Saturday, November 28, 2020

Interviews with TWO of My Favorite Authors, and a GIVEAWAY!

For several years I've been sharing my book reviews with you, but today instead of just listing favorite books, I get to share two of my favorite authors! Maura Roan McKeegan and Katie Warner are both prolific authors of Catholic Children's books, many of which are the books I've used frequently in my classroom and parish, bought multiple copies of for gifts, or recommended to others time and time again. I had the opportunity to ask each of them about their insights on sharing our Catholic faith with kids through the words and illustrations found in their books and I'm so excited to share those interviews with you today! AND to celebrate, I'm also hosting a giveaway for you, my awesome readers! The winner will get their pick of one each of Katie and Maura's books. Check out the end of the post for how to enter!

***Looking to buy a few books for Christmas gifts? On this small business Saturday, I highly encourage you to buy directly from the publisher or from your local Catholic bookstore! Many of them are also offering great deals this weekend, too. (I've linked directly to the publisher's websites below, but these books are also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) ;)

An Interview with Author Maura Roan McKeegan

I have long loved Maura Roan McKeegan's books, especially her Old and New Series that so beautifully brings Biblical typology to life for children. I was so honored to get to ask Maura a few questions recently about writing books for Catholic kids! Maura's books include Where is Jesus Hidden?, The End of the Fiery Sword, Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb, Building the Way to Heaven, and Conrad and the Wildfire.

Q: In Where is Jesus Hidden? and your other children's books, you do a beautiful job of communicating rich theological truths to little readers. What are some ways you think parents and teachers can share deep topics with young children?

A: Thank you! I think one of the best things parents and teachers can do is to cultivate their own sense of wonder about the Faith. When we read fascinating books and listen to captivating speakers, they create a spark within us. That spark can be passed on to children when we share our enthusiasm about our discoveries with them.

All of my children’s books began with me learning something about the Faith that struck me as fascinating (like biblical typology), or inspiring (like the story of St. Conrad of Piacenza). When adults are enthusiastic about a topic, they can impart that enthusiasm to children in a real and meaningful way. Then, instead of trying to feed children information because we think they “ought to know it,” we convey exciting truths about deep topics because we find it all just so amazing and we want to share it with the children in our lives!

My favorite college professor, who taught a course in elementary reading education, used to say, “Enthusiasm for reading is caught, not taught.” In the same way, I think enthusiasm for the Faith is caught, not taught. Children have an incredible capacity for understanding deep truths—in some ways, even more than adults do, because of the purity of their hearts. When we, as parents and teachers, fill our own hearts with Scripture, stories of the saints, good books, and interesting conversations, these things will give us the “good treasure of the heart,” from of the abundance of which “the mouth speaks” to children. (Luke 6:45)

Q: What are some practical applications or discussions you hope occur after reading Where is Jesus Hidden?

A: I hope that reading Where is Jesus Hidden? will help children find the hidden Jesus in their everyday lives. When I was growing up, even though I had a Catholic education, I had no idea that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist, let alone that we could find Him in the poor or the sick. (I don’t fault my teachers—I probably wasn’t listening!) These were concepts I didn’t understand until I was an adult, but they are well within the grasp of children.

Mother Teresa is my inspiration for finding the hidden Jesus. She said, “In the Eucharist, I see Christ in the appearance of bread. In the slums, I see Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor. The Eucharist and the poor are but one love for me.”

It is my hope that this book will open children’s eyes to see, as Mother Teresa did, the many ways that the hidden Jesus is with us. I also hope that hearing and reading the words of Scripture will create a familiarity with the Bible that children can bring into adulthood. I hope that when children hear these same verses in other places, the verses will resonate with new understanding because of the discoveries the children encountered in Where is Jesus Hidden?, and that those Scriptural connections will last a lifetime.

Q: What do you look for in quality Catholic children's books?

