Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Parables: Teaching Like Jesus

Jesus was a master Teacher. One of the most common strategies He used as recorded in the Gospels was teaching with parables. A parable is a short story with a universal message that teaches an eternal truth. All of the parables that Jesus taught center around something the audience can connect to- like a universal character or a common object. Following Jesus' model, we can teach like Him by creating short "parables" to use in our lessons to help the kids connect to more abstract content. 

Often called 'Object Lessons" in education, adding in a short practical mini lesson as part of an overall class or session can be a great way to help kids (or any audience) connect with a topic. If we can relate to a concrete example, our brains have an easier time synthesizing new knowledge about more abstract content. So much of our faith is something that cannot be seen, so providing a parable/object lesson is a meaningful way to engage kids, most especially young children, students with special needs, and kids who thrive as visual and tangible learners.

In this BIG blog post, I'm going to attempt to give you three things all in one place. I considered breaking it all up in several blog posts, but it just seemed to make sense to give you all of the resources at once so you can pull what makes sense in your home and classroom. Read on if any of these areas are of interest:
1. Learning about the elements of parables and how Jesus used them
2. Ideas for incorporating mini parable lessons into your regular teaching, including a blank lesson plan template
3. Lots of printables for diving into studying the parables of Jesus yourself or with your middle school/high school classroom, youth group, or Bible study


Jesus tells the parables to teach His audience by first connecting to what they already know. For example, He often used:
  • Typical, unnamed characters
  • Everyday situations
  • Common objects
  • Black/White and Right/Wrong examples
  • Always points to the Kingdom of Heaven

Sometimes Jesus also breaks down the symbols and meaning after telling the story. This is an important step, especially when using the parable model as a strategy with kids. We never want to leave them questioning what a symbol means or confused about the application. 

The parables always turn our gaze to something more important- The Kingdom of Heaven. The reality surpasses the symbol! A shepherd who protects his herd of sheep from danger is powerful, but not as important Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the Cross to save His people. The forgiveness of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son is wonderful, but only a glimpse of God the Father’s mercy for us when we return to Him. Whenever we use an object, model, or demonstration as a way to introduce or deepen understanding of a concept, we must include within that same lesson the explanation of what the symbol points to. Otherwise the parable is empty and has the potential to be confusing or misleading.

To get you brainstorming, here are some of the common everyday objects Jesus used in His parables. Many of these are still applicable to kids today, but often rely heavily on an agrarian lifestyle not as familiar to them. 

Here are just a few ideas of objects that would be common to most kids that you might connect to the topic you are presenting:

To be more specific, here are a few ideas for teaching about the Sacraments. (Note that these are obviously not the formal signs and symbols of the Sacraments, but are merely objects that can help kids connect to the important real effects of the Sacraments). I've used examples like tools packed in a suitcase for a long journey to teach about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit given through Confirmation. Family photos remind us of becoming part of the family of God in Baptism. Connecting first aid cream to the use of oil as ancient medicine helps Anointing of the Sick make more sense. Erasers and soap can be used as analogies for Confession. The possibilities are endless, and if you think about any topic you'd like to share you likely can come up with a connecting object lesson.

Switching gears, one of the best ways to apply Jesus' parable teaching method is to study the parables themselves. The next set of resources is to help you read and pray with the parables yourself both for personal study as well as inspiration for this teaching method. These resources were also created with middle and high schoolers in mind- I've used all of them in my classroom and with my youth group for lessons and Bible Studies.

When I studied parables with my students, we started with a general study of how Jesus taught with the parables and the patterns they followed. We looked at the commonalities, use of literary elements, and overall themes. Click here for the notes I used to introduce our Parables Study, including a checklist of "all" of the parables and their Bible references (depending on how your organize them). I challenged my students to try to read as many of the parables as they could during our unit, and I had a few make it through the whole list! This is a great little handout to keep tucked in their Bible for further study as well.

Click here for my key for the notes:

After studying the elements that make a parable, you might want to encourage your students (or yourself!) to study the individual parables, looking for those universal elements and timeless lessons. This printable was designed to be used with any of the parables in the Bible. You can find it in this post or by clicking the image below.

We also did a short study connecting a few of the parables to our weekly school virtue, which are available in this post:

As a concluding project, my students created a story book with their own original parable following the pattern of the way Jesus taught. This checklist is how my students were graded for the final project. If you click here or on the image, it will open as an editable Google Doc that you could adapt for a project of your own. You'll have to download or make a copy in Google Docs to be able to edit:

If you want to continue your own study of the Parables, this post includes a set of printables to use as a guide for an adult or teen Bible Study:

Now with parables on the brain, you can be thinking of way to make connections and use visuals in all your lessons, no matter the topic. You might be interested in these Catechesis Lesson Plan Templates (including a year long outline) which incorporate a place for that "Hook" to help students engage with the content. Click on the image below to go to the post with these printables:

Once you've decided on your connection, you can work in a story or demonstration with a the object during your religion lesson

  • Provide a great “hook” at the beginning to grab their attention
  • Perfect for drawing comparisons between everyday objects and complex concepts
  • Always follow with the truth behind the symbol, just like when Jesus explained a parable.
  • Kids need things in bite sized chunks they can relate to, but they also deserve more than a watered-down version of our faith. Share the fullness of the truth with them.

