Recommended Reading

Recommended Reading

Recommended reading for educators

In addition to the reading material available on the ARTICLES INDEX page of EDOCERE, we encourage the reading of the following works:

Education (Papal Teachings)

Monks of Solesmes

A gold mine for everyone involved in education. The analytical index allows us to find very quickly the papal statements on any subject (teachers, curriculum, parents etc…) Besides Divini Illius Magistri of Pius XI, we especially recommend the allocution of Pope Pius XII to students of secondary schools in Rome on March 24, 1957. It is a wonderful exposition of "the organic unity of culture which is achieved when the corpus doctrinae has Christ as its head." In this allocution, Pius XII shows that he knew very well the problems of modern education. He warns the students in these words; "In order to study seriously, you must guard against the belief that the amount of knowledge acquired is the fundamental element on which to build the edifice of your future culture. There is no need to know too many things, but only to learn what is necessary and suitable, and to learn it well, to understand it properly and study it thoroughly and intensely." The pope in another allocution, teaches that a liberal arts education "remains unequalled for the exercise and development of the most valuable qualities of the mind; penetration of judgment, broadmindedness, finesse of analysis and gifts of expression" (September 5, 1957). This book contains invaluable material on all the aspects of Catholic education and must therefore have the place of honor on our shelves. Principals will find in these pages a great source of inspiration for their own formation and the preparation of their teachers’ meetings.

Idea of a University

Cardinal John Henry Newman

This is one of the great classics on the ideal of Catholic education. Cardinal Newman’s book ought to occupy a special place in our library. Even his life is an inspiration to Catholic Teachers. What educators will find most attractive in Newman is, besides his perfect style, the unearthly spirit of its writing. We seem to hear the aged cardinal whispering to us: "we are born for higher things; our home is not of this world. We have not here a lasting city, but seek one to come." Some sections of the book only apply to the university, but most of it deals with the perennial principles of the true philosophy of education. We especially enjoyed the section about elementary studies, where Newman explains how real teaching must be "a discipline in accuracy of mind" in order to cure this "haziness of intellectual vision" which is the malady of all those who do not get a good education. In order to drive home his point, the cardinal gives us the example of an oral examination. Two students are questioned, one illustrating clear thinking, the other the want there-of. This book is enjoyable to read because it is full of wit and wisdom.

The Renewal of the Christian School

Fr. Roger Calmel OP

The author was a Dominican priest who spent a large part of his life being the spiritual advisor to a community of teaching sisters. This book contains some parts which only apply to the education of girls, but most of it deals with general truths which are the basis of all education for both boys and girls: the necessity of putting the minds of students in contact with the reality of things, the unequal dignity of the objects of knowledge (hierarchy between the subjects), the influence of the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas in order to obtain a profoundly Catholic education, the emphasis on the living teacher awakening true culture in a living mind (instead of letting the student memorize the contents of a textbook) etc…… The book was originally written in French. There is no complete translation available but only a "digest" of the substance of what Fr. Calmel has to say about education. All those striving to improve the quality of teaching in our schools would profit from reading this book. Its various chapters could be discussed in teachers’ meetings.

The Art of Learning and Communications: A Handbook of the Liberal Arts

Fr. Benedict Ashley, OP

This is a great book, at the same time speculative and practical. It enables us to see how concretely to integrate the liberal arts in our curriculum, especially at the high school level. This is a large textbook (600 pages) which goes through each of the seven liberal arts, giving not only the theory but also many practical examples. The teacher is viewed as a master craftsman training his students to craft for themselves these products of the mind which are syllogisms, literary compositions or mathematical constructions. Fr. Ashley also has a very interesting treatment of the fine arts and their importance in the Catholic school. He explains the purpose of their works (e.g., music or painting) is "to give us a recreative form of contemplation." Some chapters are a bit difficult to read (especially the ones on modern mathematics) but we do not know of any other book which treats these problems with such thoroughness.

The Catholic Teacher’s Companion

Fr. Felix Kirsch, OFMcap

This book is a treasure for everyone in the school staff. A part from some small items applying only to religious, most of the book can be used by lay teachers. It is at the same time a practical handbook covering such topics as class preparation, how to hold the attention of the pupils, the art of questioning, the teaching of composition etc., and also a book of meditations including such chapters as enthusiasm for teaching, the teacher as an apostle, the teacher’s rewards and virtues of the teacher. This is one of the best books we know on the subject. Father Kirsch has written a very helpful work. As the introduction says, "A good teacher is one who has added to whatever natural personality he may have, the culture and skill that is born of serious professional preparation." The Catholic Teacher’s Companion is an invaluable tool in order to make teachers real professionals, fully prepared for their exalted vocation.

The Image of His Maker:Thomistic Psychology

Fr. Gerald Brennan, OP

A vulgarization of Saint Thomas’s teaching on the human soul. This is a good book to be given to teachers wishing to acquaint themselves with Thomistic psychology. It is not difficult to read and will provide educators with profound insights on how the mind works. The different faculties (intellect, will, imagination) the five senses of the soul, and concupiscible are all covered, following pretty closely the plan of the Summa. Father Brennan does a wonderful job in putting within the grasp of the average reader the powerful wisdom of the Angelic doctor.

The Nature of the Liberal Arts

Fr. John Wise, SJ

If you are interested in the history of education, this is a good book to read. The author studies in succession the liberal arts in Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian, thus providing us with interesting insights into Greek and Roman education. He then covers both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. His next chapters on the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits is very enlightening. There are other very good books on the Jesuit system of education, but one may lack the time to read them. Father Wise gives us here an excellent summary of the main points of the famous Ratio Studiorum. After a chapter on Cardinal Newman, the author explains that the function of the liberal arts is propaedeutic, in other words they prepare one for philosophy and theology. Their immediate goal is mental health and breath of vision through training of the intellect. Some passages of the book demand careful reading because of their difficulty, but on the whole, its contents should be accessible to most teachers. "The nature of the liberal arts" will undoubtedly promote interest in a vitally important subject.

Reason, Religion, Kindness: The Method of Saint John Bosco

Fr. Paul Avallone, SDB

The Method of Saint John Bosco is a good synthesis of Salesian spirituality. Many schools have included in their handbook as exposition of the preventive system of Saint John Bosco. This book provides educators with a clear summary of the Salesian method. It explains the importance of "rapport", i.e., establishing an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual understanding between the teachers and his pupils. It also shows what kind of punishments can be used in the preventive system of education. Father Avallone has succeeded in writing an inspiring little book. It will be very helpful to all those who wish to walk in the footsteps of Saint John Bosco.

Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Josef Pieper

This short essay of the Thomist German philosopher contains some profound insights into modern misconceptions of education. "The tendency to over value hard work and the effort of doing something difficult is so deep rooted that it even infects our notion of love… the essence of knowledge does not consist in the effort for which it calls, but in grasping existing things and in unveiling reality… leisure is a form of silence, a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude". In a world where everyone including teachers is so busy (sometimes trying to cover too much material) and as a consequence so tense, Josef Pieper teaches us to recover this inward calm, this "leisure" which is an essential part of any true education. As he points out, leisure in Greek is skole, where the English "school". "The word used to designate the place where we educate and teach is derived from a word which means "leisure". This small but profound book steeped in Thomistic metaphysics, makes us stop, think and gain an appreciation for one of the essential dispositions for true learning.

The Restoration of Christian Culture

Dr. John Senior

A thought-provoking book with deep insights into the problems of the modern world and how to solve them through a return to the simple things which made Christian culture. Prayer is one of them, "the humble soil, the humus of our common humanity, irrigated by tears of contrition. Works without prayers are dead". John Senior was a great teacher who saw the needs of our students: "When you plant even the best children’s literature in even the brightest young minds, if the soil of those minds has not been richly nurtured by natural experiences, you don’t get the fecund fruit of literature which is imagination, but infertile fantasy. Children need direct everyday experience of fields, forests, streams, grass and ground."

The School Examined: An Essay on the Curriculum

Vincent Smith

One of the best books we ever came across on the philosophy of education. Not an easy book to read since it deals with the Thomistic principles underlying the Catholic curriculum, but anyone who studies it will be rewarded with understanding of how the different branches of knowledge inter relate and finally lead to wisdom. This is a powerful synthesis which helps principlals and teachers to integrate various disciplines into a harmonious whole. Vincent Smith first explains the nature of teaching and the 4 kinds of discourse (scientific, dialectic, rhetorical and poetical). He then covers the 6 disciplines which are perfectly teachable (able to reach the status of scientific knowledge): logic, math, natural sciences, ethics, metaphysics and sacred doctrine (in this order). Much of the book directly concerns the college curriculum, but it also has applications concerning both elementary and secondary school. We highly recommend this book especially to priests since they have the philosophical background which will enable them to master the topics covered by the author.

Various Books by Jean Henri Fabre
The Passionate Observer
Chronicle Books
85 Second Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
800-858-7787 fax
The Life of a Caterpillar
The Life of a Fly
Hunting Wasps
Bramble Bees

Vivisphere Books
2 Neptune Road
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
800-724-1100 tel
Fabre’s Book of Insects
Dover Publications, Inc.
31 E. 2nd Street
Mineola, NY
The Insect World of J. H. Fabre
Jacaranda Wiley Ltd.
33 Park Road, Milton
QLD, 4064

The Elementary School

Sr. M. Corcoran

This is a very helpful book for principals and vice principals. It covers many practical issues on the administration of a school: the role of the principal, his functions, how to distribute his time, how to effectively observe teachers in their classrooms, how to run teachers’ meetings etc… Sister Corcoran was the diocesan supervisor in Youngstown, Ohio and her book is full of excellent advice. It often happens that principals are put into a leadership position without preparation. This book will bring a solution to this problem in showing ways to effectively become the head of a school, especially with regard to teacher guidance and curriculum development. Other books provide inspiration, but this one provides practical information on how to successfully run a school.

Honey for a Child’s Heart

Gladys Hunt

This is a very helpful book for both teachers and parents about children’s literature. Gladys Hunt is not a Catholic bur her work certainly can be used by Catholic educators. (The chapter on Bible reading and the bibliographical section on Christian books should be skipped) Honey for a Child’s Heart is a practical guide to children’s books. It helps you to understand how to give our students a love of reading. It makes you discover the tremendous potential for intellectual, emotional and even spiritual development to be found in good books. The author starts from the principle that "Children don’t stumble onto good books by themselves. They must be introduced to the wonder of words put together…" She then shows how to enjoy books with our students. "As a teacher myself, I knew the delight of taking children into a great adventure with a story. The utter silence of the room, the intent look on the children’s faces. We had been together in the presence of good writing, and we felt bound together by the experiences." The book discusses the different genres, poetry, fantasy, fables, fairy tales, novels etc. Mrs. Hunt’s ideas about children’s literature are quite sound and her book (with the few reservations mentioned above) will be very useful to educators.

The Lost Tools of Learning

Dorothy Sayers

A famous essay advocating the restoration of liberal arts education. Dorothy Sayers focuses our attention on the 3 arts of the medieval trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric. She makes us understand that, at least before university, subjects are secondary. What the teacher wants to impart to the student is a method of learning any subject. In other words, the school’s aim should be the acquisition of the ability to think clearly rather than the absorption of information. Students should learn to develop their imagination, reason correctly and express themselves well, both in speaking and in writing. This small work will help us to reorientate our teaching in the right direction: "What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves (i.e., in giving them the "tools of learning") and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain."

Marva Collins’ Way

Marva Collins

This book shows you the experiences of a gifted teacher confronted with difficult students. Marva Collins’s work shows how even children with learning disabilities can get a classical education. She motivated children and made them want to achieve. That is what the book is about, a teacher teaching. "I liked being around people, working with them and helping them understand things. I had always been fascinated with learning, with the process of discovering something new". Mrs. Collins used to tell her students: "come on, I am not going to leave you alone to become work book idiots. We’re going to do some thinking in here." The book shows how she was teaching: reading out loud to them, getting the students excited about the book, skillfully questioning them about what they had heard, making connections with other things in their mind, thus linking the new knowledge to the old, pacing up and down the aisles etc… she loved children and loved teaching. Once her students realized their potential, her solicitude for their education, they "become addicted to learning and they had the desire to learn forever." Although the author is not a Catholic, her philosophy of education is conformity with Catholic principles. This is a book which is very easy to read and which should inspire our teachers.

Good books for children

This small list is not exhaustive. But it will provide teachers with something to guide students in their choice of books. Most of these books are still in print and are available at your local bookstore. If not, they can easily be ordered at your request. Many of these titles are also found in second hand shops. We hope that this list will be helpful.

Of course, children should also read the lives of the saints. We recommend the Vision series books (Ignatius Press) as well as the Mary Fabian Windeatt series (TAN Books).