A: In Catholic children’s books about Scripture, it’s important to me that the Bible verses are authentic and not changed or embellished. If Scripture is paraphrased, it’s important to me that it stays as close as possible to the actual text and doesn’t take liberties with the words and messages of the Bible. Every word of Scripture is packed with meaning. When we stay close to the actual words, we stay close to Christ.

In Catholic children’s books about saints or fictional stories, I look for good storytelling that:
--captures children’s attention (no one wants to read dry or boring books!)
--imparts truth in inspiring and unique ways without being didactic
--trusts children’s ability to internalize the story without watering down content
--respects the child’s intelligence and doesn’t talk down to children in a condescending way
--is accompanied by endearing illustrations

This article that I wrote for the St. Paul Center dives more deeply into the topic of reading spiritual books with children, with tips for parents, teachers, and others: Reading with Love: Tips for Sharing Spiritual Books with Children

An Interview with Author Katie Warner

Katie Warner's contribution to Catholic books for kids continues to amaze me! She brings the truth of the Sacraments and sanctity and more to such a relatable level for young children. I've always been so encouraged by her work and was thrilled to get to ask her a few questions about Catholic kids' books too! Her writing includes This is the Church, Lily Lolek, Future Saint, Fr. Ben Gets Ready for Mass, I Went to Mass, What Did I See, and board books like Kiddie Cat and The Word of the Lord. Her next title, Listening for God, is also available for preorder! (And she also has a whole series of books for adults on prayer, too.)

Q: This is the Church is a treasure among picture books! It shares the beauty of Salvation History in such an appropriate format for little readers. It seems to be a goal of First Faith Treasury books to present authentic teaching in an approachable way, even for preschoolers. How do you go about sharing the truths of the faith without watering them down?

A: I love this question. Our faith is so rich, and our children have the capacity for great understanding; it is our desire to create books that acknowledge these realities! We aim to publish books that children will want to read, because by their nature they are true, good, and beautiful -- qualities that any soul is drawn to regardless of age.

On a more practical note, I have a graduate degree in Catholic theology and have spent the better part of my life teaching the faith in some capacity, so I'd say that watering children's books down is not so much my challenge as is making them too rife with content or theology beyond a young child's age! But honestly, I find that our children and students, who were made by their Creator to know Him, are quite ready to scour depths of faith and mystery beyond what we might expect. It's incredible to hear from readers -- and to watch my own children -- fall in love with stories that don't talk down to them, but rather help form them into little disciples.

Q: Your books feature gorgeous illustrations, but each design is unique to the content of the book. How have you worked with your illustrators to create both images and text that enhance and build on one another?

A: I am blessed to work with the most amazing artists! In fact, I wouldn't be a children's book writer if it wasn't for my desire to see Meg Whalen's illustrations be enjoyed by kids around the world. She had been publishing small batches of her own illustrated books for years for family and friends' baptisms, birthdays, and other special celebrations, and I wanted her beautiful work to be more widely distributed. I knew I had the skills to arrange a publishing contract...and then along the way I discovered I loved writing children's books and that the Holy Spirit wanted this to happen for more reasons than I had originally planned!

But it is important to me that the illustrators bring a lot of their own creative talent to each book. The pictures tell the story as much, if not more, than the words do! After I finish a text, I like to let the illustrators (Meg Whalen or Amy Rodriguez have illustrated all of our current books, and Meg does the book design for all of them as well) take the lead in creating artwork for the book that expresses their own preferred style and enhances the text. We work together as the book progresses, in hopes that we can wed the text and the illustrations on each page beautifully, so that they are each a cohesive, mini work of art that make children and adults want to linger a bit as they read.

Meg and Amy are so incredibly talented that the whole process turns out to be so delightful, easy, and fun!

Q: What do you look for in quality Catholic children's books?