Remember, the reality always surpasses the symbol. Move from the natural to the supernatural.

Your “parable” doesn’t have to be a craft! Here are are few ideas for how to work it in:
  • Tell a story
  • Do a demonstration
  • Set out a visual
  • Show a picture
  • Create an “experiment”
  • Model with an exaggerated example
  • Show two extremes
  • Chalk Talk- Tell a story with illustrations
  • Guessing game- How is it connected?
  • Have students bring their own object

I hope you enjoy studying the parables yourself and sharing with your students, and also feel inspired to model your lessons after this teaching style used by Jesus!

Click here for the pdf of the presentation file with a few more details and ideas, as well as all of the above links all in one place:

“Jesus' invitation to enter his kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of his teaching. Through his parables he invites people to the feast of the kingdom, but he also asks for a radical choice: to gain the kingdom, one must give everything. Words are not enough, deeds are required. The parables are like mirrors for man: will he be hard soil or good earth for the word? What use has he made of the talents he has received? Jesus and the presence of the kingdom in this world are secretly at the heart of the parables.” ~CCC 546

Monday, June 29, 2020

America the Beautiful: Activities about 14 American Saints {At-Home VBS}

All you holy men and women of America, pray for us!

Leading up to the 4th of July, I wanted to create a shareable resource for your homes and parishes to celebrate and learn about the many, many faithful men and women who have impacted our country. This collection of activities could just be a resource for your home, can function as an at-home VBS, or can be easily shared out to your school or parish as an optional resource. There's even an editable version at the bottom to tailor it to your needs. Included are a few theme printables and then a pdf collection of (free!) links highlighting fourteen American Saints (or soon-to-be Saints) including prayers, biographical videos, coloring pages. etc. There's also a column with resources for parents and older kids to help you research and learn alongside your kids.

Fourteen Saints are included. Honestly, my original plan was for ten and I just couldn't eliminate anyone on my brainstorming list. ;) Included are Americans spanning several centuries, men and women, lay people, religious, and priests, and Saints who are Black, White, and Native American. Each has a powerful and unique story of how they followed God's will and made our country a better place. I think that learning from their example and asking for their prayers is one of the best things we can be doing with our families right now.

There are many, many more Catholic Americans that could have been included, but I hope this starts you down the path of studying them and doing your own research. Theoretically, your family could study a new Saint every day for two weeks. Or you could spread the activities out over the month of July. There are lots of ways to jump in and no wrong method.

Before jumping into the activities about the individual Saints, there are a few overall projects to set the vision for studying these holy men and women both as inspiration and as a challenge to pursue holiness ourselves. First, there is a map of the USA and an info sheet with a list of the fourteen Saints, the main states they lived in, and a symbol to add to the map. This page also lists the other Saints, Blesseds, Venerables, and Servants of God connected to America. Older kids could research them and add them to the map as well!

There is also a Litany of American Saints where your child can write in their favorite American patrons. The America the Beautiful Saints flag would be great to print out and display during the month as a reminder to ask for their intercession.

This resource is set up with a lot of the elements of a VBS (prayer, music, snacks, crafts) but with tons of options so it can work for a wide range of ages. I also pulled A LOT of resources- more than anyone would really use -but I wanted there to be variety and choice. All of the activities  are FREE so hopefully this project is easily accessible and shareable, even on a school or parish level.

For each Saint, there are links for:
-Prayer/Song/Bible Verse
-Short Videos
-Links for Parents or Older Siblings (to help parents feel equipped to teach their kids along the way, and to help older kids participate)

This whole plan is completely free and available for you to email out to your friends, parish, class, school, etc. I always appreciate when people include a link back to the blog so people can find more resources, but the schedule is especially designed to be easy to share as a pdf in a bulk email, school communication system, or parish bulletin. Please share! I'm always honored to be able to help, but especially now when we can't minister to our communities in the same ways we are used to. Click below to open all the resources!

First, here are the overall theme printables. (These are also linked in the shareable activity page as well.)

Click here for the American Saints Map. This helps identify the varied locations of the fourteen featured Saints across the United States, and also gives a list for further research:

Click here for the Litany of American Saints printable. You can fill in ten of your favorite holy men and women from America:

Click here for the American Flag Saints printable to display as you learn:
Click here for the two page America the Beautiful pdf with links for the 14 Saints. This version cannot be edited, but is meant to be easy to share:

Click here for the editable version of the resources. It is a Google Slides file, so you can edit/add/remove to fit your audience. In order to make changes, you'll need to open and make a copy to edit in Google Slides or download and then edit in PowerPoint:

A special thank you to Shari from Catholic Paper Goods for offering a set of her stellar coloring pages for free to help round out the resources! Here are a few of her pages that are included in the links above:

And Kristina Markford (you might remember her super cute Emmaus Road Pegs shop) generously is sharing these awesome mini posters featuring 18 American Saints. You can find her on Instagram here.