  • * — this is a small book with pictures. No need of a review
  • *B* — book recommended for boys
  • *G* — book recommended for girls

Preschool, Kindergarten, 1st 2nd grade

  • Aesop's Fables
  • Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales
  • Peter Pan by James Barrie
  • A Bad Child's Book of Beasts by Hilaire Belloc
  • Fritz and the Beautiful Horses by Jan Brett
  • Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll
  • Chanticleer and the Fox by Barbara Cooney
  • The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm
  • The Big Snow by Berta Hader
  • Just So Stories — Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  • Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • Mother Goose Rhymes
  • Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and others by Beatrix Potter
  • A Child's Garden of Verses by R. L. Stevenson
  • The Huron Carol by Frances Tyrrell
  • The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward
  • The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Primary School 3rd grade

  • The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds*
  • The Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi*
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White1
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder2
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne3

4th grade

  • The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda van Stockum4
  • The Good Master *G* by Kate Seredy5
  • Little Britches *B* by Ralph Moody6
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett7
  • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder8

5th grade

  • The Little Duke by Charlotte M. Yonge9
  • The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli10
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame11
  • The Home Ranch *G* by Ralph Moody12
  • Pegeen *G* by Hilda van Stockum13

6th grade

  • Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska14
  • Men of Iron and Robin Hood by Howard Pyle15
  • Man of the Family *B* by Ralph Moody16
  • Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray17
  • Hans Brinker by Mary Mapes Dodge18

7th grade

  • The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly19
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe20
  • The Outlaws of Ravenhurst by Sr. M. Imelda, S.L.21
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson22
  • Grisly Grisell *G* by Charlotte M. Yonge23

8th grade

  • Shadows on the Rock *G* by Willa Cather24
  • Fabiola by Cardinal Wiseman25
  • The Lances of Lynwood by Charlotte M. Yonge26
  • Tom Playfair or Making a Start by Fr. Francis J. Finn, S.J.27
  • The Fairy of the Snows and others by Fr. Francis J. Finn, S.J.
  • The Secret Garden, The Little Princess and Curdie and others by George McDonald
  • Kidnapped and The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson28
  • Little Women, Little Men and others by Louisa May Alcott
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink
  • The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
  • The Red Keep and others by Allen French
  • King Solomon's Mines by H.R. Haggard
  • Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
  • Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  • The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli29
  • The Song of Swallows by Leo Politi
  • The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  • Heidi and others by Joana Spuri
  • Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Around the World in 80 Days and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • Son of Charlemagne and others by Barbara Willard
  • Swiss Family Robinson by Johaness Wyss
  • Princes by Frances Hodgson Burnett

High School 9 — 12 grade

  • Pride and Prejudice and others by Jane Austen
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
  • The Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc
  • Come Rack, Come Rope, The Kings Achievement, By What Authority, and others by Fr. R.H. Benson
  • The 39 Steps and The Hostages by John Buchan
  • Death Comes to the Archbishop, My Antonia, Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
  • Father Brown’s Stories and The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton
  • Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans by Fenimore Cooper
  • David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Sherlock Holmes, Hound of the Baskervilles and others by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Masterful Monk and others by Fr. Owen Francis Dudley
  • The Count of Montecristo by Alexander Dumas
  • The Writing on the Hearth and others by Cynthia Harnett
  • Maria Chapdelaine by Louis Hemon
  • Kon Tiki and Ra by Thor Heyerdahl
  • Iliad and Odyssey by Homer
  • The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
  • Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes
  • The Mass of Brother Michel by M. Kent
  • Endurance by Alfred Lansing
  • The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London
  • Guns of Navarone and others by Alistair McLean
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • My Friend Flicka and others by Mary O'Hara
  • Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter
  • A Soldier’s Pilgrimage by Ernest Psichari
  • Ivanhoe and Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott
  • Shakespeare
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Master of Ballantrae by R.L. Stevenson
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and others by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Rose Round and others by Meriol Trevor
  • Trianon and Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal
  • The Song at the Scaffold by Gertrud Von le Fort
  • The Virginian by Owen Wister

Series books which may be read

  • Famous Five, Secret Seven and St. Clare’s School by Enid Blyton
  • Chalet School by Elinor Brent-Dyer
  • Billabong by Mary Bruce
  • What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
  • Hardy Boys by Franklin Dixon
  • Black Stallion by Walter Farley
  • Biggles by Captain W.E. Johns
  • Nancy Drew (but not modern ones — check dates) and Dana Girls by Carolyn Keene
  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Little Britches by Ralph Moody
  • Encyclopedia Brown detective series by Donald J. Sobol
  • Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
  • Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • Happy Hollisters by Jerry West
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Series books not to read

