

Who is your favorite character in the book?  

I can’t really say I have a favorite one, but I had so much fun writing Grandma Rosemary’s character, especially in Olivia’s Gift.  I really enjoyed writing some of her no-nonsense dialogue! 

What are some of your other favorite saints other than St. Therese? 

I love Our Lady, of course, and St. Michael, St. John Bosco, Blessed Pier Giorgio, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, Blessed. Mother Teresa, St. Philomena, and even though he is not a saint yet, I have become very attached to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Are there any more books about Olivia in the works?  

If  God wills it, there will be!  Right now I am working on a book about a troubled boy about Olivia’s age, and his struggles with good and evil.  I am very excited about it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

December Book Giveaway # 3: Looking for the King by David Downing

Our third book giveaway I know will be popular with the many C.S. Lewis,  fans out there.  It is Looking for the King:  An Inklings Novel, and C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein are characters in this WW II -era mystery.  The website for this book  has a wonderful "trailer" for the novel that will make you want to read it, I promise.

My interview with author David Downing can be read here, and you can comment on that interview or this post to enter the drawing to receive a copy of Looking for the King, courtesy of Ignatius Press.  The giveaway will run until this Thursday, December 16.  On Friday, I'll pick a winner for Looking for the King.

Finally, don't forget you have the rest of today to enter the giveaway for The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton.   You can enter that by commenting here or here.

Happy reading and good luck to all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Once a King or Queen in Narnia, Always a King or Queen

It's great to be back in Narnia.

You can see it in the faces of Lucy and Edmund as they enter Narnia in the latest movie version of the "Chronicles of Narnia" series,  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and our family joined that sentiment when we saw the movie on opening day.  

I didn't discover C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia until I was my 20s, but I've been hooked ever since.  And I have always been determined that our children grow up as kings and queens of Narnia.  I want them to have the ability to return to Narnia whenever they like, and to have the Narnia stories inform their life and their imagination.

I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia to my oldest  (now a teenager!) when she was not quite four years old.  I thought she might be a little young for it, but when I read that they were making the movie (the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, eventually released in 2005), I wanted to be sure that her Narnian imagination was first her own.  Even though we are all readers in our house, we still read the Narnia books aloud from time to time.  I finished just a week ago reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to my youngest, with the rest listening in when they wanted.

So you are probably not surprised to hear that the release of "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" Friday was marked on our family calendar for many, many months.   And after seeing it once,  I'm plotting how we can get back to it at least once or twice over the Christmas break--this from a family that rarely sees films in the theater.  It's that great.

As a mom, I had good reason to be nervous ahead of time.  The last in the series, "Prince Caspian," deviated so much from the novel, that I can't even begin to critique it (here's a beginning: dark & violent).    But I had high hopes for "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:" 

*First, Michael Apted was picked to be the director of this--I admire his work highly, from his well-done Amazing Grace, to the amazing Up series, which follows a group of English children from 7 years on up, easily one of the finest documentary film series ever.   My sense is he tends to be respectful of his subject, and would respect the Narnia setting and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.    He did, and more.

*Second, I expected it to be not too violent, because the book itself is just a great sea story, with adventure after adventure.  Check here as well--no extra violence or gore here, though the sea-serpent scene went on far too long.

*Third, I expected the great themes of Dawn Treader to be here: transformation of the characters, especially Eustance; Reepicheep's single-minded yearning for Aslan and his country; all the characters seeking adventure and the fate of the seven lords.  They were, and even more.   Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund when he confirms they will not be returning to Narnia, "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."  The fact that that line made it into the movie unchanged is itself amazing and beautiful.

Still, the film not perfect, partially because of some of the changes, but primarily because of its (lack of) length--it's only 1 hour and 52 minutes.   After thinking it over for a day or so, I realize the shortness of the film is the chief problem.  It's just not enough time to cover even some of the great moments in this classic novel.