All of those activities are free, but I also have been on the lookout for books about these (and other American) Saints both to read myself and for my classroom. I'm still collecting titles and have some reading to do first, but hopefully I'll be able to do a Katie Reads post soon with some book suggestions! Feel free to drop any good titles about American Saints in the comments!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Gifts of the Holy Spirit- At Home Retreat

I know many students this Spring had their Confirmation delayed, but some dioceses are already working on rescheduling Sacraments for this fall! If you are like me, we lost some of our preparation time in the classroom and will likely be unable to spend any time together before the actual Confirmation. I wanted to send something easy but meaningful to the families to help them pray and prepare as the date approaches, especially helping the Confirmands open up their hearts to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that will be received in the Sacrament.

This family retreat is organized around the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit and shares a set of links to prayers, music, a Bible verse, Lectio Divina journal, videos, and suggested activities for each Gift. I created it with students just before their Confirmation in mind, but it also would be great for students who have been recently Confirmed to get them thinking about allowing the Gifts to be put to use in their lives. Really the activities would work well for any junior high or high school student- which is nice because a lot of resources for Catholic kids I've seen (and created myself!) for the summer are aimed at younger kids. This could almost function like an at home VBS for older kids! ;) All of these ideas are also perfect for a study of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the classroom when we are back together.

My wording in the retreat schedule is specific to kids who are preparing for their upcoming Confirmation, but I'm also including an editable version so you can add your own dates, specific links or ideas, or change some of the content to be more generalized.


An important part of the retreat is spending time each week in Scripture reflecting on the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I made this simple Lectio Divina journal to act as an aide to that prayer. If your students or child isn't familiar with Lectio Divina, I'd recommend also these Lectio Divina printables to help.

The journal is intended to be printed (two sided if possible, but not necessary) and then folded in half with this as the cover. Click here or on the image to open the pdf journal:

There is a page and a Scripture passage for each of the seven Gifts with room to journal using the four steps of Lectio Divina. Hopefully this is something that could be discussed and prayed over with a parent or Confirmation sponsor, or even as a whole family Bible Study.

The retreat is designed to give a few easy to implement ideas surrounding the Gifts of the Holy Spirit each week, helping open the heart of the Confirmand to be ready to receive His Gifts. All the links are free and easily accessible. The include a prayer (usually offered as both the text and a song or video), the Scripture to pray with that is also listed in the Lectio Divina journal, two videos about that Gift of the Holy Spirit (as well as a whole playlist of Confirmation videos), and a couple of activity suggestions that range from conversations with Sponsors, to researching their Confirmation Saints, to readings that deepen their understanding of the effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

 Click here for a pdf version of the retreat:
Click here to open up an editable version of the retreat so you can change wording, add links, list specific dates, etc. When you open this version in Google Slides, you will either need to make a copy and then edit your own version in Google Slides or download and edit in PowerPoint. Either way, I then recommend saving as a pdf before sending out to students and families- it usually helps with access and formatting issues.
May the Gifts of the Holy Spirit manifest themselves in our work and in the lives of our students and families. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Friday, June 12, 2020

A Heart for God's People- Resources for Kids on Combating Racism

Hi friends- Over the past few weeks we have certainly seen an explosion of discussion and action surrounding the topic of racism. I have been doing a lot of listening, reading, praying, and reflecting. I'm not here today to write at length, but I did want to share the fruit of some of my prayer and planning as I consider the conversations about social justice that need to be expanded on in my classroom when we return in the fall. In this post I have a few resources for you that maybe will help with the conversations and prayer you are sharing with your kids at home. I also am going to link to a few of the tools that have been meaningful for me and that I am tucking away to use later in my classroom. If you have found any great resources for Catholic kids about the topics of racism, I'd love for you to add them in the comments or send me an email!

***A couple of updates based on some feedback/questions:
-Some of the Saints on the Litany have not always been portrayed as Black in art. The truth is that unless we have a modern photograph of the Saint, we don't know their skin color. But, all of these Saints are either from Africa or have African ancestry, so I believe that they are good patrons to call on for an eradication of racism in the world, even if some of them did not experience racism themselves based on their time/location in history.
-I certainly did not intend for this to be a "one and done" activity or something only relegated to a unit on social justice (I realize it might sound like that in the paragraph above- I meant more all the ways we incorporate Catholic Social Teaching throughout our classroom and school year). I hope that these Saints find their way into your home/classroom's bookshelves, art, and conversations year round.
-I also hope that this list is seen as an opportunity to share the stories of these Saints.They have not been Canonized (or on their way) because of the color of their skin, but because they allowed Jesus to transform their hearts. I am not lifting them up as an example exclusively because they are Black, but because they lived heroic virtue and give us an example to follow.
-I hope that helps! I'm always open for dialogue and offering the best tools I can share. 

First, I think that there is no better prayer right now than to be asking for the mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to fall upon our world. I have been praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart daily and began the Novena this week. It's never too late to join in.
Litany to the Sacred Heart printable
Novena to the Sacred Heart printable
Other Sacred Heart Resources, including a printable Sacred Heart statue

I've also been asking the Black Saints who've gone before us to intercede for our country from Heaven. I created a litany of some of my favorite Black Saints as well as a blank version for you to list your own. This summer would be a great time to choose a few Black Saints to learn more about. I've started working on finding resources especially for our American Black Saints/Blesseds/Venerables/Servants of God and hope to be able to share those with you soon.
Just a note- I think Saints from all eras, locations, and races should be shared with kids all the time- in our books, art, stories, and examples. But just like we call on certain Saints for certain circumstances- like a patron of a particular job or specific illness- I think it only makes sense to ask these holy men and women to be praying for us in light of current events.