  • Animorphs by K.A. Applegate
  • Animal Hospital by Steven Attridge
  • Pony Pals by Jeanne Betascourt
  • Saddle Club by Bonnie Bryant
  • Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell
  • Freshman by Linda Cooney
  • The Gymnasts by Elisabeth Levy
  • Babysitters' Club and Babysitters' Little Sister by Ann Martin
  • Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins and Unicorn Club by Francine Pascal
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (cf. this article, "Harry Potter" for details)
  • Goosebumps by R.L. Stine
  • Penpals by Sharon Wyeth
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
: Barnes and Noble Inc.
Number of pages
: 184
Charlotte’s Web opens the door to a magical world, which a young girl named Fern finds herself a part of. Fern spends her free time with Wilbur the pig whom she loves and the other barn animals who play a large part in the life of Wilbur. Charlotte A. Cavatica, the large grey spider, befriends Wilbur and helps him deal with the shocking news that his life will end as bacon on someone’s plate. Charlotte goes as far as coming up with an interesting plan that only this spider could carry out with the help of Templeton the rat (who never does anything unless there is something in it for himself) to help Wilbur escape death.
Strong points:
      • Charlotte responds to Wilbur’s need for a friend and dedicates herself to saving his life through the ingenious ploy of spinning words in her web.
        "You have been my friend…That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all the trapping and catching flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that."
      • Charlotte is wiser than Wilbur so she cares for him with something that resembles maternal love. She tells Wilbur bedtime stores and sings him lullabies, teaches him manners, tells him to chew his "food thoroughly and eat every bit of it", encourages him when he is down, and builds up his confidence for the day when he must stand on his own four feet without the benefit of her care.
      • Charlotte gives constant thought to how she will fulfill her promise to save Wilbur’s life. "Day after day the spider waited, head-down, for an idea to come to her. …Charlotte was naturally patient". And like a wise teacher Charlotte gives her pupil as much as he can absorb and not more. She guides him to the point when he must take possession of himself and make independent decisions.
This book is especially good for first time readers who have taken the big jump from short stories to a real novel. It is easy reading and the talking animals captivate the young children.
Note: For an in-depth study of the relationship between Charlotte and Wilbur, one can consult with profit Tending the Heart of Virtue by Vigen Guroian, p. 97-102. The analysis of the main points of Charlotte’s Web was taken from this author.
  1. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    : Harper Trophy
    Number of pages
    : 238
    This is the first book of the Little House series which is based on the life of the writer. This first episode is set in the period before the Ingalls family moved to the prairie. This is the place of Laura’s birth and the beginning of her childhood.
    Little House in the Big Woods portrays a little girl with eyes full of wonder and heart full of love for her Ma and Pa and sister Mary. The theme of this book is very clear and simple — caring, sharing and growing up during a time when, even though you are a little girl, you do your part to help your family. The theme is brought out simply in each chapter. Laura and Mary had their "chores" each and every day. They were done — without hesitation or pushing from Ma and Pa — completely and thoroughly; then and only then would Laura play.
    Little House in the Big Woods is one adventure after another in Laura’s life. It is a book of vivid descriptions of first-time happenings for Laura. There’s the dance at Grandpa’s where Laura watches all the "big girls" dress up. There is Laura’s first experience at seeing a town, and of course the fun at butchering time roasting the pig’s tail.
    Strong points:
    • The story shows the "togetherness" of the Ingalls family and what little girls did to help their mothers.
    • This first episode of the series takes place in Wisconsin. The second will take place somewhere between Kansas and Oklahoma (Indian Territory). Later the family will move to De Smet in Dakota Territory. This is a good opportunity to integrate literature and geography.
    • This wonderful series of books gives a vivid picture of farming life in the 1870’s.
    • The value of the simple things of home life is emphasized: Ma makes her own cheese and maple sugar, Pa plays his fiddle and sings to keep the family safe and cozy when the wind howls through the night.
    One of the functions of literature is to fit the traditions of a nation into stories of lasting beauty. Laura Ingalls Wilder succeeds very well in discovering the pioneering spirit of America and enshrining it in her well-written books. The stories, full of family warmth and exciting adventures, will appeal to all readers, but more especially to girls.
  2. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
    Penguin Putnam
    Number of pages
    : 161
    The Pooh books are a father’s gift to his son, Christopher Robin. Written for a child, they reflect the concerns, the games, and the guidance of an ongoing early childhood. Though he was a professional writer, the elder Mr. Milne was not, until he began writing about Pooh, a children’s author.
    In the course of two multi-chapter books, Christopher Robin and his boy animals, have one adventure after another — everything from filching honey from the angry bees to welcoming Tigger (a very bouncy animal), consoling Eeyore (the gloomy donkey), enduring a flood, and seeking out the South Pole. Everything is related in extremely childish (but by no means "cutesy" terms), including bursts of poetry, rudimentary logic, and a great deal of remarkably in-depth character study. Each animal has a district personality: impulsive Tigger, neurotic Eeyore, no-nonsense Kanga, self-important Rabbit and Owl, humble Piglet, and, of course, direct and simple Pooh. The animals might be any group of typical siblings or playmates and teach, through their adventures, many real life lessons.
    Strong points:
    • The story reflects a good understanding of the way children think and play.
    • Young children are gently guided into a rich world of child-sized experiences, observing cause and effect and non-magical solutions to problems which are play versions of situations they will encounter in real life.
    • Desirable character traits are encouraged and undesirable ones are shown as silly.
    • The book encourages active creativity on the part of the child.
    • Real virtues are taught — especially charity and humility.
    • At least some of the humor in these books is aimed over the children’s heads, appealing rather to the adult who reads the book aloud.
    • No religion is taught here. These are works of unbaptised imagination, written under the assumption (common in the author’s society and time) that matters of faith are too difficult for children.
    • Very little mention is made of family life. Christopher Robin is an only child and is, himself, the "parent" to the animals. This can be very amusing as he solves problems with the mind of a young child, but obviously, nothing of real family life can be taught.
    • The Pooh books have been taken over by Disney Studios and presented in both cartoons and picture books, illustrated in a flashy and cheapening way. These should be avoided in order not to spoil the real thing for our children.
    The Pooh books are very good books indeed, enjoyable to both children and those adults who have outgrown the need to "prove themselves" by rejecting all simple things. Pooh goes down best if read aloud and can be enriched with explanations. It can be used in first through third grade.
  3. The Cottage at Bantry Bay, by Hilda van Stockum
    : Bethlehem Books
    Number of pages
    : 239
    This is the story of the O’Sullivan family from Glengerriff, County Cork, Ireland. Mr. and Mrs. O’Sullivan, Michael and Brigid, Francie and Liam (6-year old twins) are one body with one heart. They live in poverty but have a wonderful spirit of charity. They also find their happiness in simple things.
    The children have many adventures, one of them being the discovery in a cove of a treasure consisting of some very old poems. With the money given as a reward for this great finding, the O’Sullivan family is able to take Francie to a doctor in Dublin in order to have his foot fixed. An interesting character in the book is Paddy the Piper. He is a bard, "someone who keeps the love of Ireland warm in the hearts of her people." Irish Catholics suffered 800 years of religious persecution at the hands of the English. Poets were a big factor in keeping the Faith alive (of uprising in 1916). Paddy gives his songs and makes everyone happy.
    Strong points:
    • We see a united family whose members love each other.
    • The O’Sullivans live their Catholic Faith (for instance, they attend Mass, p. 118)
    • Other families show kindness, such as the Flynns (p. 41-46) or the O’Flaherty (chapter 8)
    • The reader is introduced to the world of Irish culture (fairies, etc.) and admires their perseverance in the Faith.
    • Paddy is the happiest person in the book and at the same time he is the poorest. "Money is of no use to me. It won’t buy me the things I care for. …the swell of the sea and the sight of the gulls on the wing, the sweep of a road in front of me, the friendly faces greeting me at cottage doors, the kindness of the stars at night, and the wet nose of a dog pressed in me hand…Money won’t buy me the look in a mother’s eye when she watches her child, nor will it make me flute play faster or me blood run stronger in me veins…" (p, 236)
    Cautions: None.
    This book is a wonderful commentary on the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. The O’Sullivans all live in Our Lord. The Cottage at Bantry Bay is an excellent story and the illustrations (by the author herself) are beautiful.
  4. The Good Master by Kate Seredy, A Newberry Honor Book
    : The Viking Press, 1935
    Number of pages
    : 196
    Cousin Kate from Budapest comes to spend the summer on her uncle’s ranch on the Hungarian plains to recuperate from an illness. She arrives with a letter from her father, who explains that Kate is more than a delicate child in need of fresh country air; in fact, she needs a strong hand to help control her incredible, disobedient, headstrong ways. Her uncle, the "Good Master," who has a way with dealing with wild animals, is asked to help in this endeavor.
    At first, Kate and her cousin Jancsi do not get along very well, but as the story develops and Kate is in admiration of her cousin’s skill with the horses, she is won over. Jancsi, too, learns to appreciate his cousin, "the screaming little monkey," as she grows in her docility and eagerness to learn about the ways of the country.
    In the end, Kate’s father comes to visit and is so taken by the transformation in his daughter that he decides to stay in the country from whence he comes with his brother’s family.
    Strong points:
    • Life in Hungary is beautifully portrayed in this book. The customs of the Hungarian country life are introduced to the reader in well-written texts that are plentiful for dictation or composition ideas. Lively illustrations complement the detailed scenes that are written (and illustrated) by the Newberry Award-winning author.
    • Each of the seasons are described and lived throughout the book, as well as the major feast days of Easter and Christmas, giving a Catholic sense to the story.
    • Hungarian legends and traditions are also interspersed in various chapters, giving the reader a taste of Hungarian culture.
    • The transformation of Kate throughout the story is appealing and heart-warming to the reader – adult and child alike — as the "little imp" learns to appreciate the wonders of a garden, real milk (not bought in bottles), and the joys of household work and feminine tasks.
    • A genuine appreciation for one’s homeland, the world of nature, and the little details of life are brought to the reader’s attention, as Kate discovers the joys of living, learning, and growing up in the country.
    • A strong, unified family life and community life – the cooperation and respect between the shepherds and Mr. Nagy, the "Good Master" — and the true goodness of the master are some of the important values brought out in the story.
    Some individuals may be surprised to read that Kate splits her skirt and later, wears her cousin’s pants in order to ride a horse. These details should be well explained and dealt with.
    Children are delighted with this book, which is highly recommended. They are eager to read about the adventures of Kate and Jancsi on the ranch, their visits with the shepherds, the trip to the county fair and to the mill. The run-in with the gypsies also causes great anticipation and excites interest. The appreciation for a new country is developed, as the Hungarian life unfolds before the reader’s eye and imagination. Once this book has been completed, the children look forward to its sequel, The Singing Tree.
    Note: The children who have enjoyed The Good Master will also enjoy Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (275 pages, Aladdin Newberry Medal). It is the adventures of an eleven-year old tomboy growing up on the Wisconsin frontier in the mid-nineteenth century. The story was inspired by the life of the author’s grandmother.
  5. Little Britches by Ralph Moody
    University of Nebraska Press
    Number of pages:
    This remarkable account of three years in the author’s boyhood reads like fiction but reflects authentic experience and emotion. Ralph’s father has been fighting illness, his lungs severely damaged by work in the woolen mills of New Hampshire. A well-meaning but not fully reliable relative in Colorado urges the sight-unseen purchase of a ranch near Denver. In 1906 the Moody family — father, mother, Ralph, and his four brothers and sisters – move to what turns out to be marginal land and a tumbledown shack. Ralph has just had his eighth birthday, but in the difficult circumstances he, the eldest son, is soon seriously involved, along with his father, in the work of family survival. A father and mother of remarkable character and the often self-willed, sometimes mischievous, and wholly lovable young Ralph are the central figures in this saga of courage, determination, ingenuity, and family devotion.
    Life in Colorado is not only full of exhausting toil, danger, suspense, and crisis but of loyal friendships and family celebrations as well. In the world of the ranches around him, Ralph learns a somewhat hazardous but wonderfully satisfying new skill and finds his own special niche.
    Strong points:
    • Little Britches is an unusual and enthralling true story that underscores the strength and value of family bonds and bone-deep integrity.
    • The book introduces boys to the world of cattle ranching in the West as it existed not too long ago. It makes them aware of their American roots.
    • Ralph practices virtue, although on a natural level.
    The teacher needs to be aware that there are a few brief and scattered instances of mild profanity used by some occasional characters in the story. Just one notable instance occurs in the latter part of the book in which the cowboy-rancher group express intense emotions with a cluster of profanity. In a class read-aloud project, the teacher can omit these sentences.
    This book has a lot to offer the elementary school teacher by way of the forming of good character. Most boys will find the book interesting and the story of Ralph’s first adventures will give them the desire to read the other books of the series.
  6. Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    : Puffin
    Number of pages
    : 238
    Long ago, a young English nobleman married a beautiful American girl, causing a rift between the man and his father. Because of this rift, eight years later, in New York we come across the offspring of this union, young Cedric Errol. Ceddie is a beautiful boy both inside and out. Although he is but seven years old, he is very wise for his years. Shortly before his father’s death, Ceddie had made a promise to take care of this mother. This he did with such loving kindness, that he soon regarded his mother as his best friend and she returned the sentiment. In fact, he treated all of those around him with the same kindness he had shown his mother, until he won the hearts of the local grocer, the bootblack and all of the servants of his house as well as almost anyone he met.
    Soon, though, he learns that he has a grandfather in England who is an earl, and that he must go and learn to be an earl also. Though separated from his mother because of the feud, his love of her and his natural virtues win the heart of his grandfather. Although his grandfather gives him anything he wants, Cedric uses it for the good of others. Because of the example of this young boy, the old man soon learns that money and good breeding do not necessarily make one noble, but that nobility is defined by one’s actions.
    Strong points:
    • A little history is given to us in exposing the reader to the English hierarchy in the early 1900’s.
    • Cedric is a good example for any young child to emulate in that he is good and kind and practices virtue.
    • Family is defined by love and trust, not necessarily by good bloodlines.
    • There are paragraphs which may be difficult for the student to read or understand because words are spelled incorrectly (i.e., according to American spelling practices), so as to get a proper pronunciation.
    • Cedric may appear too much of a "sissy" to some readers, certainly to boys in the 5th / 6th grade. However, the majority of 3rd / 4th graders seem to read the book without any problem
    Little Lord Fauntleroy is an enjoyable story. The students will be captivated by young Ceddie and his friends Mr. Hobbs, Dick and Bridget and their adventures. The book also stresses the importance of values such as love, loyalty, and kindness.
    Children who have appreciated this classic will want to later read two other works by the same author: The Secret Garden is the wonderful story of a sickly girl who finds a mysterious garden which brings a remarkable change in her life. The Little Princess is a charming tale of an orphan girl living in poverty who finds ways to remain cheerful in spite of adversity. These two books are more suitable for girls.
  7. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    : Harper Trophy
    Number of pages
    : 238
    This is the first book of the Little House series which is based on the life of the writer. This first episode is set in the period before the Ingalls family moved to the prairie. This is the place of Laura’s birth and the beginning of her childhood.
    Little House in the Big Woods portrays a little girl with eyes full of wonder and heart full of love for her Ma and Pa and sister Mary. The theme of this book is very clear and simple — caring, sharing and growing up during a time when, even though you are a little girl, you do your part to help your family. The theme is brought out simply in each chapter. Laura and Mary had their "chores" each and every day. They were done — without hesitation or pushing from Ma and Pa — completely and thoroughly; then and only then would Laura play.
    Little House in the Big Woods is one adventure after another in Laura’s life. It is a book of vivid descriptions of first-time happenings for Laura. There’s the dance at Grandpa’s where Laura watches all the "big girls" dress up. There is Laura’s first experience at seeing a town, and of course the fun at butchering time roasting the pig’s tail.
    Strong points:
    • The story shows the "togetherness" of the Ingalls family and what little girls did to help their mothers.
    • This first episode of the series takes place in Wisconsin. The second will take place somewhere between Kansas and Oklahoma (Indian Territory). Later the family will move to De Smet in Dakota Territory. This is a good opportunity to integrate literature and geography.
    • This wonderful series of books gives a vivid picture of farming life in the 1870’s.
    • The value of the simple things of home life is emphasized: Ma makes her own cheese and maple sugar, Pa plays his fiddle and sings to keep the family safe and cozy when the wind howls through the night.
    One of the functions of literature is to fit the traditions of a nation into stories of lasting beauty. Laura Ingalls Wilder succeeds very well in discovering the pioneering spirit of America and enshrining it in her well-written books. The stories, full of family warmth and exciting adventures, will appeal to all readers, but more especially to girls.
  8. The Little Duke, by Charlotte Yonge
    : Lepanto Press
    Number of pages:
    Crowned Duke of Normandy at eight years of age after the treacherous murder of his noble father, Richard the Fearless, in compliance with his father’s last injunction, must come to grips with his desire to avenge this terrible injustice.
    Political intrigue thickens the plot when the wily French King conspires to take advantage of Normandy’s juvenile ruler to seize the independent region for the crown.
    In the year-long separation from his home at the King’s castle in Laon, the young headstrong Duke gleans many lessons from his dealings with Lothaire, the King’s coddled and imperious eldest son.
    As Richard’s faithful Danish guardian Osmond senses mounting danger for his young protégé, he carries out an ingenious escape.
    The flight of the captive precipitates a war between France and Normandy to which the fierce Danish King lends his aid. The arrangements made at the close of the war, place the King’s two sons as hostages at the little Duke’s castle, allowing him to grow in Christian virtue in regards to Lothaire and his frail, yet lovable brother Carloman.
    At the death of fragile Carloman, Richard pleads Lothaire’s case before the King of Denmark; thus fulfilling his father’s final admonition to forgive his enemies.
    In like manner, Arnulf of Flanders, reduced to penury through his misdeeds, receives mercy at the hand of Richard the Fearless.
    Strong points:
    • The story depicts strong Christian virtues without moralizing overtones.
    • There seems to be a balanced view of Medieval life given (although somewhat harsh on page 111). "…thin, wretched-looking creatures, with wasted limbs, aguish faces, and often iron collars round their necks."
    • It offers insight into this interesting point in history when the Northmen were assimilating their new Christian culture.
    Cautions: None.
    This book is well-written and provides readers with a great story. It teaches students to acquire virtues such as self-restraint and forgiveness. It is also excellent reading in order to experience life in tenth century Normandy (through the written word.)
  9. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, Yearling Newbery Award winner 1949
    Number of pages:
    This is a story, set in Medieval England, of a young boy, Robin, who gets separated from his parents, and at the same time is taken by a crippling illness.
    With the help of some friars who take him under their care, he learns to deal patiently with his disability. Robin is also taught to strive, with a sincere love of neighbor, to do his best for the common good. After many exercises and much attention, he gains the strength to walk with crutches. But the wise friar knows that a strong body is not enough. Little by little, Robin’s mind and soul are given a healthy workout. The friar constantly teaches Robin that without the use of his legs he can still do many things that merit honor and praise. He learns through the guidance of Brother Luke that a willing heart and a pure mind can perform good deeds. This boy truly strives for perfection once he is set on the right path.
    This book takes on more of an adventurous flavor in the second half, as the boy, one monk, and a minstrel make a journey to a castle and end up by helping to save the place from an attacking army. At the end of the story, the boy is reunited with his parents.
    Strong points:
    • Many virtues are portrayed throughout the book, especially in Robin’s spiritual growth. Some of the virtues include: patience with oneself, courage, perseverance, and patience in waiting for God’s plan in one’s life.
    • The actions of Brother Luke, the friar who takes care of the boy and the advice he gives to him are exemplary. This helps the student to see God’s Providence helping him along the ascending path of Christian perfection through the guidance of parents, priests and teachers.
    • A realistic view of the medieval life, in general, is given. Good details are provided in castle and monastery scenes.
    • Many excellent themes can be identified and used as subjects for composition. This is a well-researched and splendidly written book.
    There are absolutely none at all. This would be an excellent source of literature to be used in the classroom. It is also excellent reading material to familiarize oneself with medieval history and customs.
    This book is highly recommended for youngsters. It leaves the young reader with a beautiful impression of the Church and especially the monastic life. The lessons learned by the boy are timeless and quite applicable to today’s youth. There is enough adventure to keep the youngsters interested for its entirety.
    Our students could be said to be in the same situation as young Robin; perhaps not as crippled as he, but all the same each with their own handicaps. Teachers try to embed in their minds and hearts the virtues which will ultimately lead them to Heaven. There are many works of literature which show us the straight path to reach the goal. Although that way is often full of trials and crosses, perseverance to the end will be rewarded.
  10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
    Lancer Books
    Number of pages:
    Mole has a sudden case of spring fever, gives up on his house-cleaning, and wanders in the fields and meadows. He finds himself by a river (he has been such a stay-at-home that he has never seen it before) and meets the Water Rat, who invites Mole into his boat, something else he has never seen before. "Believe me, my young friend," Rat says dreamily, "there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
    A world of friendships, the joy of carefree wandering, of picnicking, and playing has opened for Mole. Half way through the book, the Mole, the Water Rat and the Badger go to Toad Hall to try to help their friend Mr. Toad who has a bad habit of reckless driving. Toad has quite a few adventures. His irresponsible living and extravagance lead to the loss of his home to the barbaric stouts and weasels. The four friends go to battle to regain Toad Hall. The book ends with a banquet where all the friends rejoice at Toad’s return.
    Strong points:
    • Under the surface of a charming story with its lovable characters and its long-vacation atmosphere, there is subtle encouragement in kindness, patience, industry and loyalty.
    • Kenneth Grahame writes beautiful English prose. Richness of language adds to the depth of the book.
    • The story captures very well the meaning of true friendship. For instance, Badger reprimands Toad’s foolishness: "Independence is all very well, but we animals never allow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain limit; and that you’ve reached."Toad’s friends regard him as "another self" as they correct him into becoming more mature.