A: In addition to the qualities of truth, goodness, and beauty as I mentioned previously, a truly great Catholic children's book is captivating. It draws children to it. They want to reach for it from the shelf as they would its secular Barnes and Noble bestselling counterparts. It's okay for a Catholic children's book to be fun! To be creative. To be unique. To tell a great story. We started doing this work because we noticed that a lot of our Catholic children's books in the home had great content, but were missing that ... pizzaz? (to sound like a nerd)...that made us really look forward to reading them. I also think a quality Catholic children's book can foster experiences, discussions, and memories.

I've had so many teachers and parents tell me about their pastors' reading Father Ben Gets Ready for Mass to children and seeing the Mass and the priesthood come more alive for them through the special connection made through that interactive book. I've treasured stories of children who excitedly create their own club or litany of favorite saints and talk about their desire to become a saint someday after reading Lily Lolek, Future Saint. These anecdotes (along with hearing my own kids recite my books word for word by memory!) make my heart explode with joy and remind me that there are few things as treasured in childhood as a good why not a good Catholic book? Even better, right?

Ok, and now for the GIVEAWAY!

I just love my readers so much, and am so grateful for your support and encouragement. I'd love to send you one of Maura and one of Katie's books of your choice! Winner must be 18 or older and have a US mailing address (sorry, international friends!). Lots of ways to enter below, and the giveaway closes 12/5/20 at 12 a.m.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Katie Reads {24} A Few New Kids' Books!

Hi there! I'm swooping in real quick with a shorter than normal Katie Reads post (a good thing? ... or not?) with a few new titles for Catholic kids. I wanted to get this out there now because I know so many of us are doing our shopping early or online, and I wanted to make sure you saw these in time for Christmas! (and thank you SO MUCH to those of you who have been asking, but my book Through the Year with Jesus: Gospel Readings and Reflections for Children isn't quite ready for preorder yet. I hope to give you a sneak peek of my cover and preorder bonuses super soon, though!)

I also will be posting a Gift Guide in a tab above to share some of the great things that I am buying/giving this Christmas season. I'm doing my best to shop small, local, and/or Catholic as often as possible. Many of those shops are running awesome sales and/or are offering you a discount code, so I hope you go check it out!

Check out all of my Katie Reads Posts under this tab, and my growing list of Books for Catholic Kids here.

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.
I also highly encourage you to buy directly from the publisher or from your local Catholic bookstore! (Many of them are running sales this weekend too!)
+++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.
~~~Ave Maria Press provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
%%% Ignatius Press 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.

~~~Advent and Christmas One Day at a Time for Catholic Teens, Katie Prejean McGrady & Tommy McGrady
~~~The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2020, Charles Paolino
~~~Messages of Joy for Advent and Christmas 2020, Michael White and Tom Corcoran

I most wanted to share the McGrady's book here, but I had already taken a pic of all three so you get all three in a recommendation. ;) I've used the matching Lent "One Day at a Time" book in my classroom as a daily devotional, and really like the short entries and relevant reflections for middle and high schoolers. Each of these books is super affordable (around $2 each!) so they are great for buying to share.

+++O Come, Emmanuel, Kendra Tierney

Kendra's new book on the Jesse Tree is a perfect tool to add this devotion into homes and classrooms! The text from Scripture for each day is included right in the book (so convenient!), the reflections are short but meaningful, and the closing prayer is brief and intentional. The hardcover book has thick and glossy full color pages, and each day is illustrated with a symbol that is actually part of a mosaic of baby Jesus and Mary. I love that concept, which is a perfect representation of the concept of the Jesse Tree- all the pieces of the family tree leading up to Jesus's birth. This will be a book that can be pulled out and used year after year!
(FYI, I see that this is currently out of stock on Amazon, but The St. Paul Center has copies available! If you order it now, you can always catch up the first few days if needed.)