Click here for my Litany of Black Saints:
And click here for the blank Litany to fill in yourself:
Meg Hunter-Kilmer is a literal Saint Ninja and has tons of resources on her social media about these brothers and sisters who went before us. Most recently, she has created a beautiful Black Saints Novena on Instagram. I encourage you to go read their stories and then share the stories of how they loved Jesus and lived with heroic virtue.

I also believe that great solace and direction can be found in listening to the truth of Scripture especially when the world around us is so divisive. I chose five passages from throughout the Bible that helped me reflect and pray on the true universality of the Body of Christ. Each page in this printable has one passage to read and a few reflection questions for each step of Lectio Divina, as well as a little room for your child to journal. I think that these Lectio Divina pages would be most powerful for 4th graders and up, but you could certainly read the passages (or a shortened version) with any age and use them as a springboard of conversation about God's love for all His people and the inherent dignity and worth of each person.

Click here to get the five Lectio Divina pages:

The USCCB has resources about racism for every grade level here. I encourage to browse through and pull out any talking points or resources that would help you guide your kids.

Jenna from Lazy Liturgical has this  free God's Colors printable to help start conversations with your young child about diversity.

The book Everyone Belongs from Loyola Press is recommended by the USCCB.

Colors of Creation from TAN books starts with the Creation of the world using the colors green, blue, etc. and concludes with the pinnacle of Creation- humankind, shown with all of the colors of people around the world.

 Lacy from Catholic Icing pulled together a great list of picture books about diversity for kids.

There's also this list: Books about Racism and Social Justice from Common Sense Media.

In the Image and Likeness of God Newsletter for Parents from the National Catholic Education Association

Personally, I have benefited greatly from listening to these videos/podcasts, and know that some of this content would also be helpful to my middle schoolers or high school youth group. They would be worth the listen as a parent or teacher, and them maybe you can listen with your older child.
Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman addresses the USCCB in 1989
Fr. Josh Johnson Rosary for Racial Reconciliation
Fr. John Johnson Podcast Episode Healing the Racial Divide
Catholic Stuff You Should Know Podcast Episode: One Congregation
Beyond the Pew: Talking to Your Kids About Race

We are united together as a Church living out the call written in the Catechism that says:
"The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design." ~CCC 1935

I will continue to pray, and hope you join me, for a rooting out of the sin of racism in my own heart and in the world around us. Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Sacred Heart At-Home VBS {Includes an editable option and all resources are free!}

The month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so I could think of no better theme as I planned activities to share with you for your families and students. With life still not back to normal, I know many people are missing out on VBS and Totus Tuus and want to support their kids' faith over the summer. Cue the best I could do to create an at-home VBS. ;)

This resource is set up with a lot of the elements of a VBS (prayer, music, snacks, crafts) but with tons of options so it can work for a wide range of ages. I also pulled A LOT of resources- more than anyone would really use -but I wanted there to be variety and choice. All of the activities are FREE so hopefully this project is easily accessible and shareable, even on a school or parish level. 

For each column, there is an idea for:
-Bible verse
-Saint who loved the Sacred Heart
-Bonus Resources (usually additional crafts or videos)
-Links for Parents or Older Siblings (to help parents feel equipped to teach their kids along the way, and to help older kids participate)

I created two different calendar options. One has a traditional Monday-Friday format, so there would be a lot of activities for each day. The second option uses the five weeks of June and spreads out ideas over the whole month. (And technically there is a third option, because I'm also giving you an editable version you can tailor to the needs of your group). All of the plans end with an enthronement of the Sacred Heart and Sacred Heart Party, which kids can do with this printable Sacred Heart Statue:

Almost every suggestion has an link to a printable, YouTube Video, recipe, etc. including the prayers and a quote for each of the Saints. I think these would be great to hang or display during the VSB, or they also can be cut apart and stapled into little prayer books:

This whole plan is completely free and available for you to email out to your friends, parish, class, school, etc. I always appreciate when people include a link back to the blog so people can find more resources, but the schedule is especially designed to be easy to share as a pdf in a bulk email, school communication system, or parish bulletin. Please share! I'm always honored to be able to help, but especially now when we can't minister to our communities in the same ways we are used to. Click below to open all the resources!

Please join me in praying and asking Jesus' Sacred Heart to have mercy on us, and on the whole world. 

***These docs are also linked directly in the schedule, but I wanted to share them here too in case you only plan to use the statue and prayers ;)

Click here to print the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue:

 And banner:

These Sacred Heart Prayers can be used throughout the week or month, and can either be cut out and displayed, or cut and stapled into a mini book.

These Sacred Heart Saint Quotes are from the five featured Saints as well a couple bonuses. They can also be displayed through the week or made into a mini book.