    • Another theme of the story is the emphasis on leisure. In our modern world in which people shift back and forth from work to working at making recreation, we forget the value of spontaneous play. In the Wind in the Willows, the river is where leisure is taken and enjoyed.
    • "Fascinated by machines as modern boys are, Toad learns the hard way, by experience, that adventure and technology are incompatible…Toad is a fat, spoiled, sporty English boy who finds out what the modern world is like, is rescued and gets home." (John Senior)
    The mystical digression at the center of the book "The Piper at the gates of dawn" needs to be explained. The god of nature in the form of Pan is a pagan myth.
    The Wind in the Willows shows us a quartet of endearing characters, friends with real virtues contributing to each other’s moral growth.
    Note: The teacher who wants to find an in-depth study of the book can read with profit Tending the Heart of Virtue by Vigen Guroian p. 88-97 and The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature by Mitchell Kalpakgian p. 82-86.
  11. The Home Ranch by Ralph Moody
    University of Nebraska Press
    Number of pages:
    The Home Ranch continues the adventures of young Ralph Moody known as Little Britches. During the summer of his twelfth year he works on a cattle ranch in the shadow of Pike’s Peak, earning a dollar a day. Little Britches is tested against seasoned cowboys on the range and in the corral. He drives cattle through a dust storm, eats his weight in flapjacks, and falls in love with a blue outlaw horse.
    Strong points:
    • This book shows decency, honesty and old-fashioned neighborliness.
    • The author recalls a rich boyhood, which takes on an added golden glow when viewed nearly a half-century later.
    • The hard work of a twelve-year old shows his determination to help support his fatherless family.
    • The boy’s summer is packed with enough action that would fill most adult years.
    Based on the setting of Moody’s books and the cowboy characters involved, there is some objectionable language. God’s name is used in vain and there are a few swear words.
    All of the characters are of the Protestant religion.
    This story introduces boys to an American world as remote from today as if it had existed hundreds of years ago. As at any point in our history, not all Americans faced the same conditions in a given time period, but the ways in which the Moody family had to cope, the part the children played in the life of the family, and the expectations and opportunities (or lack of them) that shaped people’s lives are an integral part of American history. The Home Ranch reads like fiction in its exciting and event-filled narrative, but in reality it portrays significant aspects of our American past.
  12. Pegeen by Hilda van Stockum
    Bethlehem Books — Ignatius Press, 1941
    Number of pages:
    Seven-year-old Pegeen Murphy is a lovable Irish child with an active imagination and mischievous way. Her grandmother, who had been taking care of her, dies and Pegeen is left with only an uncle in America as her nearest relative. The parish priest, Fr. Kelly makes arrangements for Pegeen to stay with a family in Bantry Bay, the O’Sullivans.
    Pegeen joins the O’Sullivan family: Mother, Father, Brigid, and the twins, Francie and Liam. While the parents and the twins are charmed by Pegeen’s imagination and creative ways, Brigid is not as readily accepting of the new arrival.
    Mishap after mishap follow as Pegeen tries to be helpful at home, which usually ends up in some disaster. She attends school for the first time and wreaks havoc in the classroom. Later, she is the cause of a lost pig and then tries to make up for her deed by searching for him, resulting in more adventures.
    But Pegeen’s wild ways are nurtured carefully by the ever-patient and loving Mrs. O’Sullivan. Towards the end of the book, Pegeen makes a great sacrifice and chooses to stay home and miss a much-anticipated picnic in order to care for the ill Mrs. O’Sullivan.
    When Fr. Kelly arrives, bringing news of Pegeen’s uncle who is willing to have Pegeen come to America, the family is in great dismay. Even Brigid softens and shows remorse at the thought of Pegeen leaving. In the last chapter, Mr. and Mrs. O’Sullivan offer to have Pegeen stay with them, which , of course, is the pleasant and happy end to this delightful book.
    Strong points:
    • A healthy and realistic Catholic family is portrayed by Hilda van Stockum in her characters of the O’Sullivan family. The daily joys and sorrows of family life are depicted in her book.
    • The story’s setting is in Ireland; the reader will develop an appreciation for the Irish people, culture, and history.
    • Illustrated by the author, the lively pictures found in this book add great delight to the story.
    • The transformations depicted in Pegeen and Brigid throughout the story are ones of hope and courage, as their relationship develops into a true and caring friendship.
    • Mrs. O’Sullivan is portrayed as a true mother, ever ready and willing to sacrifice and give of herself for the benefit of her family.
    • The book is filled with beautiful descriptions and is rich in vocabulary that will enhance the reader’s knowledge and appreciation for good texts. Many excellent themes such as family and work can be easily identified and used as subjects for dictations and compositions.
    The only potential drawback to this book was found when dictation texts involved some of the Irish brogue that is used in the conversations. This Irish dialect may need some explanation and clarification if selected passages are chosen for dictations.
    Pegeen is a book filled with familiar family situations, set in a Catholic atmosphere. It is a story that children delight in as they follow Pegeen and her adventures with the O’Sullivans. Many are inspired to read more about the O’Sullivan family in Hilda van Stockum’s other books, The Cottage at Bantry Bay and Francie on the Run.
  13. Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska, Newbery Medal Award Winner
    Aladdin Book
    Number of pages
    Manolo Olivar is the son of the greatest matador in Spain, Juan Olivar, who was killed by a bull. Because he is the son of such a famous torero, everyone expects Manolo to be a bullfighter. But, Manolo does not have the "aficion",ie. the love for corridas. He is even afraid of bulls. At twelve, he must fight his first bull. But no matter how much he practices, he lacks what it takes to be a matador. On the contrary, his friend, Juan Garcia, has the vocation to be a bullfighter. But nobody clearly seems to be giving him a chance.
    Manolo once meets a doctor at a bullfight who heals a large wound made by the bull’s horns. He asks Manolo to help him. The young boy enjoys this very much and would rather become a doctor than a bullfighter. He thinks that what the doctor is doing is "the most noble thing a man could do".
    The day for the bullfight comes. Manolo shows great courage in overcoming his fear and successfully fights the bull in the first part of the corrida, where the torero uses a cape. But in the second part, where the torero is using the muleta and must kill the bull with a sword, he realizes that bullfighting is not his vocation. He offers the bull to his friend, Juan, who gets the chance of his life.
    The story ends with the old doctor who had guessed the desires of Manolo’s heart, asking him to become his apprentice. Manolo is happy and at peace since "his father’s life, bullfighting, would stay a part of him, as it always had been, but in a different way than anyone had planned". (A doctor is always present at a corrida.)
    Strong points:
    • The story has a lot of suspense, and the whole book leads to the climax of the final bullfight.
    • The reader is introduced to colorful world of Spanish culture and pageantry.
    • The young boy shows bravery in fighting the bull. He does not disgrace his mother by showing himself a coward. He has a great sense of honor.
    • He goes to Mass and prays to Our Lady, La Macarena, patroness of bullfighters, for courage.
    • He shows true charity in helping his friend, Juan Garcia, to become a matador.
    • The story shows that the important thing is to follow one’s vocation, which is the will of God for us. (p. 130 when Juan is asked his he will be a great torero, he replies, "If it is the will of God.") One should not force himself into a vocation just to please others.
    • Our vocation in life is determined by the aptitudes God has given us. We have to make the right decision if we do not want to waste our life.
    We cannot put on the same plane the bravery of the torero and the bravery of the bull. Blind instinct is different from rational virtue. (p. 36)
    The book is excellent to make our boys reflect upon the choice of a vocation. A good teacher can discuss, with profit, the different dilemmas in Manolo’s life and how he resolves them.
  14. Men of Iron by Howard Pyle
    Lepanto Press
    Number of pages:
    Here is a fine old tale of brave deeds and knightly adventure in the time of Henry IV. In our imaginations we are transported to the days of great, turreted, fortress-like castles; elaborate and prolonged festivities and pageantry; thrilling tournaments; quests of knightly daring.
    This story of high adventure is set in those Medieval days of 1400. Myles Falworth, the boy hero, sets out to clear the good name of his father, Lord Reginald Falworth, falsely accused of attempting to overthrow the new king, Henry IV.
    Strong points:
    • This book abounds in vivid descriptions, containing a great many highly dramatic scenes, which give a clear portrayal of the rise to knighthood in Medieval England.
    • Depicts the toil involved to reach the attainment of knighthood by the acquiring of a virtuous heart, gallant and brave.
    • Many examples are given by the main character throughout the story of perseverance, patience and the acquisition of humility obtained by several grinding lessons encountered with the opposition.
    • The variety of temperaments met up with by way of this narrative is striking and presents the reader with many valuable examples of the relationships, which provide instruction in the attainment of virtue.
    Nothing scandalous is related in this book. There is no objectionable language.
    In this story of the Middle Ages the students will enjoy the Old English expressions that were used then which opens a better understanding of the scope and possibilities of our language today.
    The aim of this book is to implant and keep especially in the minds of youth today the best that there is, from the standpoint of ethics, in the code of honor observed by the knights.
    As an in-class literature work it is an ideal tool for the teacher in relating to the students the purpose the Church played in the gallantry of knighthood.
  15. Man of the Family by Ralph Moody
    University of Nebraska Press
    Number of pages:
    The Moody family, transplanted from New England, builds a new life on a Colorado ranch early in the twentieth century. Father has died and young Ralph shoulders the responsibilities of a man at age eleven. Ralph is determined to make a living for his family, and Mother is even more determined that her son remains in school. This is an affectionate portrait of ranch-town people who knew how to help without humiliating, and a warm tribute to a woman who was unable to give her children much in the way of material goods.
    Ralph learns many valuable lessons, and the reader is awed by his determination along with his ability and inventiveness in pursuit of employment to satisfy the needs of his family.
    Strong points:
    • No price can be placed upon the storehouse of wealth by way of virtue and example passed from Mother to son. Hard work, determination, honesty, ingenuity and courage top the list of gratuitous gifts.
    • Above all, Ralph’s loyalty to his mother is matched only by his practical consideration for his brothers and sisters.
    • A keep portrayal of Ralph’s unselfish heart is evidenced effectively when he is willing to always think less of himself and more of his family.
    • Demonstrates the willingness and courage of a boy to shoulder responsibility, making sacrifices for love of his family.
    • Acquaints the youth of today with the happiness of living in the spirit of poverty.
    • This is not a Catholic family. They are Protestant; however, they do not work on Sunday.
    • There are some curse words used by cowboys on certain pages, i.e., pp. 21, 48, 51, 52.
    This story has much to offer the elementary school teacher by way of the forming of good character. If taught with caution and explanation concerning the different religion and rough occasional language of the cowboy, it is an excellent portrayal of life in the mid-west during the early years of 1900. It should not be a problem for use in the classroom.
  16. Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (Newbery Award Winner)
    Number of pages:
    This is the account of an eleven year old boy who travels the road of Medieval England, visiting town and encountering a variety of different people.
    There have always been people for whom the road — any road — is not simply a cleared strip of terrain that makes travel easier. For them it is a central part of their way of life. Adam’s father, Roger, a minstrel in thirteenth-century England, talks to him about the road: "It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it’s home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle." Adam has often shared the road with his father since his mother’s death, and being able to feel at home there keeps him from despair when everything seems to be going wrong. Accidentally separated from his father as he tries to catch up with the man who has stolen Nick, his beloved dog, he has one adventure after another. Outgoing and cheerful, Adam manages to keep his head, learn from his misfortunes, practice patience, and depend on the road to finally bring a happy reunion.
    Strong points:
    • Clear portrayal of the Medieval Life.
    • Depicts well the joys and hardships of a 13th Century youngster (In this respect, it is excellent for young modern readers whose lives are much softer in many ways.)
    • Demonstrates how the Catholic Church had an important influence on the daily lives of people and society during that age. (This is not done in an apologetic manner. Rather, happenings of the lives of the people are simply related.)
    • The virtues of patience and perseverance are well presented. Many examples are given by the main character, Adam, continuing in his efforts despite difficulties, failures and being wronged by others.
    • The variety of people met up with throughout the journey is remarkable. The book presents many good examples of relationships between people. The reactions of the boy are generally virtuous.
    • The spirit of poverty is shown by the boy, who loses many of his worldly possessions but accepts it all with good spirit.
    • The boy shows great love and respect for his father.
    The only caution would be that the image sometimes given to the Catholic Church may be somewhat questionable. The priest and his sister (whom Adam meets) seem to be a bit puritanical in spirit, however, they are very virtuous. In one other instance, some priests at a school compete to see who can say the Grace Before Meals the fastest. However, this must be balanced with the favorable impression given to the Church, as a whole. Nothing scandalous is related in the book. There is no objectionable language in the book.
    This book has much to offer the elementary school teacher. If it is taught with a little caution (to explain the instances cited previously as examples of clergy who may not be perfect, but who are still devoted to their duty), there should be no real problem in using this book in class. The adventure contains many lessons from which we can learn.
  17. Hans Brinker by Mary Mapes Dodge
    Random House
    Number of pages:
    In a little Dutch village on the Zuyder Zee lives the modest family Brinker. Father Raff Brinker is employed on the dykes, and during a threatened inundation he falls from the scaffolding. After that he never works again; his mind and memory are gone, and he becomes a strange, silent man. The Brinkers, however, if poor in worldly goods, are blessed with two splendid unspoiled children – Hans, who is fifteen, and Gretel, who is twelve. On the occasion of a gala skating match held on the birthday of Mevrouw van Gleck, wife of the burgomaster of the town, the prize is to be a pair of silver skates with silver bells and buckles. The Brinker children have no skates with which to enter the competition, although they are the best skaters in the town. Encouraged by kindly little Hilda van Gleck, Hans and Gretel invest in ice skates; it is Gretel who wins the silver skates. A subsidiary story tells of the cure effected by the famous Dr. Boekman on Raff Brinker. Happy results ensue: Mynherr Brinker recalls the spot where he had buried 1,000 guilders before he lost his memory. He also helps Dr. Boekman find his long-lost son.
    Strong points:
      • Without the father’s provision, the wife, son and daughter struggle against acute poverty, each doing what he or she can to aid their survival and to care for the father and for each other. Both mother and children are thus a good example of many virtues: honor, compassion, patience, honesty, sense of duty, etc.
      • Besides the main heroes, there are many other bright characters such as Peter and Hilda, etc.
      • The story shows how some children like Carl and Katrinka, set off the good qualities of the others. It teaches us how to behave in a friendly and charitable manner.
      • Through the conversations of the traveling boys, we see their great love for their country and admiration for its heroes.
      • The reader is introduced to the world of 19th century Holland: dikes, canals, tulips, windmills, the housewives’ passion for cleanliness, the devotion of the Dutch people to St. Nicholas, etc.
      • Some of the most exciting scenes of the book are built around events related to the skill of the children in the art of ice skating. The story will thus appeal to children who have the opportunity to practice this sport (Northwest US and Canada).
      • Hans Brinker has a good plot which holds our interest throughout the book. The end is especially good, with the cure of Raff, the discovery of Dr. Boekman’s son and of course the famous race.
    Several historical passages can be either skipped or read with corrections. The author (Protestant) portrays the former Spanish rulers (Catholic) of Holland as tyrants. The Duke of Alva is called "the worst specimen of a man that ever lived." To correct his misinformation, the teacher can use History of Christendom by Warren Carroll (Volume IV). The story of the Catholic martyrs of Gorkum can also be read to the children.
    Hans Brinker is a story which emphasizes many Christian values. It is at the same time beautifully told and in an entertaining way. Children should enjoy this classic and thrill to the courage and resolution of its heroes.
  18. The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (Newbery Medal Winner)
    Simon and Schuster
    Number of pages:
    Set in 15th century Poland, The Trumpeter of Krakow is the story of a young boy’s admiration for the bravery of a long-dead youth and how this encourages him to remain loyal to his country, in the face of great danger.
    Forced to abandon their farm to the invading Tartars, Joseph Charnetski and his parents flee to Krakow with the only thing that they managed to salvage — a priceless family heirloom called the Great Tarnov Crystal. Reputed to have strange magical powers that will guarantee victory to anyone who possesses it, the Crystal must be delivered to the king before it falls into the wrong hands. Only the inspiring example of the young trumpeter to Krakow, who met his death when he alerted the city to an invasion by the Tartars, gives Joseph the courage he needs to complete his mission.
    Strong points:
    • The story builds character by the examples of virtue, the bravery of a boy, the kindness of Jan Kanty.
    • It portrays magic as evil (contrary to the current message of the Harry Potter series).
    • The story exposes the reader to geography lessons (the Ukraine, Poland, the Tartars).
    • Good Jan Kanty is actually Saint John Kenty whose feast day is October 20th.
    • The Muslims do not adore the same God as Catholics since they reject the Trinity (contrary to page 19).
    • Men and women were never beheaded "for a very slight offence" in a Catholic country (contrary to page 23).
    • Medieval Catholic scholars (such as St. Albert the Great) perfectly knew the distinction between science and magic (contrary to page 161).
    The Trumpeter of Krakow is a story with a very good plot and a great climax.
  19. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
    Simon and Schuster
    Number of pages:
    The famous story of Robinson Crusoe can be divided into three parts: Robinson’s youth and the time up to his shipwreck; his twenty-eight years on an uninhabited island; his lie and adventures after being rescued from the island. Published in 1719, Defoe places his story in the 17th century in England, north Africa, Brazil, an island off the coast of Venezuela and back to Europe.
    The first part of the novel relates that, against the advice of his father, Robinson wishes to pursue his livelihood by going to sea. He does so and after a false start has some success but a third voyage ends in slavery. He eventually escapes and is helped to Brazil where he becomes a successful plantation owner. He embarks on a slave gathering expedition to West Africa but is shipwrecked off the coast of Venezuela in a terrible storm.
    The bulk of the novel attends to Robinson’s life on the island — how he accomplishes his survival and even establishes his "kingdom"; how he moves from a frantic state of discontent to one of resignation and contentment; how he meets Friday and, finally, how he leaves the island.
    Though anticlimactic, the third part of the novel traces Robinson’s securing of wealth through the honesty and loyalty of friends, his return to England, travels through the continent and a last trip to his island to see how those he left there fared.
    Strong points:
    • For Junior High School students this is an appropriate introduction to adult literature. While the details of surviving on an uninhabited island would appeal to any youngster, an attentive reading of this novel might bring a young reader into contact with topics like religion, economics, politics on a more mature level.
    • With an obvious understanding of human nature on a natural level, Defoe fabricates a story which is catholic with a small "c"; many opportunities are presented for discussions about what constitutes "literature."
    • Robinson is a fine example of industry, perseverance, common sense, hopefulness and gratitude. He spends every anniversary of his shipwreck in prayer and fasting.
    • While Robinson decides against settling in Brazil because he would have to become Catholic, the Spanish and Portuguese are portrayed very favorably.
    • Since the novel spans the 17th century and Defoe was aware of the political, religious and cultural currents of his day, there are ample opportunities to integrate the subjects of religion, history, geography, religion — even math and science.
    • The students will see for themselves how countless and minute details make the story seem true and thus become aware of one of the methods of false propaganda.
    • The transformation of Robinson’s attitude from bitterness at his situation on the island to one of peaceful resignation stems from his insight that God allowed this misfortune to protect him from further sin.
    • Robinson is a Protestant and chooses to remain a Protestant; his theology is Protestant.
    • Protestant versions of history in regard to the harsh treatment of the Indians and the Inquisition are put forward.
    This book could be used for many years and still engage the interest of the teacher. The students will enjoy a story, which has stood the test of time and we can all be reminded that when the need arises, God will give us the courage, stamina and ingenuity demanded.
    "Robinson is still an experimenting boy. No one can reach to man’s estate without his own shipwreck. On the outer edge of self — reliance is the first discovery of fear that proves how everything depends on God and fellow men.
    How self-reliant Robinson turns out to be is an obvious marvel of the book giving us a hope that we could be like that — mechanical, inventive, all alone against the naked world of things. Then sickness comes and helplessness — not quite love (the giving up of self) but love’s most famous footprint." (Dr. John Senior)
  20. The Outlaws of Ravenhurst by Sr. M. Imelda, S.L.
    Lepanto Press
    Number of Pages:
    Charles Gordon, son of Sir James of Gordon, Earl of Ravenhurst, and Lady Margaret, is placed in the care of John and Mary Abell while still a baby. "George", as they call him, has not yet been told by the Abells that he is not their real son but they love him just as dearly as they love their other children. At age ten, George, on returning home after a delightful day with Joel (whom he thinks is his twin), is faced with the shocking revelation when two men arrive on the scene to take him away to his birthplace in Scotland. The Abells admit the truth to him and George is then obliged to part with those he loves most to a home unknown to him. This bitter separation is to be merely the first of many crosses to bear.
    The men he travels with were his uncle, Sir Roger, who is both a weakling and a tyrant, and Godfrey Bertrandson, a deceitful and cunning man whom the boy considers his friend. However, after meeting his real mother, he is warned by her not to trust Godfrey either. Both want Gordon to deny his Faith. It is only their methods that differ.
    If he is ever in need of help, his mother tells him he can trust Benson, the old nurse at Ravenhurst, Muckle John, and old Edwin, the gate warden.
    Gordon has the privilege one day of meeting, quite by accident, his other uncle, Father Stephen, who is in hiding and ministering, whenever possible, to those in need of the Sacraments. Gordon learns from Father that Lady Margaret has been threatened by Roger that if she ever dares to speak to her son about the Faith he would execute the law to the fullest since he is now acting Earl of Ravenhurst. She is found out and is then imprisoned as is Gordon’s father.
    Gordon, after receiving from Uncle Roger brutal beatings and the punishment of thirst and starvation for refusing to tell what he knows of Father Stephen and holding fast to his own Faith, gains the necessary strength to bear his cross bravely after reading a journal of the sufferings his family endured for the Faith. Sir Roger hopes that Gordon will relent but Gordon, turning to God for help, and kissing the stain of the Precious Blood on the mantle, is then inspired to escape through the secret passageways that his mother has told him about. After many adventures, Gordon is finally reunited to his parents. They emigrate to America to be able to practice their beloved Catholic religion.
    Strong points:
    • Gordon’s noble and virtuous father sacrifices for himself and his heirs all claims of title, land, and castle, forgiving from his heart the brutalities done to himself, Lady Margaret and Gordon, leaving Ravenhurst to Roger. The Catholic Faith is thus his first priority.
    • Muckle John is determined to kill Sir Roger until the good Father Stephen tells him "Vengeance is sin. Because Roger has wounded the heart of Christ by sin, need you sin also?" Muckle John understands the lesson.