For comparison, I'm thinking of how much less satisfying the 2005 film version of Pride & Prejudice was than the British miniseries version from 1995 (you know, the one with Colin Firth, not that he's why I watch it--it's purely my literary devotion to Jane Austen, wink).   And yet, by itself, the 2005 version is a good movie and very enjoyable to watch, just not enough.   When you go back and read the Pride & Prejudice, or see the 1995 miniseries, you see the bigger picture and so many great moments that the shorter version leaves out.

It's the same with "Dawn Treader."  How could they leave  out Ramandu and his daughter singing the sunrise? or Lord Bern and Caspian taking back the Lone Islands from Gumpas? or Lucy seeing, in the magic book, her friends talk about her?  And so on.   If there were only a five or six-hour version of Dawn Treader, that would make us Narnia superfans happy.

Some random thoughts:
*Per the reviews, and our own family preference, we saw it in 2D.  3D is vastly overrated--we saw the tremendous Toy Story 3 last summer in 3D and it was just annoying to have to wear glasses on top of our glasses.

*Thank you, whoever made that movie decision, for getting rid of the fakey-Spanish accent of Prince Caspian.

*Am I the only one who thinks Georgie Henley, the actress who plays Lucy, is much more beautiful than the actress who plays Susan?   Still, the scenes of Lucy's temptation to be as beautiful as Susan were powerful, and an interesting way to handle that element.

*The addition of the evil green mist and the Dark Island being the point of the quest were not at all in the novel, but work so well they could have easily been in the novel.  A good Narnian touch.

*Will Poulter, the actor who plays Eustace, is PERFECT.  I cannot wait to see him in "The Silver Chair," and hope the casting for Jill Pole is just as wonderful.

*Reepicheep, thank GOODNESS, is much less "cheeky" than in the movie "Prince Caspian."  His nobility and purity of spirit is much more evident here, from how he takes Eustace under his wing, to how he boldly travels to Aslan's country.  It's hard to pick favorite moments from the novel, but probably one of the best is when Reep leaves the Narnians to ride in his little coracle to Aslan's country:  "Then he took off his sword, (‘I shall need it no more,’ he said) and flung it away across the lilied sea. ...Then he bade them good-bye, trying to be sad for their sakes; but he was quivering with happiness."     The movie scene is not quite as powerful, but still well done.

Did you see "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"?  If you haven't, I highly recommend it.  If you did, what do you think of it?

Q&A with David Downing, author of "Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel"

I was delighted to get the opportunity to interview David Downing, as his new novel, Looking for the King is one of my book recommendations in my Catholic Post column this month.  For any fans of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Arthurian Legend, this book is intriguing and a fun read.

(For some reason, Blogger is only sporadically allowing me to upload photos lately, so I don't have a photo of the author.   You can see one here.)

We're having a book giveaway of this novel, thanks the generosity of publisher Ignatius Press.  You can enter by commenting on this post, or by leaving a comment on tomorrow's giveaway-specific post.  Don't forget you still have one more day to enter the giveaway for The Father Brown Reader II.

Q.  I really enjoyed the book and the characters.   How did you get the idea for the novel, and including the “Inklings” authors as characters?

My wife and I visited Somerset and Cornwall in 2005, and we were fascinated by all the Arthurian sites, the stories that Joseph of Arimathea came to England, perhaps bringing with him the Holy Grail and the Spear of Longinus. Around Glastonbury, one meets people who talk about "Old Joe" or "Big Joe" as if they just spoken with Joseph of Arimathea in a pub last week!

The following year I read Matthew Pearl's literary detective novel THE DANTE CLUB, in which a circle of American poets and scholars (Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell) help the local police solve a series of Dante-esque murders occurring in 19th century Boston. I enjoyed the unusual combination of mystery and literary biography, and I thought the Inklings would make an even livelier group to help some young adventurers on their elusive quest.

Q.  Is this your first work of fiction?  Can you tell me about your other books?

I have published short fiction before, but this is my first novel. Most of my other books are about C. S. Lewis:
  • PLANETS IN PERIL: A CRITICAL STUDY OF C. S. LEWIS'S RANSOM TRILOGY (University of Massachusetts Press, 1992)
Just to keep from getting into too much of a rut, I have also written a book on misconceptions and misquotations concerning the Bible (WHAT YOU KNOW MIGHT NOT BE SO) and a book on the Civil War (A SOUTH DIVIDED).