Sacred Heart At-Home VBS 5 Day Guide: Click here for the pdf version of the guide with all the links and info on one page for a Monday-Friday schedule:

Sacred Heart At-Home VBS 5 Week Guide: Or click here for the pdf version of the guide with all the links and info on one page spread out over the five weeks in June:

Editable Google Slides Version: And if you'd like to edit the guide, I've made a version in Google Slides (same info and links, design is slightly different and spread over two pages). Directions are included for how to make a copy or download the slides to edit.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Katie Reads {22} New Books for Catholic Kids

This stack of books makes me both so excited and so melancholy. Excited because there are some awesome titles in here that I am glad to be adding to my classroom library, but also super sad because my students are not in that classroom to enjoy them. But when we are all back together, I'm grateful to have some new resources to enrich our studies and reading. I’ve gotten a little behind on my Katie Reads Review posts, hence the length of this list, but I’m still glad to be able to share them with you and maybe there will be a few titles you can order for your own kiddos and enjoy this summer!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. That means that if you click through and purchase something, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
***Pauline Books & Media provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
+++Emmaus Road Publishing provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
^^^Tan Books provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
===Our Sunday Visitor  provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
### Author provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I only recommend things I use and love and want to share with you. All opinions are my own. :)

I am loving the virtue program used by my school (Education in Virtue) and as we go into year three of implementation, I am always looking for resources to pull and supplement to make it meaningful for my students (especially the ones that I will have had for three years in a row.) This lovely little devotional book is something I hope to pull from for class prayer, read aloud reflections, quotes for the board, etc. It is of keepsake quality with a leatherette cover, ribbon bookmark, gilded pages. There is a virtue theme organized by month- such as humility, patience, obedience, simplicity, and charity. Within the monthly themes, there is a Saint quote for each day followed by a short but substantial reading (1-2 pages) about how a Saint lived out that virtue. While not specifically created for kids, it will be a great resource for my middle school classroom. I loved this quote that the book opens with, which I think sets the tone for what the book offers: "The object of all virtues is to bring us into union with God, in which alone is laid up all the happiness that can be enjoyed in this world. Now, in what does this union properly consist? In nothing save a perfect conformity and resemblance between our will and the will of God." ~St. John of the Cross

I love this sweet new book encouraging a conversational style of prayer between kiddos and God. Aimed I think at 2nd-4th graders, it has super cute graphics and is divided into six chapters with ten or so topics. The short, original child-friendly prayers are super relatable and then always provide room for them to write their own addition or response on the same topic. The prayers are not specifically Catholic, fyi. This is good because the book would be usable by any Christian denomination, but doesn't take advantage of rich Catholic traditions. The topics are very practical real life- things like homework, laughter, anger, birthdays, and sports. There is also a section for holidays, both secular and religious. The categories also incorporate different types of prayer- petition, thanks, etc. for every emotion. And contained in the book are some hard topics kids encounter- death of a loved one, divorce, prejudice.  These "Prayers about Things That Happen in Our World" are done in a child appropriate way, and I think would be a great tool to use for a child who needs an outlet for approaching prayer during those hard times.

I've already recommended the first book of Catholic Funny Fill-Ins and have enjoyed using it as an extra activity in my classroom when I need a game, filler, reward, etc. Fill in  a list of random adjectives, verbs, and names, and you suddenly have a hilarious story about Catholic life. Karen and Tommy Tigue (The Catholic Hipster) have created a second edition that features fill-ins all about spectacular Saints. These are always more fun with two or more people, so I think they would be a perfect way to promote some non-screen-family together time.  I'm also grateful that Pauline Kids allows in the copyright for pages to be reproduced for educators, which makes it an awesome resource for the classroom. This is such a fun and easy activity to get kids laughing and enjoying the themes of their Catholic faith. With cute illustrations complimenting the new Saint for each page, there are an infinite number of ways to complete the stories and therefore the book can be used again and again. Plus, each fill-in ends with a short interesting bio of the Saint, giving context to the fill-in story and doing a little catechesis along the way!

===Be Yourself, A Journal for Catholic Boys, by Amy Brooks (preorder the physical book for August)
Amy Brooks created a beautiful resources for tweens called the Be Yourself, A Journal for Catholic Girls and now has a companion for boys! I'm so excited to see these launched into the world, but unfortunately due to COVID related delays, the publication of the book is pushed back to this summer. However, I've gotten to view the inside pages and it is awesome! I actually might like it even better than the girls version... which is a hard thing to do! Creating a journal for a tween/teen boy is no easy task, but Amy has done it in a way that is masculine, adventurous, and fun while still creating an invitation for prayer and reflection. The pages are filled with quotes, challenges, spaces to write or create (like with mud, for example!), and guides for prayer. While it might seem like a long time to wait, I encourage you to check it out if you have a 9-12 year old boy in your life who could benefit and consider preordering!

***Month by Month with Mary: Spiritual Insights for Marian Devotion, by Guido Gandolfo, SSP
This is another resources not created specifically for kids, but I am definitely going to put to use in my classroom. The little book is perfect for carrying Marian themes throughout the entire year, especially for someone looking to live out their Consecration to Jesus through Mary or to make her a more routine part of prayer. A chapter per month contains a collection of reflections on Marian themes that match the Liturgical Year. For each month, a title or experience of Mary is highlighted to match the season or a feast day of that month. It is not a daily format, but instead offers a reading that could be reflected on once during the month, which I think is very practical. It will be a great tool with my jr. high students especially as we investigate the titles of Mary and her role in the Church.

