Good Catholic books for kids

October 2, 2015

Not only am I a busy father, but I am also a busy godfather.  It is sometimes hard for me to keep track of all my godchildren, but I am pretty sure I could field a baseball team by now.  Our team would probably be called the Discalced Crusaders, or something similar.

(Incidentally, I have a hard time thinking of a good way of incorporating Catholicism into the name of a baseball team.  Think of baseball words: ball, bat, base, diamond, catch, pop, run, out, strike.  I can’t think of a way to pun on any of them in a religious sense.  When I was on the physics department’s baseball team we were called the Magnetic Fielders; I wish I could think of something with that kind of wit.  This might explain why baseball is not popular in predominantly Catholic countries.)

Anyway, one of the pleasures of being a godfather is that I get to give gifts to my godchildren from time to time, when the fancy strikes me, and I am fond of giving books.  The trouble is that when I go to my local Catholic bookstore and peruse the books for kids and young adults (my godchildren range in age from 4 to 21) I can’t help noticing something: there’s a lot of crap.

So I am looking for recommendations of good Catholic books for kids and teenagers. (I don’t have as much trouble with adults.) Suggestions are most welcome.

Let me mention a few of my own favourite books of this kind:

cooney-jugglerThe Little Juggler was adapted by Barbara Cooney from a French legend, and was first published in 1961. It tells the story of a young boy in medieval Europe who wants to serve God but only knows how to juggle. The story has been adapted, with some differences, by others (such as in Tomie dePaola’s The Clown of God), but this one is the best. The illustrations are wonderful, and the text is elegant and moving.

hodges-christopherMargaret Hodges has adapted a few classic tales about saints for children, and I really like her Legend of St Christopher. The story, which comes from The Golden Legend, tells the story of a strong man who wants to serve the world’s most powerful king. He first serves in the court of a great ruler, then he serves the devil, and finally he serves Christ. The illustrations are superb; they were done by Richard Jesse Watson.

gubbio-bedardThere are shelves of books about St Francis, but my favourite (of those I have seen) is The Wolf of Gubbio by Michael Bedard, with illustrations by Murray Kimber. It tells the story of how Francis tamed the wolf of Gubbio. Once again, the illustations are a big part of the draw here; they are fantastic.

One begins to discern the limits of my knowledge: these are all picture books suitable for young children. They are all narrative and quasi-legendary, rather than Biblical or catechetical. I’m not saying that’s a problem, but it is a limitation.

I’d be grateful for recommendations of other good books for Catholic children.

7 Responses to “Good Catholic books for kids”

  1. Doug Says:

    If you can find it, Hodges’ book on St. Jerome and the Lion is even better than her book on St. Christopher.

  2. cburrell Says:

    I haven’t seen that one, Doug; thanks for the suggestion. I’ve just requested it from our local library.

  3. Doug Says:

    Before I forget, The Monk Who Grew Prayer and most Tomie dePaola books are great, too. dePaola tends to research local legends and has several native American legend retellings as well as Catholic books on saints and Jesus miracles. I personally prefer dePaola’s Christopher the Holy Giant to Hodge’s telling, not to diminish her wonderful work. dePaola’s the Clown of God and the Night of Las Posadas are a couple other good ones. I thought I would be able to offer more suggestions, but unfortunately, most of my kids books are packed away at the moment, and my old man memory is failing me. Simcha Fisher has had several book reviews for Catholic children’s books, if you can dig anything up in her blog archives.

  4. cburrell Says:

    Thanks for those suggestions, Doug. I’ll look at Simcha’s blog; my wife is a devotee.

    I’ve read a number of dePaola’s books, but I find I don’t greatly care for them. It is mostly his style of illustration that I dislike. However, I have not seen all of the titles you mention; I’ll check whether my library has them.

    Thanks again!

  5. Anne-Marie Says:

    For younger kids, Maite Roche has illustrated lots of books on Biblical and catechetical topics.
    “I Believe” is the text of the Nicene Creed, with medieval-style illuminations by Pauline Baynes (of the Narnia books).
    As a child I loved Joan Windham’s books of saint biographies; as an adult I find them rather cutesy.
    Bethlehem Books carry a fair number of chapter books featuring Catholic families. My kids liked the ones about the Mitchell family. Not great literature, but definitely readable.
    Some of my teens enjoyed the Father Brown stories.
    My third-grader loved St Patrick’s Summer by Marigold Hunt.

  6. cburrell Says:

    Thanks very much for those ideas, Anne-Marie. I think all of them are unknown to me, so I’ll have to take a look.


  7. Off topic, but how is it that I never knew that the physics department had a baseball team?

    My kids have a book they like called “can you find saints?”. It’s like a Catholic where’s Waldo, with lots to look for in every picture. No literary merit, but you do learn just a little bit about a lot of different saints, and this one is great for keeping them quiet in the pew at Mass.


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