Q.  What is your favorite of the three “Inklings” in this book & why?

I am going to have to beg off this question; I’m afraid it is a little like asking parents which one is their favorite child!

I will say that what I admire most about Tolkien is his epic imagination, as well as his equal devotion to work and to family, as he was very much involved in raising his three sons and daughter.

What I admire about Lewis is his versatility—not just his classic Narnia stories, but also his renowned literary scholarship, his Christian apologetics, science fiction, and even poetry. Yet in Lewis all these diverse literary interests and talents are united in service to his Christian faith and values.

 For Williams, I am impressed by his intellectual energy and earnestness, his ability to combine intellect with Spirit, so much so that some of his friends considered him to be almost a living saint. Lewis said that Williams looked something like a monkey when you first met him; but when he began speaking, his face radiated so much joy and love, you felt as if you were listening to an angel.

Q.  I’ve only recently learned about author Charles Williams (when our family made a trip to the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College).  What would you recommend for the first thing to read by this author?

Williams was a prolific writer, producing nearly a book a year—novels, plays, poem cycles, histories, biographies, and books on theology. I think he is most remembered for his “supernatural thrillers,” novels in which characters come to learn that their everyday world is surrounded by a whole other dimension—what Williams like to call the “Arch-natural” world. Williams’ two best novels, or at least the easiest to understand, are probably War in Heaven (1930) and  Descent into Hell (1937). Personally, my two favorite books of his are his short introductions to Christian theology and church history: He Came Down from Heaven (1938) and The Descent of the Dove (1939).

Q.  What is your favorite work of the other two authors, and why? (C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien)

This question is easier to answer for Tolkien. His great masterpiece is his epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. I don’t think any of his other works compare to the project to which he devoted almost twenty years of his life. I think Tolkien’s most under-read and under-rated story is “Leaf by Niggle,” a charming self-portrait with allegorical overtones that suggests most directly Tolkien’s devotion to his Catholic faith.

For Lewis, I’m afraid I am going to have to “plead the Fifth.” He was such a gifted and versatile writer that asking me to pick out one favorite is like asking me whether I prefer chocolate or springtime. How does one compare?

I would once again like to nominate a book as under-rated and under-read, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. This was the last book Lewis wrote before his death, and so it is his “last word” on many of the topics he touched upon so often in his writings—grief and hope, faith and doubt, and, above all, love.  The book also explores the role of prayer in shaping our lives in this world and preparing us for the next.

Q.  What do you think of the movies made of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and currently the Chronicles of Narnia series? (with the newest one, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, due out this Friday)

I was skeptical about both projects, as earlier attempts to adapt Tolkien and Lewis for films and television have been consistently disappointing. But I was pleasantly surprised by Peter’s Jackson’s LOTR trilogy. He has an amazing knack for casting characters and portraying scenes as if they are projections from our own imaginations as we read The Lord of the Rings.

So far I have enjoyed the Narnia films, but I don’t think they have become classics in their own right, apart from the books that inspired them, the way Peter Jackson’s movies have. But I have faith in Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, as guardian of Lewis’s literary legacy.  So I am hoping that the Narnia films will just keep getting better and better.

Q.  Do you plan a sequel or another “Inklings” novel of any kind?

Yes, I am already at work on a sequel. If you look at the end of LOOKING OF THE KING, you will notice that Tom McCord thinks he might be returning to England in uniform. And Laura Hartman wishes she could enroll in one of the women's colleges at Oxford. So, yes, I believe Tom and Laura will be reunited in a sequel, facing new dangers and again needing to call upon Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams for assistance!

I just discovered recently that female students were sometimes allowed to attend Thursday evening Inklings meetings to hear Tolkien read his unfolding Lord of the Rings epic. I am very optimistic that Laura will be granted that privilege!

Q.  Anything else you would like to add?

I just wanted to mention the novel website,, which goes into more depth about the Inklings. It also includes a video trailer about the novel which is a work of art in itself!