    • Many other lessons can be learned from this adventurous, intriguing novel. Gordon is a role model for any young man. He is "all boy" at play and all man where courage, endurance and self-sacrifice are called for in the face of danger and in defense of the Faith.
    • The reader becomes acquainted with the history of Scotland. The teacher can give some background in using Warren Carroll’s History of Christendom (Volume IV).
    There are several passages in Scottish dialect, which some children may find a little difficult to read.
    This is one of the best Catholic books for children ever written. A little after it was published, it was voted "our most eaten-up book" by 900 schools. This is no wonder since the story combines thrilling adventures (once you start the book, it is hard to put down) with tremendous inspiration (especially the martyrdom of Sir Angus). It is a must read for Catholic students.
  21. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Scholastic Apple paperback
    Number of pages:
    The story is told in the first person by Jim Hawkins, whose mother kept the Admiral Benbow Inn, and who shared in the adventures from start to finish. An old sea dog comes to this peaceful inn one day, apparently intending to finish his life there. He hires Jim to keep a watch out for other sailors, but despite all precautions, he is hunted out and served with the black spot that means death. Jim and his mother barely escape death when Blind Pew, Black Dog, and other pirates descend on the inn in search of the sea dog’s papers. Jim snatches up a packet of papers to square the sailor’s debt, when they were forced to retreat from the inn. The packet contains a map showing the location of the pirate Flint’s buried treasure, which Jim, Doctor Livesey, and Squire Trelawney determine to find. Fitting out a ship, they hire hands and set out on their adventure. Unfortunately, their crew includes one-legged Long John Silver, a pirate also in search of the treasure, and a number of his confederates. Jim, hidden in an apple barrel, overhears the plans of the crew to mutiny, and he warns his comrades. The battle between the pirates and Jim’s party is an exciting and bloody one, taking place both on the island and aboard ship. Jim escapes from the ship, discovers the marooned sailor, Ben Gunn, who has already found and cached the treasure, and finally the victors get safely aboard the ship with the treasure.
    Strong points:
    • The plot is excellent. The adventures of Jim Hawkins are filled with suspense. This is one of the best books ever written for children. It will appeal especially to boys but can be read by girls.
    • The characters are not stereotyped and unrealistic, but are so skillfully portrayed that they live for us in our imagination. Who can forget Long John Silver, the pirates of pirates? Terrifying, yet somehow likeable; cruel, yet somehow kind. As John Senior says "The one-legged pirate with a patch on an eye and parrot on his shoulder is one of the half-dozen great creations. Like Don Quixote of the Wyf of Bath, he is fixed in our brains forever. How much we would give even now to find that map and go with him!"
    • A reason for reading is learning to write. Stevenson is a master craftsman. His prose is classic, clear, and rhythmical. While the children only think about enjoying a great story, unbeknownst to themselves, they are being exposed to fine language.
      • Teasure Island, unlike other children’s stories, includes some characters who are not examples of virtue but on the contrary lead sinful lives. However, this is normal since they are pirates and it is what you expect of them. They are the villains of the story and their evil ways are not condoned. Pirates are, as Jim says, "some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea." Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey are on the contrary characters who, throughout their adventures, show virtues like courage and honesty.
      • There are many words which need to be explained. Examples: tarry, coltish, bleared, tallowy, etc.
    "Every time I start this book again, the old awe comes over me, and I think ‘This is the best!’" (John Senior) Hopefully children who have enjoyed Treasure Island will want to read other books by Robert Louis Stevenson like Kidnapped and The Black Arrow.
  22. Grisly Grisell, by Charlotte Yonge
    Lepanto Press
    Number of pages:
    This captivating tale situated in 15th century England is the story of a young girl’s perseverance and victory in virtue. The Wars of the Roses play an important role in the plot of the story. The family of Grisell Dacre of Whitburn is devoted to the white rose (House of York); while the family of the man to whom she is betrothed supports the red rose (House of Lancaster).
    The author immediately captures the reader’s attention with a gunpowder accident that leaves the young Grisell dramatically scarred for life. The culprit of the accident is none other than her future husband, Leonard Copeland. Finding sympathy in none but her benefactor, the Countess of Salisbury, Grisell is placed in a convent in hope of recovering at least her health. It is in this convent that she meets Sister Avice, who sees to the healing of her wounds and the education of her soul.
    After the death of the Abbess, Grisell must return to her dreary home in the North Country, where she fears she will be hated by all. However, Sister Avice’s gentle manner has taught Grisell "how not to be loathly in the sight of those whom she could teach to love her."At the height of the Wars of the Roses, Grisell is left without family and must take her role as Lady of the castle. The circumstances of war bring her once again in contact with the boy she was to marry, Leonard Copeland. As the story develops, Grisell becomes the valiant woman, who serves and tends unselfishly to another’s needs and brings the heart to love.
    Strong points:
    • The story encourages virtue, especially perseverance in the good.
    • It clearly portrays the various temperaments of man and how one’s character is molded by the choices made in life.
    • It is beautifully written with vivid images of the English and Flemish countryside. The challenging vocabulary provides a new dimension in the enjoyment of the story.
    • Reference to familiar names and places entices the reader to research both the history and geography of England.
    The novel makes use of many historical events; however, the Catholic teacher will make a few reservations:
    • Pg. 58: "…the yoke (of the Pope) had been shaken off during the Great Schism, no sooner had this been healed than the former claims were revived, nay, redoubled, and the pious Henry VI was not the man to resist them." There were abuses of power on both the side of the Papacy and the kings. The truth is that both were supposed to work together and the Church was a restraint that kept the kings from becoming tyrants.
    • The character of the Queen seems a little exaggerated, we hear her spoken only as the "Frenchwoman." It seems normal that she would fight for the right of her son to reign in succession to his father, Henry VI. For a good treatment of Prince Edward of Lancaster’s claim to the throne, one can read with profit from the Glory of Christendom by Warren H. Carroll, p. 576-8.
    This is a great book to study with girls since it gives them a beautiful example of true womanhood. Students love the story and are always different (for the better) after reading it. The ending is a little romantic, but quite innocent.
    Teachers will find in this book a powerful tool to help girls understand the beauty of their feminine vocation.
  23. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
    Vintage Books
    Number of pages:
    This delightful story traces a year in the life of Cecile Auclair, a devout girl of twelve, who lives with her father, the apothecary and physician for the governor of New France. The setting is 17th century Quebec, a French settlement built atop a bare grey rock overlooking the St. Lawrence River. For many of its inhabitants it is a place of exile, cut off from the rest of the world during the long winter months, but for Cecile the rock is home.
    The story begins with a note of sadness as the last ship sails for France and the long winter begins. Cecile’s days are busy ones and she takes pleasure in preparing tasty meals for her father and keeping the rooms behind the shop clean and beautiful, maintaining the customs and manners of life as it was in France. The winter months are spent looking after Jacques, the neglected child of an immoral woman in the village, visiting the Reverend Mother Juschereau at the Hotel Dieu and the Count de Frontenac in the governor’s palace. She learns that the stern old Bishop Laval is really very kind and she and Jacques are invited to visit him in his garden.
    Central to the plot is the long standing feud between the two bishops, old Bishop Laval, stern, austere, concerned with the spiritual welfare of his flock and his successor, Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, selfish, worldly and desirous of obtaining the comforts and luxuries of life. Pierre Charron, the French Canadian born trapper who provides strength and support to Cecile and her father in times of need also plays an important role.
    As the year ends Cecile’s father is happily preparing to return to France with the Count who has been expecting his recall from some time. Cecile is saddened at the thought of leaving the home she loves and is concerned about leaving Jacques with no one to look after him. However the summons to France does not come and the death of the Count casts Euclide Auclair into hopelessness and deep despair. The unexpected and timely return of Pierre Charron, their strong and devoted friend, brings joy and restores hope for the future.
    The epilogue reveals a humble and chastened Bishop Saint-Vallier who returns to Quebec after an absence of many years with plans to live in a small apartment at the Hopital General serving as chaplain for the remainder of his life. He finds Euclide Auclair preparing to visit his grandsons, and the children of Cecile and Pierre Charron.
    Strong points:
    • The story portrays homemaking as a pleasant and gratifying vocation.
    • It encourages virtuous acts of unselfishness and charity in young girls.
    • It provides many examples of great devotion and sacrifices for the faith as exemplified in the lives of Bishop Laval and the recluse, Jeanne Le Ber.
    • The book contains many passages beautifully written in French, which contribute to the enjoyment and charm of the story and may create a desire in the young reader to study the language.
    The circumstances in which the two women, ‘Toinette Gaux, La Grenouille, mother of Jacques, and L’Escargot conduct their business should be handled discreetly by the teacher.
    This is a wonderful story to study with young girls giving them an example of a truly Catholic girlhood where simple pleasures provide happiness and the importance of family is emphasized.
    The book provides an excellent source for preparing a written composition introducing comparison and contrast as suggested by the lives of the two bishops or the apothecary and the French trapper, Pierre Charron.
  24. Fabiola by Cardinal Wiseman
    Lepanto Press
    Number of pages:
    In writing Fabiola (or Church of the Catacombs), Cardinal Wiseman recalls the memory of one of the cruelest persecutions in the history of the Church with accounts from the lives and heroic martyrdoms of such glorious saints as Agnes, Sebastian, Pancratius and others. To these early Church Christians it was not a question of "What am I obliged to do to save my soul?" but rather, "Am I worthy of the crown of martyrdom?" or "How much longer until I behold the face of my Beloved Lord?"
    Some of the main characters in the story include the pagan, Fabiola, a cousin to St. Agnes, and her three female slaves. Fabiola had no idea that her most devoted slave, Syra, was a Christian. As the story unfolds the reader will be astonished to learn of the connections between the various characters.
    This suspenseful plot holds many surprises, including how God manifests His justice to the evil tyrants who, as usual, are first offered His mercy and then having rejected this undeserved grace begin their Hell on earth and die in utter misery. On the other hand, the author shows how God rewards those who respond contritely to God’s grace by granting them great peace of soul and the virtues to live out the rest of their lives loving and serving Him in gratitude for His love and mercy.
    Strong points:
    • The reader gains an understanding of Early Christian History (catacombs, martyrs, etc.)
    • St. Pancratius exhibits unwavering love, mercy and unconditional forgiveness to Corvinus, his lifelong antagonist, despite his numerous attempts to destroy Pancratius.
    • A most edifying charity is seen also in the early Christians who risk their own lives by visiting and ministering to those who have been arrested for their Faith and happily await execution.
    • Among the lessons to be learned from this novel is the absolute necessity of example in obtaining conversions to the Faith.
    The book in his original version is a little difficult to read for weak students. The teacher needs to encourage them to persevere.
    Martyrs are the heralds of the triumph of the cross. Fabiola is the captivating story of true followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This book is highly recommended in order to inspire our students with love of our Catholic Faith.
  25. The Lances of Lynwood by Charlotte M. Yonge
    Lepanto Press
    Number of pages:
    This story takes place in England and France during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). During this time, Englishmen, under King Edward’s son, are fighting to capture French lands. The Prince of Wales is referred to as the "Black Prince" and at this time parts of France are under the control of the English.
    The Lynwood family includes the Black Prince’s faithful knight Sir Reginald, his frail wife Eleanor, his younger brother Eustace (who is the hero of our story), and Reginald’s young son Arthur. The Lances of Lynwood are about 20 armed men who form a troop around Sir Reginald of Lynwood.
    The story traces the growth of Eustace from a weak, scholarly, well-mannered squire to a bold and true warrior knight. Despite a series of battles and schemes of treachery plotted against him, Eustace exhibits every nobility of soul and aristocracy of virtue and remains a forgiving and Christian knight.
    Strong points:
    • Many Christlike virtues are evident in Eustace; he is a devoted student, assumes the highest motives for the actions of others, does not hold a grudge or try to get revenge, takes care of the needs of others before his own needs, and is forgiving.
    • A realistic view of the nature of medieval life is portrayed. The author does not hide fallen human nature from the reader in many characters and by comments throughout the book. Yet, we are drawn to rise up with the noble and virtuous with Eustace and Agnes, among others.
    • The vocabulary will be unfamiliar to some readers and will encourage them to find the meanings of words used throughout the book.* The same could be said of the geography of England and especially France; the book will inspire students to study a map or draw one.
    Cautions: There are no cautions with regard to content.
    This book of historical fiction is recommended for junior high school age and up and due to the rather confusing number of characters should be read aloud to the students if used with grades 5 and 6, at least for the first read. The book will fit well into a study of the Middle Ages, especially with regard to the hierarchical military and social structure of the time. The main character is an exemplary model and the illustrations are beautiful and inspiring to the budding artist.
    * List of Words to Know: retainer, routier, vassal, liege lord, fortnight, fortalice, keep, gasconades, gentry, knight banneret, knight bachelor, pantler, corselets, pennon, seneschal, page, knight, squire, yeoman, clerk.
    Map Work: Gascony, Bordeaux, Calais, the English Channel, the Pyrenees Mountains, etc.
  26. Tom Playfair or Making a Start by Fr. Francis J. Finn, S.J.
    Number of pages:
    Tom Playfair is one of "Fr. Finn's Famous Three" — Percy Wynn and Harry Dee. These were the most popular of Fr. Finn's 27 Catholic novels for young people. Resembling a Catholic version of Charles Dickens' stories, or even The Hardy Boys, these books were read by hundreds of thousands of young people in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th century. But besides being fun, the stories have a moral: Tom Playfair is an unruly little boy when he is sent to St. Maure's boarding school, but he develops into a good Catholic young man and leader-without ever losing his high spirit.
    About the Author:
    In February, 1881, Fr. Finn entrained for St. Mary's, Kansas, and taught grammar to the preparatory classes at St. Mary's College. Besides his teaching duties, he was the general supervisor of the boys. Whatever activity they indulged in, whether it was hiking, swimming, hunting, soccer, or any other sport, Fr. Finn joined them. This opportunity of being with boys in their varied occupations, helped to give him the wealth of experience that flooded his books.
    Fr. Finn’s interest in literature and his ability to tell stories-which he always held in reserve for worthy classes-helped to make his teaching a success. His classroom was a one-story log building. One day he found himself "doodling" away his time, while his class worked on compositions. "Why shouldn’t I write, too," he thought. In fifteen minutes he had composed the first chapter of Tom Playfair. Fr. Finn hoped to give his readers-if he might have any-his ideal of a genuine Catholic American boy.
    Strong points:
    • The book breaks down the ill-conceived stereotype of the "goody-goody." It shows that a young boy can be a good balanced Catholic: pious, attentive to studies and charitable to those in need, all the while using common sense, enjoying sports and engaging in a bit of healthy mischief.
    • The lead character, Tom Playfair, portrays charity, honesty and courage through a series of adventures that form the basis for a transformation of his character.
    • Catholic virtues are demonstrated through the real life experiences of young boys that children can relate to.
    • The importance of choosing companions is well illustrated.
    • While fun, the book employs a healthy vocabulary. Absent are the "dumbing down" characteristics of many modern children’s books.
    • Tom Playfair and his friends take some risks, similar to the Hardy boys, which, while a great source of entertainment, are perhaps best reserved to the safety of the confines of the written page.
    • The language is sometimes archaic (autos are called "machines", baseballs, "rounds", boys fall into a "brown study" when they are depressed).
    An excellent book, Tom Playfair entertains and inspires character development in its readers (both young and old alike). Fr. Finn distills complex Catholic doctrine into a story replete with practical, real life examples applicable to day-to-day living. The American Catholic Who's Who, for 1911, spoke of Fr. Finn thus: "Fr. Finn is universally acknowledged the foremost Catholic writer of fiction for young people." Grade level (5th through 8, and older!)
    This book is so entertaining that it seems to fit into the category of purely recreational reading more than in one of literature. However, since it affords the teacher the opportunity to discuss many important, school related, questions with his students, it is included in our list.
    Fr. Finn also wrote books for Catholic girls which are very good. Lepanto Press has recently reprinted The Fairy of the Snows and Lord Bountiful. These two books are both thoroughly Catholic and thoroughly enjoyable.
  27. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Huntington Library Press
    Number of pages:
    The story is set in the mid-eighteenth century in Scotland. David Balfour is a boy who sets out in the world to seek his fortune and undergoes hardship and danger in his travels but returns as a man to claim his rightful inheritance. Planning to cheat him of his inheritance, David’s uncle had him kidnapped. David strikes a friendship with Alan Breck, a fleeing Jacobite leader, who happens to be on the same ship as David.
    At sea, David and Alan become comrades and go through quite a few adventures. There are many suspenseful events like sea battles and perilous chases across the Scottish halls. As John Senior puts it, Kidnapped is a "bonny good adventure, it transports a colonial American boy back to his ancestral highlands and the Scottish honor, poverty, audacity, hilarity and spunk that still flows in his blood."
    Note: Kidnapped can be found in many satisfactory current editions. This Huntington Library Press edition, however, is a special one, using the original text exactly as written by Stevenson, including Scottish dialect words. The story is preceded by an introduction and notes by Barry Menikoff, a leading authority on Stevenson. The book concludes with explanatory notes on matters mentioned in the text with which general readers are not familiar, a glossary of the Scottish dialect words used, and a gazetteer identifying the location of places mentioned.
    Strong points:
      • The story is rooted in realism in a way that, for instance, Treasure Island or Ivanhoe is not. Stevenson’s knowledge of his country is based on observation. The accounts of some events such as the account of being washed ashore near Iona has almost a documentary immediacy fascinating to the reader.
      • The teacher will be able to give to the students some very interesting historical background on the Jacobite wars and the fight of the valiant Scottish Highlanders for the cause of the Stuart Catholic heir to the throne, "Bonnie Prince Charlie."
      • Robert Louis Stevenson was brought up a Presbyterian but as a man of fire and compassion, was drawn to the Stuart cause. David Balfour, a Protestant is attracted by Alan Breck. The Stuart cause is not explicitly supported but shown as gallant and self-sacrificing.
      • It is very interesting to compare the two main characters and to show both their defects and their virtues. David Balfour can be a bit dour, but he has his qualities. Alan Breck is vain and quarrelsome, but also has good points.
      • Kidnapped says as much about Stevenson as any autobiography. In David Balfour and Alan Breck "he gives substance to two sides of his own character, adventurer and rationalist, man of duty and man of passion, restless traveler with a mountain of Calvinist baggage to shoulder."
      • More profoundly, Stevenson writes about two conflicting cultures within Scottish history which have become two deeply battling sets of sympathies within himself: The mercantile Lowland Hanoverian, law abiding and rational and the adventurous Highland Jacobite, romantic and sentimental. Deeper still, there is the conflict between the Protestant and Catholic cultures.
    • Some students may find the Scottish dialect difficult and will need help to understand some words.
    • Stevenson, in spite of his Catholic sympathies (he wrote a pamphlet to defend Fr. Damien), remains a Protestant. The teacher should point out how a Catholic novelist may have written differently on the same theme.
    • G.K. Chesterton wrote (and this is especially true of other novels like The Master of Ballantrae): "There is really and seriously an influence of Scottish Puritanism upon Stevenson; though I think it rather a philosophy partially accepted by his intellect than the special ideal that was the secret of his heart. But every philosopher is affected by philosophy; even if, as in the immortal instance in Boswell, cheerfulness is always breaking out."
    Kidnapped is really one of the best historical novels ever written, and has quite subtle characterization and exploration of mood and motive, as seen especially in the self-analysis by David Balfour in the pages preceding the famous quarrel scene. But central to the success of this novel over a long period of time is its narrative power. It is a great tale superbly told. Without either the absorbing treatment of the post-Culloden theme, or the vivid colour and drama of the narrow escape from death in Uncle Ebenezer’s house, the battle of the round-house, the flight across the heather, the encounter with James, of the Blen, or the re-visiting of the House of the Shaws, this novel would not have lasted. It is not theme or characterization alone which make it a perennial favorite, but rather its art of narrative. (Peter Hunt)
  28. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, Yearling Newbery Award winner 1949
    Number of pages:
    This is a story, set in Medieval England, of a young boy, Robin, who gets separated from his parents, and at the same time is taken by a crippling illness.
    With the help of some friars who take him under their care, he learns to deal patiently with his disability. Robin is also taught to strive, with a sincere love of neighbor, to do his best for the common good. After many exercises and much attention, he gains the strength to walk with crutches. But the wise friar knows that a strong body is not enough. Little by little, Robin’s mind and soul are given a healthy workout. The friar constantly teaches Robin that without the use of his legs he can still do many things that merit honor and praise. He learns through the guidance of Brother Luke that a willing heart and a pure mind can perform good deeds. This boy truly strives for perfection once he is set on the right path.
    This book takes on more of an adventurous flavor in the second half, as the boy, one monk, and a minstrel make a journey to a castle and end up by helping to save the place from an attacking army. At the end of the story, the boy is reunited with his parents.
    Strong points:
    • Many virtues are portrayed throughout the book, especially in Robin’s spiritual growth. Some of the virtues include: patience with oneself, courage, perseverance, and patience in waiting for God’s plan in one’s life.
    • The actions of Brother Luke, the friar who takes care of the boy and the advice he gives to him are exemplary. This helps the student to see God’s Providence helping him along the ascending path of Christian perfection through the guidance of parents, priests and teachers.
    • A realistic view of the medieval life, in general, is given. Good details are provided in castle and monastery scenes.
    • Many excellent themes can be identified and used as subjects for composition. This is a well-researched and splendidly written book.
    There are absolutely none at all. This would be an excellent source of literature to be used in the classroom. It is also excellent reading material to familiarize oneself with medieval history and customs.
    This book is highly recommended for youngsters. It leaves the young reader with a beautiful impression of the Church and especially the monastic life. The lessons learned by the boy are timeless and quite applicable to today’s youth. There is enough adventure to keep the youngsters interested for its entirety.
    Our students could be said to be in the same situation as young Robin; perhaps not as crippled as he, but all the same each with their own handicaps. Teachers try to embed in their minds and hearts the virtues which will ultimately lead them to Heaven. There are many works of literature which show us the straight path to reach the goal. Although that way is often full of trials and crosses, perseverance to the end will be rewarded.