+++Where is Jesus Hidden? Maura Roan McKeegan
New from one of my favorite Catholic children's authors, this sweet book helps little ones know that they can find Jesus everywhere they look. Sets of two pages first ask where Jesus is hidden with a full Bible verse as a hint, and then the following page highlights the "answer" in the illustration. The big concept is explained in child-friendly language, and the readers see that we can find Jesus in Scripture, our priests, the poor, the sick, and within the children themselves. I love that it includes such a big theological concept and real Scripture to show it, but at a level that a preschooler can grasp.

(AND I am super excited to announce that I recently had the opportunity to interview Maura about her new book and the work she has done as an author. Check back on Saturday for a featured interview from her and one other author, as well as a giveaway!)

###You Were Born to Be a Saint, Kortnee Senn

This book is every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be! The illustrations are recognizable from Kortnee's signature Saint prints and posters, but they also creatively share the passions and work and gifts of the Saints. (Kortnee is the talented artist from Studio Senn, who was part of my Why Make Beautiful Things Series a couple of years ago!) The variety of page backgrounds and poses give little hints about the life of the Saint, their patronage, how they served God and His people, etc. 

The collection of Saints features many favorites, but also some names that might be new to you and your kiddos! There are great little bios at the end of the book to get to know them better. This book is a good read aloud for littles, but I think the embedded details and rhyme scheme make it fun for older kids too!
(Also, I see that this book is currently sold out- Kortnee received the support she deserved, but it exceeded her expectations. Looks like books will be back in February, so you'll have to check in to see when they are in stock!)

%%% Noah and the Ark, Tomie de Paola (25% off until 11/30 at!)

Tomie de Paola will always be an author close to my heart- I loved his books as a child and still find them such a gift as an adult. I was so glad to see that Ignatius Press is rereleasing some of his out of print title, especially after his death earlier this year. This short picture book with Tomie's signature folk art style illustrations tells the story of Noah and the ark. The text is at a good level for early elementary kiddos. This hardback edition is a perfect way to start a new Tomie collection.

%%% Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Tomie de Paola (25% off until 11/30 at!)

This is an old favorite book that I have recommended many times but it is always out of stock. After Tomie de Paola's death, I stocked up on a few more of his titles, but had to do it through Thrift Books (which I love, by the way) but I want to see his work more readily available for a new generation of kids! This collection of stories, beautifully illustrated of course, tells of 15 events in Mary's life and is written at a little high grade level- maybe upper elementary- but of course can be read a loud a little at a time to younger kids. Pulling from Scripture as well as traditions surrounding Mary from her birth to her crowning as Queen of Heaven. Also published as a hardback, this is a treasure for any Catholic home or classroom.

Can you name a good book on contemplative prayer for young children? After reading The Interior Castle, I now can! This short chapter book walks a young boy through the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila- with the guide of St. Teresa herself! each brief chapter (just 2-3 pages) describes the figurative "rooms" of the castle as the boy moves deeper and deeper into prayer. I found the descriptions relatable and understandable for a child and the corresponding illustrations both imaginative and filled with meaningful imagery. I would definitely take this one chapter at a time with younger kids, or let older kids read on their own and then talk about these concepts that have guided the prayer of Christians for almost 500 years.

^^^ Justice on the Acropolis, B.B. Gallagher

I'm always on the lookout for good Catholic fiction and these next two fit that bill! Justice on the Acropolis, the first in the "Virtue Adventures" series, takes the reader on a time traveling adventure back to Ancient Greece. The main character, guided by her guardian angel, finds her self sent on an mission and along the way meets Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Build into the dialogue and events, the characters demonstrate making mistakes, asking forgiveness, and choosing virtue. I think kids that like The Magic Tree House or Lisa Hendey's The Chime Travelers will enjoy this new series!

%%% The Phantom of the Colosseum, Sophie de Mullenheim

And as the first entry in what looks to be an interesting series called "The Shadows of Rome," The Phantom of the Colosseum is set about 300 years after the time of Christ when Christianity was illegal under the rule of Diocletian. This chapter book is written for middle grade readers and has interesting characters and a quick moving plot. Admittedly, I've only read the first few and last few chapters, but I like what I've read and think my students will too. To live at a time when Christianity equated danger and evangelism often led to martyrdom, I think that this will be a page turning series for kids.