There is a Facebook page, Looking for the King, with more articles and features about Lewis, Tolkien, and their friends. This site will also provide a forum for me to interact

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Catholic Post December Column--Gift Book Suggestions for Grown-Ups

As I wrote in my column about books for young readers, books really do make thoughtful and lasting gifts at Christmastime.   With the variety of Catholic books on abundant topics available at Catholic booksellers, it’s easy to find something for everyone.

As a starting point, here are just a few recommendations of some recent releases that would make great gifts for the friends in your life:

*What does it mean to be a friend, to have a friend?  What is spiritual friendship?  Walking Together:  Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship by Mary DeTurris Poust, explores this topic in a worthwhile mix of history, personal memoir and reflection on the nature of spiritual friendship.   

My favorite chapter is “Kindred Spirits:  Friendships Come in All Forms” about friendships within the family. Poust shares her poignant experience of the deep friendship she shared with her mother, who died when her daughter was a young adult.  The ways family members, from spouses to siblings, can be friends to each other, is explored deeply and well here.

I so enjoyed learning more about the spiritual friendship from the famous—St. Francis de Sales & St. Jane Frances de Chantal—to the brotherly—Pope Benedict XVI and his brother, a German priest, and many others. 

At the end of each chapter, there are reflection questions—good for discussion or just personal reflection—and a meditation on the chapter’s themes.

What I like best about Walking Together is that it shows how our closest, deepest friendships are meant to bring us closer together and closer to God, and practical ways to make this happen in our friendships.

*In Travelers Along the Way:  The Men and Women Who Shaped My Life by Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, writes about many of his different spiritual friends.  This book is like a “who’s who” of Catholicism, from mini-biographies of saints and blessed, the famous and the obscure, in fascinating color.  Each chapter is a little gem of anecdotes and memories of the particular fellow “traveler,” from Cardinal Cooke to Groeschel’s secretary.

The prolific Fr. Groeschel is easy to read (in the best sense of the word); he’s such an excellent writer that he makes it look easy to write in a conversational, relational style.  Travelers Along the Way puts that great style to good use, as you can easily pick up and read one “traveler’s” story.

It’s hard to select favorites from the dozens of “travelers”, but I especially enjoyed the laugh-out-loud chapter on his fellow friar Fr. Innocent; and the touching story of Groeschel’s long friendship with Mother Teresa.

Groeschel writes, “Part of the reason for writing this book was to suggest, dear reader, that you spend some time examining your own journey and recalling the fellow travelers you have encountered along the road of life.  I believe it can be very profitable to meditate on how their presence has changed you and, perhaps, brought you a little closer to God.”

*For the fiction reader on your list, a great new novel with wide appeal is Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel by C.S. Lewis expert David C. Downing. 

I was delighted by this novel , in which C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams are characters in WW II era England who help the two engaging protagonists “solve” a mystery about Arthurian legend. Downing expertly weaves actual quotes from the English writers into the dialogue; I say expertly because I didn’t know that fact until after I finished the novel—the dialogue is very natural & the adventure fast-paced. 

There’s also a very cool website to go with the book:

*Heart Sounds by Janice Steinhagen and John Howland, M.D., (a regional director of the Catholic Medical Association) presents first-person accounts of 12 doctors.  Each professional—from a second-year medical student to decades-practicing doctors -- tells the story of his or her vocation to health care, intertwined with a spiritual journey of faith.  Heart Sounds is wonderful, edifying reading that would be of interest to many in the health care field or curious about it.

*St. Francis famously created the Christmas tradition of a crèche, and Franciscan Christmas, by Kathleen M. Carroll, is a very—I don’t know another way to say it--Franciscan reflection on this spiritual tradition.  This small and beautifully sized volume is organized as one chapter for each element in a Nativity set—Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and so on.  Throughout are interwoven stories and thoughts from St. Francis’ life, Scripture and Carroll’s own colorful life.  This book would make a great gift for Christmastime reading, especially for those with love their Fontanini set or who collect crèche sets.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Catholic Post December Column--Gift Book Suggestions for Young Readers

Did I ever tell you about the Christmas when I was 9 years old and I didn’t get the game “Operation”? 

