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.


  1. Thanks for the suggestions. I am always looking for new ideas.

  2. These look great, thanks for this Nancy!