The spider — by Jean Henri Fabre

All day invisible, crouching amid the cypress-leaves, the Spider, at about eight o’clock in the evening, solemnly emerges from her retreat and makes for the top of a branch. In this exalted position she sits for some time laying her plans with due regard to the locality; she consults the weather, ascertains if the night will be fine. Then, suddenly, with her eight legs widespread, she lets herself drop straight down, hanging to the line that issues from her spinnerets. Just as the rope-maker obtains the even output of his hemp by walking backwards, so does the Epeira obtain the discharge of hers by falling. It is extracted by the weight of her body.

The descent, however, has not the brute speed which the force of gravity would give it, if uncontrolled. It is governed by the action of the spinnerets, which contract or expand their pores, or close them entirely, at the fallers pleasure. And so, with gentle moderation, she pays out this living plumb-line, of which my lantern clearly shows me the plumb, but not always the line. The great squab seems at such times to be sprawling in space, without the least support.

She comes to an abrupt stop two inches from the ground; the silk-reel ceases working. The Spider turns round, clutches the line which she has just obtained and climbs up by this road, still spinning. But, this time, as she is no longer assisted by the force of gravity, the thread is extracted in another manner. The two hind-legs, with a quick alternate action, draw it from the wallet and let it go.

On returning to her starting-point, at a height of six feet or more, the Spider is now in possession of a double line, bent into a loop and floating loosely in a current of air. She fixes her end where it suits her and waits until the other end, wafted by the wind, has fastened its loop to the adjacent twigs.

Feeling her thread fixed, the Spider runs along it repeatedly, from end to end, adding a fibre to it on each journey. Whether I help or not, this forms the “suspension-cable," the main piece of the framework. I call it a cable, in spite of its extreme thinness, because of its structure. It looks as though it were single, but, at the two ends, it is seen to divide and spread, tuft-wise, into numerous constituent parts, which are the product of as many crossings. These diverging fibers, with their several contact-points, increase the steadiness of the two extremities....

Once the cable is laid, in this way or in that, the Spider is in possession of a base that allows her to approach or withdraw from the leafy piers at will. From the height of the cable she lets herself slip to a slight depth, varying the points of her fall. In this way she obtains, to right and left, a few slanting crossbars connecting the cable with the branches.

These crossbars, in their turn, support others in ever-changing directions. When there are enough of them, the Spider need no longer resort to falls in order to extract her threads; she goes from one cord to the next, always wire-drawing with her hind-legs. This results in a combination of straight lines owning no order, save that they are kept in one nearly perpendicular plane. Thus is marked out a very irregular polygonal area, wherein the web, itself a work of magnificent regularity, shall presently be woven.

The spiral thread is a capillary tube finer than any that our physics will ever know. It is rolled into a twist so as to possess an elasticity that allows it, without breaking, to yield to the tugs of the captured prey; it holds a supply of sticky matter in reserve in its tube, so as to renew the adhesive properties of the surface by incessant exudation, as they become impaired by exposure to the air. It is simply marvellous.

The Epeira hunts not with springs, but with limesnares. And such limesnares! Everything is caught in them, down to the dandelion-plume that barely brushes against them. Nevertheless, the Epeira, who is in constant touch with her web, is not caught in them. Why? Because the Spider has contrived for herself, in the middle of her trap, a floor in whose construction the sticky spiral thread plays no part. There is here, covering a space which, in the larger webs, is about equal to the palm of one’s hand, a neutral fabric in which one finds no adhesiveness anywhere....