My neighbor and schoolmate Liz did get “Operation.”  Let me here confess the envy that I felt seeing it on her dining room table amidst all the Christmas wrapping paper. 

The envy lasted about five minutes while we played it together, and then it was abandoned to play “Little House on the Prairie” in her backyard.  I don’t remember ever playing or desiring “Operation” again.  (Though sometimes, when I’m in the toy aisle, I gaze wistfully at it.)

I learned a valuable lesson that day:  some whiz-bang toys that seem cool truly do pale in comparison to a good story. (As an adult, I also realize how wise my parents were—I was the fifth of six children, so they were pretty smart by me—that glitzy toys are not pure gold).

Don’t get me wrong.  We have plenty of electronics at our house.  We like using them, from fighting over who gets to play “Angry Birds”  on the iPad to marathon games of hula hoop or “Sports Resort” on the Wii.

But there is nothing like carving out some time, especially in these colder months, for enjoying and sharing good books.    I propose the giving of engaging and soul-filling books, as gifts this Christmas season.

At our house, we have a newer tradition of giving books on St. Nicholas Day, so there is plenty of time throughout Advent and the Christmas season for reading.  Even with a book-loving mom & dad, I notice our kids sometimes might seem –underwhelmed. 

But as the gifts stays out on the coffee table, every well-selected book eventually gets devoured and shared with siblings and friends, gets talked about at the dinner table, and becomes part of our family life.

With so many great, well-produced and well-written books out there for youth, you’re sure to find something new for every young person on your list.

Graphic Novels & Comic Books

It surprises me that graphic novels have become one of my favorite book genres, but there’s so many good publishers out there with myriad themes (who knew dental issues could be such an engaging topic for a YA graphic novel, as it is in Raina Telgemeier’s Smile?), that I’m a convert.

Several Catholic publishers have entered the market with graphic/comic book style that match or exceed the quality of the best out there.  These are particularly good for reluctant readers, but enjoyable for everyone:

*The Adventures of Loupio is the graphic novel The Adventures of Lupio, Volume 1 (in the Ignatius Press/Magnificat series).  Lupio tells the story of an orphan troubadour who learns from St. Francis about courage

*The Daughters of St. Paul have published two new graphic novels of saints’ lives:  Saint Joan of Arc:  Quest for Peace and Saint Bernadette:  The Miracle of Lourdes, both by Brunor and Dominique Bar.  I can’t write more about how good they are because my children have absconded with them and won’t give them back.  Enough said.

*For younger readers, Ignatius/Magnficat’s The Illustrated Gospel is--that’s right--a graphic novel of key gospel stories.  I know some may startle at that idea, but it is fantastic and reverent.   What a great way to introduce younger children (and older children, too) who’ve graduated from the board book Bibles to the Gospel message in a fresh and engaging format.

*Bernadette:  The Little Girl from Lourdes and John Mary Vianney:  The Holy Cure of Ars, both by Sophie Maravel-Hutin, are not exactly graphic novels, but they are advanced picture books illustrated in a more modern way, so I’ve kept them in this category.  Nicely done stories for a younger set and those new to reading.

Newer Fiction:

*For girls, Olivia’s Gift by Nancy Carabio Belanger follows Olivia in her summer before 7th grade, navigating friends, family and trying (and not always succeeding) to live out St. Therese’s “Little Way.”  There’s a very powerful, but sensitively handled, pro-life theme here. The book is a sequel to the wonderful Olivia and the Little Way, that chronicles Olivia’s fifth grade year and her ups & downs.  The books can be read independently of each other, but most girls will want to read both once they’ve read one.

*For mystery fans, The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton is now out, much to the delight of young Chesterton fans everywhere (even those who don’t know they are yet Chesterton fans!).  Several years back, author and Chesterton scholar Nancy Carpentier Brown adapted several of GK Chesterton’s “Father Brown” mysteries for children, keeping the heart of the language and plot.   This “sequel” wonderfully continues the tradition, with witty illustrations from Ted Schluederfritz.