###That Easter Sunday: A Story of Resilience, Friendship, and Hope, by Nadishka Aloysius (free on Kindle Unlimited)
This short story told from the perspective of a mouse and his family and friends retells the terrible tragedy of the terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019. That loss of life and tragic attack on public worship was a difficult event to witness from across the world, but is something that should be part of our prayers as a united Church. Nadiska's story retells the events of one of bombings but through the innocent eyes of a mouse, who with childlike naivety does not understand everything that is happening. The result is an approachable opportunity to process tragedy without forcing facts on a child not ready for them. I think that this book could serve two main purposes well- First, it would certainly be a good book to read with a child who has heard about the Sri Lankan bombings or other attacks on a place of worship as a way to process and discuss. Second, I think that the book could have applications for a child dealing with many other types of tragedy- violence, death, separation, etc. I would definitely read it first and decide how to approach the topic with your child, but am grateful that this tool has been added to the arsenal of books about hard topics for kids.

and ###Prince Martin and the Last Centaur (Book 5) Free on Kindle Unlimited, preorder the physical book for April
Have you read the Prince Martin books yet? They are such a creative, fun, adventurous set of stories that are a unique addition to the short chapter book market, especially for boys! While appealing to both boys and girls, I do love that there is a consistent masculine tone set through the challenges presented and growth in the characters. I recently read books four and five, which can be read as stand along books or certainly as part of the series. Written in metered verse, they would make rhythmic read alouds for home or classroom. The chapter books are aimed at 8-10 year olds, which I think would be a good fit. There are some challenging and interesting words throughout the story, elevating the vocabulary, but the books also include a glossary with "power words" at the end.
While not a blatantly Catholic story, I really enjoyed reading a narrative where virtue was celebrated, the characters faced challenges with moral implications, experienced struggle, but showed the reward of choosing good over evil. Brandon originally told the Prince Martin stories to his son over the phone while he was working overseas, and now they've expanded into an epic collection shared from his home to yours.

Not quite a book, but I wanted to make sure that you had checked out the awesome the Letters from the Saints Subscription. Don't you love getting snail mail? This brilliant replications of real letters sent by the Saints who have walked the faith before us are sent straight to your mailbox each week complete with fancy paper and unique stamps. Reading the words they actually wrote is a perfect way to get to know the hearts of the Saints. Each letter also shares a short background for context and are set to a monthly theme. I love the "real" quality and have enjoyed sharing them with my students. I think that these letters would work best for jr. high students and up, but certainly can be appreciated and learned from by adults. For younger children, there is a companion Letter Club with a monthly letter, activity, recipe, etc. They'd make a wonderful gift for your family or as happy mail for someone you love!

Ok, full disclosure, I've just started reading this one, but I am always excited to find books intended for teens about "obscure" Saints instead of the same (beloved of course) favorites. This book tells the story of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, a Chinese-Filipino martyr. Born around the year 1600 and raised a Christian, he was falsely accused of murder and left the area with a group of Dominican priests. The original plan was for him to stop near the beginning of their journey and resettle away from the accusations, but instead he traveled with them to Japan where they made waves by entering the country both as foreigners and missionaries. Lorenzo and his companions were arrested, tortured, and tempted to apostatize, but all died brave, gruesome, martyr's deaths. A powerful story at that, but what is also interesting is that Lorenzo wasn't a priest himself as many martyrs from this era were- he was a layman, and actually a young husband and father. I'm already intrigued by his story and definitely am interested in this novelization of his life. The writing is compelling for a teen reader and is certainly suspenseful enough to keep me turning the pages. I'm eager to get this one on my classroom shelves and encourage my students to get to know this inspiring Saint.

***Extreme Blindside, by Leslea Wahl
Entertaining novels with a Catholic message are hard to come by, but Pauline Teen is doing good work bringing stories with relatable characters, interesting situations, dramatic problems, and moral decisions into print. The Blindside series (this is the second book, but I think could be read as a stand alone) uses popular interests like sports and mystery/suspense to pull the reader in and present them with situations that become teachable moments. While I do love getting biographies and other Catholic non fiction in my students' hands for catechesis in living out their faith, sometimes it is just as meaningful to allow them to experience that catechesis through the gentle act of storytelling. All art points back to the Creator, and I am glad to continue to see publishers working on stories like this for older kids that allow them to be entertained and enjoy reading fiction while not having to discern the truth and lies within the worldview presented in many books pushed on teens today.

This little booklet about the apostle to the Apostles is another title not specifically for kids, but it is a perfect resource for my students prepping for Confirmation. The booklet has a short biography, novena, chaplet, litany, other prayers all in a quick to read format or a perfect pocket resource. I've always loved Mary Magdalene and think this is a great option for helping my students get to know her too.

