Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Good books for kids

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Aug. 3, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell

As temperatures heat to summer highs it makes good sense to find a cool spot and retreat into the pages of a book. “The library is air conditioned,” I remind my kids.

Visit any Catholic bookstore and you’ll find an assortment of books suitable for your children. Catholic values are also found in many “secular” books. Here’s my summer list for young readers.

Picture story books written for ages 4-8 are entertaining and thought-provoking for the whole family. Books by Patricia Polacco top my list. Check out Chicken Sunday, The Keeping Quilt, The Bee Tree, and My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother. 

Susan Stanaway, a 30-year veteran teacher, says, “A number of Polacco’s books refer to her grandma or Bubbie, who keeps young Patricia aware of the gift of life, the love of learning and the presence of the Almighty in the universe. Another of her books, Welcome Comfort, deals with reaching out to others in selfless service. This piece also holds  a very clear message for bullies. My children in primary grades love hearing these stories over and over, year after year. There is never a lack of discussion regarding deeper meaning – the applications to our greater understanding.”

More picture books:

• In Oonga boonga by Frieda P Wishinsky, an older brother helps comfort his baby sister.
• In Gretchen, the Bicycle Dog by Anita Heyman, an unforgettable dachshund injures her back and loses the use of her hind legs. It’s an inspiring true story about coping with disability.
The Quilt Maker’s Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau, beautifully illustrates how the value of caring for others outweighs that of material goods.
Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big, by Berkeley Breathed, shows the risks of fudging the truth and the power of love between siblings.
• Three books that highlight a mother’s love for her children are On Mother’s Lap, by Ann Herbert Scott; Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell; and Heckedy Peg, by Audrey and Don Wood.
Old Turtle, by Douglas Wood, is a moving fable about the interconnection between all God’s creation.

Novels for ages 8-14:

• Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog, written in free verse, is an easy read with a main character boys will relate to easily. The story includes a loving father/son relationship, a boy journeying through grief over the death of his dog, and finding his own voice through writing poetry for a school assignment he originally resisted.
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, shows the strength and encouragement that can be drawn from friendship, and how the power of imagination can help children deal with the problems of everyday life, including loss and death.
Jip, an historical novel, also by Paterson, offers adolescents a glimpse of the inhumane conditions once considered acceptable for the mentally unstable. Characters stand up against slavery and recognize civil law is not the highest authority.
• Paterson, the child of Christian missionaries to China, won the Newberry Medal for Jacob Have I Loved, and I highly recommend all her novels.

• In One-eyed Cat: a Novel, author Paula Fox tells the story of a boy who shoots a stray cat with his new air rifle, suffers from guilt, and finally accepts responsibility.
• A trilogy of riveting high-sea adventure by Iain Lawrence, The Wreckers, The Smugglers and The Buccaneers, features young John Spencer, who faces piracy, pestilence, murder, storms, scoundrels and skullduggery with bravery and high morals.
• M. E. Kerr’s Slap Your Sides: a Novel explores the repercussions for Jubal Shoemaker, his family and their Pennsylvania hometown when his older brother stands by his Quaker beliefs to become a conscientious objector during World War II.

To begin a discussion with your kids about what they’ve read, avoid diversionary questions. Not: What did you learn? Or, what would you do in a similar situation? Instead: What did you already know? Expect? What do you now know? What do you still want to know?

Let discussion build and change. Listen to what young people say rather than for what you expect or want them to say.

Or leave the discussions for later and let them relax and enjoy summer reading for fun.

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane freelance writer and children’s author. Her novel Fire in the Hole! (Clarion Books) has been chosen a New York Public Library Best Book for the Teenage. Contact her at

© 2006, Mary Cronk Farrell

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