*For older tween and teenage readers,Alex O'Donnell and the 40 CyberThieves, Regina Doman’s latest offering.  I can’t think more highly of a teen/tween series than Doman’s Fairy Tale novels.  For older tweens and teenagers, it’s a great way to explore relationships, dating, and the Catholic faith through adventurous, well-paced fictional retellings of fairy tales.  If your teen loves the Twilight series, offer these as a much more well-written and just plain more fun alternative.   My favorite is the first of all, The Shadow of the Bear, but Alex O’Donnell and the 40 Cyber Thieves, the newest in the series, is great good fun and would be of special interest to guys (or girls) interested in all things IT.

For the littlest ones:

*Who’s Hiding? A Christmas lift-the flap Book by Vicki Howie.  Lift-the-flap books are staples in the younger set, for good reason.  This is a sweet Christmastime one that is delightful.  I especially like the folk-art illustrations from Hungarian artist Krisztina Kallai Nagy. 

Ignatius has teamed with Magnificat to produce a great crop of children’s books (including many of the graphic novels listed above) for all ages: 

*Three board books, My First Prayers for My Family, My First Prayers for Christmas, and The Bible for Little Ones, are illustrated in the same lovely style familiar to readers of “Magnifikid,”  Magnificat’s children’s counterpart.

*The Bible for Little Ones is a well-produced and illustrated Bible picture book for little ones, with hard pages and rounded corners for little ones.

Coming tomorrow:  books for grown-ups.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December Book Giveaway # 2: The Father Brown Reader II--More Stories from Chesterton

Our second December giveaway here at the Catholic Post Book Group is a copy of  The Father Brown Reader II:  More Stories from Chesterton, by Nancy Carpentier Brown.  You can read my interview with Nancy here, and enter the giveaway to receive this book here or on that Q&A Post by Monday, December 13 (I have fixed the confusing language in the last one).  On Tuesday I will pick a winner.  Let me clarify that you can enter all the giveaways this month, so you can also enter to win a copy of Newman 101 at the first book giveaway post, until this Friday.  Good luck!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Q&A with Nancy Brown, author of "The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton"

Here's my interview with one of my favorite authors and a dear friend, Nancy Carpentier Brown.  I hope you enjoy this interview, and that you will consider entering the book giveaway of her newest, The Father Brown Reader II.   That giveaway will begin running through Monday, so be sure to enter.   You can enter one of two ways:  by leaving a comment either on this post or a giveaway-specific post tomorrow.  The deadline for this is Monday, December 13.  On Tuesday, I'll select a winner.   It's a great book and would make a great Christmas gift!

Tell me a little about your books and your most recent one, The Father Brown Reader II.

My books have all been to some degree or another about Chesterton, because I happen to love British author G. K. Chesterton.

My first adaptations of Father Brown stories for children were four mysteries that did not involved murder. The Blue Cross is Chesterton’s most famous Father Brown story, involving the stealing of a valuable jewel-encrusted cross. The Flying Stars is again about a jewel heist. The Strange Feet is about stealing some very interesting and valuable silver forks and knives, and the last story is The Absence of Mr. Glass, in which a person appears to be missing. The first book was so widely loved I got fan mail begging me to write more. The publisher was also overwhelmed with requests for another adaptation. And that is how this second collection came to be. Although this time, murders are included because Chesterton’s stories are mainly murder mysteries.

I’ve written two study guides to Chesterton books, which help readers delve more deeply into The Blue Cross and his biography of St. Francis of Assisi.

I’ve also written a highly controversial book titled The Mystery of Harry Potter: A Catholic Family Guide. I managed to introduce each chapter of that book with a quote from Chesterton.

What gave you the idea to adapt stories from GK Chesterton for young readers?

This particular book is an outcome of my desire to introduce, first of all, my own children to an author that I love. When I realized how difficult it was for young people to read the original Father Brown stories, I wanted to do something about it. I was in the library perusing in the children’s section and I came across a children’s adaptation of four Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I became very excited, and wanted to know if something like that had been done for Father Brown. When I discovered that no one had yet adapted them for children, I took it upon myself to do the work.