***A Prayer and a Pickaxe: A Legend About St. Clement of Rome, by Pamela Love, illustrated by Maggie Coburn
I love the collection of Saint Tales and Legends that Pauline Kids continues to add to (including titles on St. Brigid, St. Helen, St. Martin for example). They are the perfect length in introduce kids to the stories behind some of our favorite early Saints using memorable lessons and traditional stories. This new addition retells a legend about the life of the 4th Pope, St. Clement. The warm story and adorable illustrations end with a two page biography to share some of the facts of what is know about St. Clement's life. I think that the Tales and Legends series make a strong addition to any 2nd-4th grade classroom.

+++St. Conrad and the Wildfire, by Maura Roan McKeegan, Illustrated by Patty Borgman
Maura Roan McKeegan remains one of my favorite Catholic children's authors (she created the brilliant Old and New Series), so I was so excited to hear she has a new book out! This one strays from the previous series on Biblical Typology and introduces the reader to a little known 14th Century Saint whose story presents a powerful lesson for kids and adults alike. A wealthy nobleman, Conrad enjoyed a comfortable life until one of his decisions led to a terrible event- but then someone else was blamed. Conrad's choices about honesty, forgiveness, and making things right presents a lesson that kids are not soon to forget. Coupled with beautiful illustrations, this new book is sure to become a beloved classic.

This sweet new book records the conversation between a child and her Guardian Angel, which provides an imaginative script about the heavenly realities happening around us. The story helps the reader see the Mass from the perspective of the curious child as well as what the angel knows to be true. It is supplemented by really cool 3-D illustrations (made with clay maybe?) as well as a Did You Know? box on each page with info from the Bible and Catechism about what is occurring on each page. I like this fresh new take on helping a child enter into the Mass and seeing the union of Heaven and earth present during the liturgy, but demonstrated in such a friendly format.

This next collection of books is all from author Anthony DeStefano, who was recommended to me by a reader, and I am so glad! He has an incredible gift for taking lessons from the Gospels and weaving them into parable-like stories with lessons that are both easy to understand and still carry the depth of Christ’s teachings- which isn’t a simple accomplishment. Each book is written in fun to read rhyme usually opens or closes with actual Bible verses that inspired the story. Illustrated by a variety of artists, each has bright, creative, detailed images that help tell the story and convey the emotions of the storyline. These books are a treasure for sharing the message of the Gospel in bite size, memorable chunks. DeStefano also has a beautiful new book called Our Lady's Wardrobe teaching about Mary through the symbolic clothing she has worn in different Marian Apparitions! I've seen some of the inside pages and just ordered my own copy.

This sweet book about a lost lamb is relatable for every child who desires to be found and known. Inspired by John 10, there are also many other Biblical lessons in the symbol laden illustrations, making it a meaningful read for kids across a wide variety of ages. The warm and comforting story has a message about the Good Shepherd for all of us, but I think would be especially powerful for kids preparing for the Sacrament of Confession, as well as during times they need to learn about repenting of sin and running back to the arms of their Savior.

###This Little Prayer of Mine, by Anthony DeStefano, Illustrated by Mark Elliott
Teaching a young child about prayer can sometimes be a challenge- how do you explain and model something that can't be seen? This book gives tons of examples of how God always hears our prayers and is ready to respond to us. Prayers for every emotion and all kinds of situations are included with illustrations that have both real life and imaginative applications. I think that this would be a perfect book to read with kids to help make prayer seem like a natural and real part of everyone's day.

###The Puppy That No One Wanted, by Anthony DeStefano, Illustrated by Richard Cowdrey
Continuing with his parable-type stories, this original tale of a puppy that was lonely, hungry, and neglected but still filled with hope that he would find a home of his own. With a connection to Matthew 15:28 ("Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.") and filled with other Biblical symbols, children will feel compassion for the puppy and his generous and faithful heart. The puppy does end up finding a wonderful home, but it might surprise you who the family is that takes him in! 

###The Little Star, by Anthony DeStefano, Illustrated by Mark Elliott
It's always fun to read an original Christmas story that shares the message of the Nativity from a new perspective. This sweet book shares about the celebration in the heavens the night Jesus was born. One little star was so excited that he poured himself out to shine bright on the stable to draw everyone's eyes to the Baby King, even though the other stars didn't understand the humility and poverty of His birth. The book tells how the Little Star's generosity and love for Jesus is the reason we still celebrate by topping our Christmas trees with a star. 

###The Donkey That No One Could Ride, by Anthony DeStefano, Illustrated by Richard Cowdrey
Probably the best known of DeStefano's books (for good reason!), The Donkey That No One Could Ride is an Easter classic. This little donkey is weak and small and couldn't seem to do anything a donkey should be able to to do. But then a chance encounter changes the donkey's life, and he in turn has the honor of carrying Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is a perfect story of how meeting Jesus is always an invitation for growth and transformation- we encounter Him and never leave unchanged. 

How do you explain Mark 10:25, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter into the kingdom of God." to kiddos? This creative and fun story about Roxy the camel, who loves pretty, fancy things. She wants to move to a beautiful city instead of her dusty desert, but encounters a problem when she arrives. To enter into the city of the King of kings, she has to first go through a small door...and all her belongings won't fit! Roxy makes some hard decisions but the end result becomes a blessing not only for those around her, but but for Roxy herself! This tale is a perfect resource to talk about generosity and detachment from worldly things since Jesus is always the best gift we can receive.