It is only on her resting-floor that the Epeira sits, motionless and with her eight legs outspread, ready to mark the least quiver in the net. It is here, again, that she takes her meals, often long-drawn-out, when the joint is a substantial one; it is hither that, after trussing and nibbling it, she drags her prey at the end of a thread, to consume it at her ease on a non-viscous mat. As a hunting-post and refectory, the Epeira has contrived a central space, free from glue....What a number of products to come from that curious factory, a Spider’s belly!

Andrea Stoltz — Harry Potter

Originally printed in the September 2001 issue of The Angelus magazine.

There are more problems with Harry Potter than just witchcraft.1

I say just witchcraft not because I think it is a minor issue, but because it seems as though most people who do not approve of the series are critical of Harry Potter for this reason alone. Although this is a very good (probably the best) reason to shun the world of Harry Potter, there are plenty of other reasons to be critical.

In our base world, we do not have to look for offensive material that attacks our senses. It is blatant. It is rampant. It is almost unavoidable. That’s not to say that this is the only way we are affected by the impurities of the world. Quite often they come to us in much more subtle ways. Of course, subtle evil is much more harmful than blatant evil, because it is harder to recognize and thus harder to avoid. Most harmful of all is evil under the guise of good. If we think something is good, we do more than just not avoid it — we embrace it.

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is exactly this — evil that seems good. The fact that so many people are embracing it makes it look even better. We find ourselves thinking that since this or that Christian group thinks it’s okay, then it must be. If someone you regard as a "good" parent allows his child to read Harry Potter, there must be nothing wrong with it, you conclude.

But isn’t this way of thinking precisely what we want to avoid? The "everyone-else-is-doing-it-so-it-can’t-be-bad" outlook is one of the weakest ways of rationalizing immorality. It’s right up there with the "if-it-feels-good-do-it" mentality. If a "good" parent or a "conservative" Christian group approves of and even encourages this kind of reading, it does not mean that the books are good — it means someone is either uninformed or misinformed. For the benefit of both, allow me to summarize briefly the four existing Harry Potter books.

Synopsis of harry potter

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,2 we meet Harry Potter, an eleven-year old boy living with cruel relatives in a suburb of London. Ten years ago, he defeated Lord Voldemort, the most powerful dark wizard in history. His parents, on the other hand, did not survive the attack. They died trying to save Harry. On the night of his eleventh birthday, he received notice that he was actually a wizard, and that he has been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While at Hogwarts, he learns to cast spells, play Quidditch,3 and outsmart even the most experienced wizards. In the end, Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron, fight a 12-foot troll and also rescue the Sorcerer’s Stone4 from a professor-turned-villain.

Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, chronicled in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, sees Harry with new, more dangerous adventures before him. Among other things, Harry finds out he is a Parselmouth, which means he can talk to snakes. The year is spent mainly in trying to discover the Chamber of Secrets,5 and the Evil that lies within. Once in the chamber, he must battle an oak-sized basilisk6 under the command of Lord Voldemort, and then Lord Voldemort himself. Harry is victorious in his attempt to eradicate the Evil in the Chamber of Secrets.

While Harry is in his third year at Hogwarts, the magical world is set on edge at the news of an escaped criminal. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, life at Hogwarts is not as blissful as it was before. Since there is reason to suspect that the escaped and very dangerous criminal is after Harry, prison guards known as Dementors are stationed around the school, and Harry is not allowed to do anything that might jeopardize his safety (i.e., anything "fun"). The criminal, Sirius Black, does, in fact, catch up with Harry. The reader soon finds out that Sirius is actually Harry’s godfather and guardian, and has been trying to look out for Harry. Harry escapes a werewolf, outsmarts the dark wizard, and frees a misunderstood hippogriff 7 all while in the process of rescuing the Prisoner of Azkaban8 from the school authorities and the Dementors,9 who are out for more than blood.

Finally, all things dark and horrible come to a head in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which gives the account of Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts. The year begins with the Quidditch World Cup, where Harry encounters veela, beautifully seductive women who can make men bow to their wills by their dancing. He has a scrape with the Death Eaters (followers of Lord Voldemort), and later competes in the Triwizard Tournament, a year-long competition between the top three European wizardry schools. Unfortunately, Harry’s schoolmate and competitor in the tournament is brutally killed by Voldemort, who uses one of the "unforgivable" curses10 to do so. Harry, of course, manages to overcome him once again, with the help of his dead parents. He escapes only to find out that one of his favorite and trusted professors was actually a Death Eater, and trying to do away with Harry the whole time.

When fantasy becomes reality, where does reality go?

Many things in Rowling’s "fantasy world" of Harry Potter coincide with our own world. The setting of the stories is somewhere outside present-day London. The magical shopping strip, Diagon Alley, is reached via a tavern in London, which has been enchanted so that only witches and wizards can see it. Behind the tavern is a brick wall. To access Diagon Alley, the witch or wizard must push in the correct brick. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has also been enchanted, so that Muggles, non-magical people, will stay away from it. It is out in the countryside, though also situated somewhere in Britain.

This is not a made-up fantasy world that Rowling has "created," although she likes to say it is. These characters live in our world and in our time period. They play with the same video games, use the same computers, and drive the same cars. They have a Quidditch "World Cup," just like our soccer World Cup. The teams competing in the "World Cup" are Bulgaria and Ireland, real countries. There are even characters in her books that really existed. Where is the line between fact and fiction?

The problem here is that by weaving reality through a "fictional" work, confusion inevitably ensues. Rowling has admitted to receiving letters from children who want to know how to get in touch with Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts. They want to enroll! Some children are even awaiting their letters of invitation from Hogwarts. It is a real place that we just can’t find because we are Muggles.

Rowling and Scholastic,11 instead of discouraging this thinking, perpetuate it. At the official Harry Potter website,12 kids can enroll in Hogwarts, shop at Diagon Alley, and send owl messages (via e-mail). Rowling, in an on-line interview sponsored by Scholastic,13 answers questions from children about Harry and his friends as though they were real people. Someone (no names are given in the interview) asked Rowling, "Where is Azkaban?" (As though it were a real place!) She answered, "It’s in the north of the North Sea. A very cold sea." No wonder kids say they want to be just like Harry or Hermione or Ron! People they believe and trust are telling them, in so many words, that they exist! It must be even more confusing for the kids in Britain, to whom places like London and the North Sea are real places, and not just somewhere on a map.

Several years ago, JFK was in the theatres. Oliver Stone produced it, and he said himself that it was not meant to be a biography, or any kind of historical account of the late John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He said it was fiction, and should be viewed as such. Yet such a big controversy developed over the movie, because it wasn’t historically accurate. People were upset because he did not portray the event as they knew it had happened. Why did this happen? People are easily confused. Using an almost entirely historical setting for a fictitious work makes us think that it is historical, and thus believable.

The fact that there is no line between real and imaginary is only one reason that Harry Potter is dangerous to children. If adults have a hard time distinguishing between real and not real, how much harder will it be for children, and how much more detrimental? Since children cannot always make the distinction by themselves, the books they read must do it for them. If a book fails in this regard, it can have harmful effects, such as what’s happening now, with children thinking Harry Potter, his friends and his school are real. Kids do not "grow out" of an interest in magic, they simply develop it. Furthermore, if the authors encourage this blurring between real and fantastical, it is because they understand and desire the negative results that they know will follow.

Fuzzing-out good and evil

Speaking of blurry lines, the distinction between good and evil throughout the books is fuzzy, if anything at all. But how can I make this assertion when everyone says that Rowling shows a definite struggle between good and evil? Rowling herself says, "The theme running through all of these books is the fight between good and evil." Even though the Harry Potter books are constantly being praised for "hav[ing] a strong moral message and clearly portray[ing] good and evil," 14 the reader sees, time and again, constant contradiction. Characters who were portrayed as evil turn out to be good, while the good guys end up being villains.

A clear example of this vagueness is Sirius Black, the escaped murderer who turns out to be Harry’s "godfather," falsely accused and wrongfully convicted. Throughout the majority of book three, he is shown to be a dangerous and evil wizard, though in the end we find out how much he cared for and helped Harry’s parents before they died.

At the end of the fourth book we see Mad-Eye Moody, who has been helping Harry to avoid punishment all year, turn out to be a Death Eater. Then we find out that it was actually one of the higher-ups in the Ministry of Magic, who has been drinking a Polyjuice Potion15 all year in order to make himself look like Moody.

Even Harry, who is the "hero" of the series, bears striking resemblance to Lord Voldemort, his mortal enemy and the most evil wizard around. They both can speak to snakes; they were both orphans; the scar Harry got from Voldemort’s attack burns whenever Voldemort is near; they both use wands made from the feathers of the same phoenix.16

So who is good, and who is evil? Every book in this series has at least one character that turns out to be other than how he was portrayed. This is not to say that a plot twist or surprise ending is wrong. Some of the best writers employ this technique. The problem materializes when too many of the characters are unreliably good or evil; when you never know who’s who or what side he’s on. Those characters who are one way or the other are usually not portrayed in a favorable light, or they change to become what everyone else wants. Either way, indisputable messages are clear.

Take Severus Snape, the Potions professor, for example. From the start, he is portrayed as a horribly mean and unjust disciplinarian, simply because he does not want to tolerate any of Harry’s rule-breaking tendencies. He knows that Harry and his friends are up to something, and he usually tries to prevent the behavior, or correct it after they have done something wrong. Of course the students think this is wrong of him, but what about the other professors? Time and again, they chastise Snape in front of the students for trying to interfere with Harry’s escapades. Harry is constantly referring to how much he can’t stand Snape, and how Snape absolutely hates him in return. The obvious message here is that those who make any attempt to uphold the rules are unfair and hateful.

Hermione, one of Harry’s best friends, was originally ostracized by Harry and his friend Ron because she was a "goody-goody." She always did her homework on time and always studied for tests. To add insult to injury, she never let her friends copy her work or test answers. As a result, she was not worthy to be their friend, until the day she told a lie to a teacher in order to cover up for the boys. Suddenly, she won their respect, and was allowed to join them in their capers. From that day on, she was the brains behind all their exploits, from teaching them how to stealthily steal ingredients for a potion to using deceitful means in procuring a restricted book from the library. Basically, then, the message is that if you aren’t automatically cool, then lying will make you so.

Although Harry is supposed to be the "good" in the series, he is not the prototype of heroism that his readers like to think he is. According to the world, Harry Potter embodies all that is virtuous and noble, at least as far as is possible for pre-teen and teenage boys. He is a shining paragon of courage and loyalty, one who is worthy of emulation and awe. Nevertheless, a running theme throughout all the Harry Potter books is "the end justifies the means." Every time Harry comes out victorious in an endeavor, he has usually used some kind of immoral or at least questionable means to overcome his obstacles.

As an example, in the fourth book, Harry is forced to enter the Triwizard Tournament, a "friendly competition" that had been discontinued for several years because too many people were dying. Harry is praised on several occasions for his performance in the competition. But had he not had other students, ghosts, Ministry employees and professors giving him the answers to clues and riddles, he never would have been able to complete the tasks set before him. Cedric Diggory, the other Hogwarts Champion, is praised for his love of fair play and integrity. During the tournament, he not only told Harry beforehand what the task would be, but also took the answers that Harry gave to him (after getting them from someone else). At the end of the competition, Moody gives a justification for this when he says, "Cheating’s a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament and always has been."

The "moral" is…?

Traditionally Christian values are not in abundance here. What we would call virtues are either totally lacking in Harry Potter’s world, or are portrayed fictitiously as some other nameless, usually vicious qualities.

Obedience, to Harry Potter, is not "obeying one’s lawful superiors." Rather, it is more along the lines of "making it look like you’re not doing anything wrong." Usually Harry and/or his friends are rewarded for disobeying a professor or a school rule, not reprimanded. If they are reprimanded, it is usually by the professor that is law-abiding, and therefore "out to get them." Of course, this is also the professor that is most often disobeyed, lied to, and stolen from. The reason for this is simple. If you don’t like a superior, or if he is unfair to you, your obligation to obey him vanishes. We see this time and again. Harry does not have to obey his aunt and uncle because they are mean to him. He does not have to obey Professor Snape, because Snape hates him. He does not have to obey the prefect, Percy Weasley, because he is just Ron’s nerdy older brother.

Courage, according to Harry Potter and friends, means looking for danger, usually after being told not to do so. Loyalty is breaking the rules for another. Justice means you can get away with anything if you’re famous, and temperance is that virtue whereby a person gets drunk only when he’s really happy or really depressed.

The characters in Harry Potter continually act for their own self-interests. For example, Hermione puts a full-body bind curse on her classmate when he tries to keep them from going into forbidden areas after curfew. Professors put memory charms on students to whom they have revealed their innermost secrets. Harry and his friends make a potion that will turn them into other people when they want to find out information from someone else. Professor Lupin,17 when talking with Harry about Harry’s father, reflects,

I sometimes felt guilty about betraying Dumbledore’s trust…he had no idea I was breaking the rules he had set down for my own and others’ safety… But I always managed to forget my guilty feelings every time we sat down to plan our next month’s adventure.

Obviously, being trustworthy is not as important as having an adventure with friends.

Now, for the magic part

Perhaps the most alarming quality experienced is dangerous curiosity about magic and the occult. Rowling says that she had no intention of luring children into the world of witchcraft when she wrote these books.18 This might very well be the case. However, what’s happening is precisely that. Kids want to find out more about casting spells, predicting the future, and witches and wizards in general. They just don’t see it as fantasy, as something that they can never even hope to attain themselves. The scary thing is — they can do it, and they know they can do it, because Rowling and her world of Harry Potter are telling them they can.

The most typical response to this disdain for magic is, "But if magic is so terrible, why do we allow and even encourage our children to read The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings?" My answer is that these classics are on a completely different plane than Harry Potter. Most people that are familiar with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien agree that they are writing from at least a Christian point of view, if not completely Catholic in their writing and thinking. Rowling is most definitely not. The "magic" contained in their works is not the same at all.

The major difference between the two types of magic is that Harry Potter characters are involved in occult magic. With Tolkien, Lewis, and most other fantasy authors, the word magic is not even an apt term for what takes place in their books. Those authors never use the word "magic" themselves — it is almost always ascribed by an outsider, namely the reader.