In this second adaptation, the four stories are The Invisible Man, where two men are involved in a jealous rivalry, The Mirror of the Magistrate, where a man is mistaken for another in a mirror, The Eye of Apollo, where a young lady is fooled into following a pagan god, and The Perishing of the Pendragons, where an old legend foretells the fortune of a sailor.

You made it look easy to adapt Chesterton with still keeping his essential language.  Was that hard to do?

Yes, it is quite difficult to make an effective adaptation, and I must give credit where it is due. Rose Decaen and Margot Davidson helped me tremendously with editing the text. Many discussions flew back and forth over which language to retain, and which to adapt. The easiest thing to retain is the dialog, which is pretty straightforward. But there was a lot of description and British slang and references to persons unknown to us today that could be removed without changing the essential story. It was definitely a collaborative effort. But we are often complimented on our faithfulness to the original, so I believe we’ve done well.

Why do you think it is important to introduce young readers to GK Chesterton?

My belief is that everyone today needs Chesterton. There is very little thinking for one’s self going on, despite the cultural plea to “think outside the box” and be “open minded.”  Hollywood and Big Media conspire to do our thinking for us and so what they often mean is “think over here inside my box” and “be open-minded to my ideas.”  Chesterton teaches us first of all how to think. Then he teaches us how to be truly open-minded; then how to clamp down on the ideas that are right.

I often wish I would have known about Chesterton earlier in my life; I believe he would have helped me in many situations where clear thinking was needed. In debates about religious beliefs, political beliefs, in family conversations with people who only listen to sound bites and spout them as if that’s thinking for oneself, Chesterton would have helped. These situations crop up regularly and one needs right thinking—the kind of thinking Chesterton helps one to do.

I don’t believe all children will “get” Chesterton. However, if they have a pleasant first experience with Chesterton, such as enjoying the Father Brown mysteries at a young age, I believe that lays the groundwork for reading Chesterton later on.

For grown-ups or older kids who might be interested in Chesterton after reading your book, what would you recommend as a good introduction to a full Chesterton work?

The best first book is American Chesterton Society President Dale Ahlquist’s Apostle of Common Sense. I think the best first novel is The Man Who Was Thursday; a book I often suspect is more relevant today than when Chesterton wrote it 100 years ago. I also love The Ball and the Cross, but you have to be persistent and get past the first chapter to get into it. If you love St. Francis, his biography is wonderful. If you love social issues, What’s Wrong With the World? is great.

Any new projects or books in the works?

I am currently working on a biography of Chesterton’s wife Frances. She was the woman behind the man, and although she’s been in the background, I believe I can bring her into the spotlight a little. She was an author, speaker, playwright and poet, although few know much about her. She was her husband’s rock; they relied heavily on each other for emotional and physical support.

She’s intrigued me ever since I first read about her, because as the wife of an artistic genius myself, I knew that she had to have played an important role in their partnership as a married couple, as well as an important role as a business partner for his writing business. I’ve been researching her for years and it seems like a book is the natural outcome of all this research. I’ve got an editor and a publisher, so all that’s needed now is the time to write.

Anything else you would like to add?

Read Chesterton!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December Book Giveaway # 1: Newman 101

A number of publishers have graciously given copies of their books for giveaways this month on the blog.

So all this month, as we discuss good books for gifts, the Catholic Post Book Group will be running some book giveaways!

Blog giveaways are a great way to "be lucky."  The odds are much better than most contests and giveaways, and there's no cost involved.  I'm surprised at the few things that I have won through blog giveaways--books, mostly (surprise!) though all sorts of things are given away on blogs and websites.   I highly encourage you to enter yourself and let others know about the giveaways.

To enter each giveaway, you should comment on the post before the deadline.   Deadline for this giveaway is this Friday, December 10.   On Saturday, I'll draw a winner.

Our first giveaway is a copy of Newman 101: An Introduction to the Life and Philosophy of John Cardinal Newman by Father Roderick Strange.  This book was the September selection for the Catholic Post Book Group,  and the book itself is, indeed a great introduction to the newly canonized British writer.  Thanks to Ave Maria Press for providing the book for this giveaway.

Good luck!