The miraculous Feeding of the 5000 is one of my very favorite Bible Stories, but my imagination always wonders about the boy mentioned in John 6 who shared his lunch with the Apostles. In this book DeStefano imagines the backstory of the boy and why he was traveling with the five loaves and two fish. When the boy encounters Jesus, his heart knows there is something special about this teacher, so he acts in great generosity and gives the little he has. The boy witnesses a great miracle as Jesus multiplies the food to feed everyone- even with leftovers! This story of kindness and sacrifice for the good of others shows the impact that Christ can make even with small things we have to offer Him.

The Seed Who Was Afraid to Be Planted is a story about overcoming fears. With parallels to the parable of the sower, this original story from the perspective of the seed shows that we can trust the gardener. The rhyme and sweet illustrations enrich this tale of change and growing up, showing the good that can come over time even if we can't see how things will turn out in the moment. It ends with four Bible verses to continue the conversations and turn the picture book into a devotional/Bible Study.

***Update- It has come to my attention that there are some concerns about how this book could be seen through the eyes of a child who has experience trauma, especially abuse. I did not view it through this lens, so it had not set off any warning bells for me, but now after reevaluating, I agree that this book should be used with care. I was imagining it being read with a child to talk about change and fear of the unknown, and I think it still could be used in that way with discussion and support. But the imagery and language could be very scary for a child with trauma in their background or even promote a child to not report abuse. I also agree that the role of the gardener is not a great representation of the kind, merciful, involved God who loves us. I do not believe that this was the intent in any way of the author or publisher, but I will add this word of caution for parents and teachers to consider before using it with their kids, or just placing on a bookshelf for any child to pick up without guidance. Children's literature is a powerful tool to be used for the development of a child's spiritual growth, and should never be a stumbling block placed in their path.

^^^Colors of Creation, by Paul Thigpen, Illustrated by John Folley
This fun new book uses colors to teach about the days of Creation and the joy God had in all he made. I love creative writing that makes the Old Testament more understandable for the young child, and this pattern of colors alongside the order of God creating the world out of nothing is a brilliant juxtaposition. Starting with black for the darkness and adding white of bright light, then blue for water and green for plants, it finally leads to the pinnacle of creation and God's love for all humanity. The fun rhyme and beautiful paintings for the illustrations on each page are perfect for preschool-kindergartener kiddos learning both about colors and the Creation of the world. 

Heaven is a Wonderful Place, by Angela M. Burrin, Illustrated by Gustavo Mazali
I recommended this title in my recent post about Books for Grief but wanted to include it in a regular kids' book post too. This new book has lovely illustrations and is one of best I've seen at describing Heaven for a child. Focusing on Biblical descriptions of Heaven, the story is told by a grandmother to her grandchildren as they process the death of their grandfather. It would a perfect read for early elementary kids who have experienced a loss, or those that are asking big questions about death and eternity. I think this could work well for 5-8 year olds.

The Saints Chronicles Collection 4, multiple authors and illustrators
I've recommended this series before, but just added Book 4 to my library. My students and I love graphic novels- I feel that they are an incredibly relevant way to share the faith, especially with reluctant readers or kids that are predominantly visual learners.  Well written and illustrated graphic novels can convey just as much (if not more) information as a chapter book, and often do by developing and challenging reading skills like sequencing, making inferences, and understanding dialogue and perspective. The Saints Chronicles collection has a mature look for middle school or older readers and features five Saints in each book.  This edition contains the stories of more well known Saints like St. Dominic and St. Rose of Lima, and St. Margaret of Scotland, as well as the lesser known St. Stanislaus and St. Willibrord.  Creatively told by a different author and illustrator for each biography, it's like a collection of five graphic novels in one. They'd make the perfect gift to inspire virtue in any preteen or teen.

Wow. Just wow. I think I saved my favorite new book for this final spot in today's post. This collection called Stories of the Saints was in my cart a long time ago, but I think production got pushed back. I am so glad I saw it and ordered it again when it was released- I am so impressed by this unique and original addition to the Saint book market for kids. Intended more for an older kid audience, I'm grateful for a powerful and engaging presentation that is both graphically interesting and written at a higher reading level. Sometime there are only seem to be Saint picture books aimed at early elementary students, but this definitely fills a gap for older kids and does it well. It is an oversized, 12" x 8", making the powerful illustrations even more striking. The illustrations are darker in tone and very imaginative representations of the Saints' lives, not just recreations of a typical image. Some Saints have small vignettes and and some have large two page spreads, making it fun to flip through and see the variety and how they add to the story telling. The gold accents in the illustrations add a heavenly quality. The biographies of 70 Saints are included, filled with adventure and their bold witness for Christ. I love that they are organized from ancient to modern, showing how Christians have lived in every era and place. Here are a few of the inside illustration to give you a feel for the book:

Whew! What a stack! I hope there are a few titles that will tempt your kids to be reading and learning about their faith, especially during this time stuck and home and a summer that might look a little quieter than normal. Feel free to add a few in the comments or send me an email- I'd love to know what you are having your kids read, both old and new favorites!