Magic is actually defined as the art of using supernatural means to conform events to man’s will. Witchcraft has, in its very definition, an evil connotation, and reference to discourse with the devil. Sorcery is defined as "the use of power gained from the assistance of evil spirits…divination by black magic…necromancy, witchcraft…synonymous with magic." 19

The word "occult" comes straight from Latin, and means "hidden" or "secret." The strict definition of the word "occult" in the English language refers to things that are deliberately hidden or secret. We say Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is, in Latin, occultus, that is, hidden from ordinary sight, because He does not look like He is there.

In common English, however, the word "occult" specifically refers to those practices of the "supernatural" by which an individual attempts to learn things he is not meant to know, or control things outside of the sphere of his existence. In other words, there are certain things that we are not to know within our time here on earth. These are the things that are hidden from us, by God, because He is in charge. Dabbling in the occult is simply trying to encroach on the realm of God, sort of like what Adam and Eve did.

The common thread which runs through every aspect of the occult is this using of deviant means to execute one’s own plan. This is precisely why magic and all its subdivisions are so offensive to Our Lord. Obviously, the attempt to circumvent God’s Will is not going to be carried out by God Himself. Ergo, the conclusion is clear: occult practices are brought about by an evil force, namely Satan.

Rowling VS. Tolkien, Lewis, and others

As a matter of fact, Rowling’s Harry Potter books are frequently compared to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. The comparison is a superficial one, at best. It is usually based upon the use of "magic," and the fact that there is a witch and/or a wizard in the story. What they never mention is the distinction between how these characters perform their "magic."

The term "magic" can only be used here, if we understand that it is being used equivocally. The phenomenon of having one word describe two completely different things occurs frequently in the English language. Thus we have "book" meaning a box-shaped collection of uniformly shaped pages bound together, as well as the process of acquiring reservations on an airplane. The only way we can use the word "magic" here is if we understand that it is referring to two different entities, due to lack of better terms.

In The Lord of the Rings, what we would call "magic" is a natural ability of the Elves, which is recognized as such. They (Elves) all have it, and they can’t teach it to anyone. In Harry Potter, "magic" is a dependence on some kind of supernatural source, and can be learned and taught, to better and worse degrees. The wizards, Gandalf (good) and Sauruman (bad), are not humans with magical powers. They are of an altogether different and superior species, whose individuals are naturally endowed with the ability to do things that other beings cannot. They have taken human form, but are not actually human. In Harry Potter, the good and bad wizards are all humans, go to the same school, and use the same magic.

The Chronicles of Narnia do, in fact have a witch. She is regarded as and clearly shown to be evil, and no question remains on that matter. As far as her magical ability goes, she has taken for herself powers that are not even rightfully hers. In other words, Aslan, the representation of goodness, uses powers that come from a source of goodness. That source is the one who, as creator of Narnia, has "legitimate authority over all things" and has ultimate control of that power. Where do the powers come from that are used in Harry Potter?

In The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, the power that the good beings possess is used for the good of everyone involved. It is not used to satisfy the whims of any particular character. Nor do they use their powers to stop someone else who is trying to interfere with their own personal plan. There is always a bigger picture involved, and that picture has been determined by someone else, who has the authority to do so. The evil witch/wizard characters use their powers to serve themselves, contrary to what has already been determined. This is clearly shown to be wrong in both Narnia and Middle Earth. There is never a question whether an evil character is evil. In Hogwarts, though, one never can tell.

Just because Lewis uses the word "witch" and Tolkien uses the word "magic" does not mean Rowling can be compared with them. Rowling, though she relies heavily on occultism for her creatures, does create a few of her own. Does this automatically mean that she is on the same plane as Tolkien? Rowling’s characters all speak in various British dialects. Does that mean she is on the same plane with Lewis? Their stories might have a material similarity here and there, but their spirit is different. It is the difference between the way the authors think. Certainly, how a writer thinks affects his work. How does Rowling think? In an interview with Rowling she says, "Do what you want, not what your parents want." 20 Is this along the same vein as Tolkien and Lewis?

Just plain gross

Throughout Rowling’s four books there are instances of names, people, and items that are taken directly from occult history. She, herself, admits that she has based about one-third of her material on actual occultism.21 Remember, though, that she has already said that she has no interest in luring children into the world of the occult. Remember also that she recognizes the fact that children are really becoming curious about occult practices after reading her books.

Not only are the Harry Potter books full of fact-based, occult drama, but they often involve exceedingly gory details which leave little to the imagination. Children’s imaginations are pretty active as it is. Hence the need for graphically depicted blood-and-gore scenes is relatively minute in children’s literature. This is aside from the fact that they really don’t need these images etched into their young minds, anyway.

In a subplot of book two, one of the professors is waiting for the Mandrakes to mature, because they are necessary for producing a cure for the students who have been petrified by the basilisk. Historically, a mandrake is a plant that people believed would grow under the place where a man was hanged. Its root was said to have looked like a gnarled, shriveled up, dead infant, which was supposed to have made a shrieking noise when pulled out of the ground. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, a Mandrake is a plant, the root of which is an actual baby.

Instead of roots, a small, muddy, and extremely ugly baby popped out of the earth. The leaves were growing right out of his head. He had pale green, mottled skin, and was clearly bawling at the top of his lungs. Professor Sprout took a large plant pot from under the table and plunged the Mandrake into it, burying him in dark, damp compost…The Mandrakes didn’t like coming out of the earth, but they didn’t seem to want to go back into it either. They squirmed, kicked, flailed their sharp little fists, and gnashed their teeth; Harry spent ten whole minutes trying to squash a particularly fat one into a pot.22

Its screams are fatal to anyone who hears, so the students who are present have to wear earmuffs. Rowling then depicts the stages of the Mandrakes’ lives as though they are human beings. Later, when the mandrakes are "mature" enough for use, they are cut up into pieces and stewed. In the same book, the ghost that haunts a girls’ restroom is lamenting the fact that she’s already dead, because she can’t kill herself again.

Then there are the Dementors, the guards of Azkaban, who are "among the foulest creatures that walk this earth." Next follows a description of just how foul they are. The Dementor "…will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life." As if that’s not enough, we find out exactly how they do this. It’s called a "Dementor’s Kiss" :

It’s what Dementors do when they wish to destroy utterly…they clamp their jaws upon the mouth of the victim and — and suck out his soul …you’ll have no sense of self anymore, no memory, no …anything. There’s no chance at all of recovery. You’ll just — exist. As an empty shell. And your soul is gone forever …lost.

Toward the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is magically (and unknowingly) transported to a graveyard where Voldemort and Wormtail, Voldemort’s latest faithful servant, are waiting for him. Wormtail is about to resurrect Voldemort into a fully functional wizard again. Voldemort has been inhabiting someone else’s body, since he doesn’t really have much of a body of his own after being defeated by Harry now fourteen years ago.

It was as though Wormtail had flipped over a stone and revealed something ugly, slimy and blind — but worse, a hundred times worse. The thing Wormtail had been carrying had the shape of a crouched human child, except that Harry had never seen anything less like a child. It was hairless and scaly-looking, a dark, raw, reddish black and its face — no child alive ever had a face like that — flat and snakelike, with gleaming red eyes…. Harry saw the look of revulsion on Wormtail’s weak, pale face in the firelight as he carried the creature to the rim of the cauldron. For one moment, Harry saw the evil, flat face illuminated in the sparks dancing on the surface of the potion. And then Wormtail lowered the creature into the cauldron; there was a hiss, and it vanished below the surface; Harry heard its frail body hit the bottom with a soft thud. Let it drown, Harry thought …please …let it drown.

Then there’s the special ceremony and spell to join the dark lord with a body:

And now Wormtail was whimpering. He pulled a long, thin, shining dagger from inside his cloak… Flesh of the servant w-willingly given you will revive your master. He stretched forth his… hand with the missing finger. He gripped the dagger very tightly in his left hand and swung it upward…He could not block the scream that…went through Harry as though he had been stabbed with the dagger too. He heard something fall to the ground… then a sickening splash, as something was dropped into the cauldron… the potion had turned a burning red… Wormtail was gasping and moaning with agony… Blood of the enemy …forcibly taken …you will …resurrect your foe. He saw the shining silver dagger shaking in Wormtail’s remaining hand. He felt its point penetrate the crook of his right arm and blood seeping down the sleeve of his torn robes. Wormtail … fumbled in his pocket for a glass vial and held it to Harry’s cut so that a dribble of blood fell into it. He staggered back to the cauldron with Harry’s blood …and poured it inside.

Then Lord Voldemort’s return:

But then, through the mist in front of him, he saw, with an icy surge of terror, the dark outline of a man, tall and skeletally thin, rising slowly from inside the cauldron… whiter than a skull, with wide, livid scarlet eyes and a nose that was flat as a snake’s with slits for nostrils …Lord Voldemort had risen again.

One simply cannot help but wonder, "Is this really appropriate for kids?"


The various troublesome aspects of Harry Potter fail to turn away many readers, Catholics included. Why is this? Harry and his friends (the "heroes") are not the types of role models children should have. What young readers see fictitious characters doing, they will want to do as well. They begin to think that since this character acts this way, it’s normal, or at least acceptable. It is a well-known fact that they get ideas from the books they read. Whether these ideas are constructive or detrimental depends on the book and the message it conveys. Harry Potter lies regularly and gets away with it. Doesn’t it seem likely that a youngster will think it unfair when he can’t get away with something that Harry did?

Those who praise Rowling’s work constantly bring up the same tribute: the story shows a fight between good and evil. Who’s good and who’s evil, though? When a character has as many vices as Harry does, the word "good" does not come to mind. To me, it doesn’t seem like a fight between good and evil — it seems like a fight between evil and not-quite-as-evil.

As to the witchcraft in the books, people say it’s harmless, that it has nothing to do with the occult, etc. If you search the internet for "witchcraft" topics, Harry Potter is number seven on the list of results. Number seven [this was in September 2001 just after the books were released: webmaster]! And this is alongside other sites advertising paraphernalia such as spell books, witches’ "rosaries" and even cauldrons for sale. Books on witchcraft and spells mention that the Harry Potter books are great because "[w]itches in books are restrained only by the limits of their authors’ and their readers’ imaginations." 23 There is no way to deny the relationship between Harry Potter and the occult when it is shown as clearly as this. The reason for the accolades from authors of witchcraft books is not coincidental. It cannot be excused as just a similarity in taste. Our Lord says,

Beware of false prophets who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them …every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit …every tree that bringeth not good fruit shall be cut down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them...24

What are the fruits of the Harry Potter books? Rowling, a former teacher, is thrilled to see all the ideas sparked by her books.25 Check out any teachers’ resource website, and you will find plenty of ideas for integrating the Harry Potter stories into your curriculum. Go to a teachers’ supply store to find out when the next magic and sorcery classes for kids are being held. Out of ideas for science class? Ask your neighborhood children’s section librarian what the latest Harry-Potter-inspired science experiments are, and she can produce several ideas from which to choose. The possibilities are endless. In fact, certain churches have begun to follow the craze as well. In England, one church had banners and other symbols from Harry Potter upon the walls. Its pastor dressed up as Albus Dumbledore, along with a Harry Potter look-alike, Muggle songs and Quidditch. The reason for such absurdity? It was relevant to the lesson, James 1:17-2726, which speaks of the blessings of God.27

If Harry Potter has this kind of effect on adults, what will it do to our children? I know I don’t want to find out. This tree needs to be cut down and cast into the fire before any more children start gathering its fruit. We can’t teach them morals and ethics at home and school only to have it all undone in their leisure time. Kids recognize contradictions like this very easily. Guess which example will be followed and which will be tossed out the window.

Miss Andrea Stoltz obtained her undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts at Thomas Aquinas College, CA. Since graduation she has taught for three years in the elementary schools of the SSPX; firstly at Sacred Heart, Mancelona, MI, and then at St. Vincent de Paul Academy, Kansas City, MO (afterwards, 2 more years at the Dominican Teaching Sisters’ school in Post Falls, ID). She wrote the article because some of her students were reading the Harry Potter series.She is now Sr. Andre Dominic with the teaching Dominican Sisters of Fanjeaux.

  1. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary: "an act or instance of employing sorcery especially with malevolent intent; …alleged intercourse with the devil or familiar."
  2. The Sorcerer’s Stone is The Philosopher’s Stone in Europe. Rowling thought the word "sorcerer" would be more familiar to Americans than "philosopher."
  3. A cross between soccer, basketball and hockey, played up in the air on broomsticks.
  4. Occult history has it that the philosopher’s stone was actually a powder, when mixed in the proper way and with the proper spell, could turn base metals into gold, and produces the Elixir of Life, which will give immortality to the drinker. This is what it is in Rowling’s book as well. The alchemist who was supposed to have discovered it was Nicholas Flamel, who also retains his correct name and age in The Sorcerer’s Stone.
  5. The Chamber of Secrets was installed by one of the founders of Hogwarts, Salazar Slytherin. He hid an indescribable evil in the Chamber, which could only be unleashed by his legitimate heir, in order to rid the school of all those "unworthy" to practice magic (i.e., Muggle-borns).
  6. A basilisk is a large snake that, when looked at directly, kills. When looked at indirectly, he only "petrifies," that is, he renders his victim comatose.
  7. Half eagle, half horse.
  8. Wizards’ prison.
  9. Soul-sucking guards of Azkaban.
  10. The three unforgivable curses are: Crucio!, which throws the victim into a sort of uncontrollable seizure; Imperius!, which gives the user total power over the will of the victim; and Avada Kedavra!, which kills the victim. Use of any of these spells is cause for life imprisonment in Azkaban.
  11. Rowling’s American publisher.
  13. on-line interview of February 3, 2000.
  14. Bloomsbury Publishing representative. Bloomsbury is Rowling’s UK publisher.
  15. With ingredients like lacewing flies, powdered horn of a bicorn, and a bit of the person they want to turn into, this potion will make the user look and sound like another.
  16. We find out in book four that the feathers were taken from Albus Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes. Yes, he’s named after Guy Fawkes, of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Effigies of Fawkes are still burnt yearly in some places in Britain. Phoenixes go up in flames regularly, and come back to life again.
  17. From Latin, lupus, meaning "wolf." Professor Lupin is a werewolf.
  18. Richard Abanes, Harry Potter and the Bible (Camp Hill: Horizon, 2001), pp.22-24.
  19. Webster’s Dictionary.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Rowling, Chamber of Secrets.
  23. Pauline Bartel, Spellcasters: Witches and Witchcraft in History, Folklore, and Popular Culture (Dallas: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2000), pp.244-247.
  24. Mt. 7:15-20.
  26. King James Version, that is.
  27. Ruth Gledhill, "Church to Lure Young with Harry Potter," The London Times, September 1, 2000.