There we go! Hopefully after Christmas break I'll come back with some good adult recommendations for you too. I certainly have a big enough TBR pile, but despite all this "extra" time in 2020, I don't seem to be making a dent in it. ;) Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and a very Blessed Advent!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Advent Activities for the Whole Family

My heart has never been more ready for Advent! The wonder, the hope, the light- and the focus on a newborn King come to save us. Here is a collection of free ideas, activities, and printables to help your family and classroom enter into the Season. 

(Just a reminder- you are always welcome to share these resources with your classroom or parish- especially during these weird times when so many of us are trying to teach and minister "virtually" I'm happy to be of help! When possible, I always appreciate a link back to the original blog post or a mention of

First up, here is a "schedule" of suggested Advent activities for each week, perfect to add to a classroom newsletter or parish bulletin. The links all send the reader to free resources, like videos, printables, and music playlists. Or you are welcome to pull ideas from this and send them individually! 

Or here is an editable version that you can tailor to your students/program:

And now here are some links to individual activities or resources. Some of these are new, and some are old favorites- so sometimes they will just open straight to the resource, and others will send you to the original blog post with all the details. You can also look under the Liturgical Year Tab above for a list of past posts.

Sacred Art for Advent and Christmas- This set of Google Slides contains 20 pieces of sacred art for the Season, as well as steps for Visio Divina for older and younger kids. Perfect to pull up on a big tv, smart board, or projector!

And in Spanish: (and I forgot, they are in Dutch too!

Booklets for families on praying with the Advent Wreath, celebrating Saint Feast Days in December, and an overview of the new Liturgical Year:

Advent Family Traditions: There are about ten different cards like this highlighting various traditions celebrated during Advent.

Advent YouTube Video Playlist- wide range of videos for little ones up to high schoolers.

Advent Jeopardy  and a second Advent Jeopardy game here ( There are a few different games for Advent and December Saints are available if you search "Jeopardy" over in the search bar, but some of them need some reformatting, fyi. They don't always transfer well to Google Slides!)

What Advent Looks Like Coloring Page

What Christmas Looks Like Coloring Page (or use the whole Liturgical Year Coloring Book)

O Antiphon Coloring Book (and mini version for Ornaments or decorating)

Seeking Our Savior Detective Journey in English:

And Spanish:
And there are tons more, especially projects for Christmas and Epiphany in this list of links!

May this Season draw all of us closer and closer to the Light of the World!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Activity Books


Did you know that even though she crossed the ocean 23 times as part of her missionary travels, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini had an extreme fear of water due to nearly drowning as a child? She also was scheduled to travel on the Titanic, but ended up changing her plans and missed the fateful voyage!

How about the fact that although she is the first canonized American citizen, she had originally desired to travel to China as a missionary?

And did you know that in her short 67 years of life, she founded and oversaw 67 schools, orphanages, and hospitals?

Mother Cabrini is a dynamic, talented, inspiring woman, especially for American Catholics. For her upcoming feast day (this Friday, November 13th), I'm excited to share with you a special project for your kids and students all about her!

I had the honor of working with the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine in New York City to create these activity books to help kids learn about this amazing Saint. Visit the Shrine website here to download the free books and print out a few activities to celebrate this week!

There are two books available, one aimed at lower elementary and one more for middle schoolers. The books have "mirrored" pages with similar activities, so there are perfect to use with siblings or multi age groups. The books both almost 20 pages and contain biographical info, activity pages, coloring page, inspiring quotes, and more. I love how they turned out and hope they are a blessing to families and classrooms across the nation. The books are only available through the shrine, but they are totally free!

The shrine website has many other resources, as well as more info on how they are celebrating Mother Cabrini this week! I hope to be able to visit and pray there someday, but in the meantime, I'm excited to get to share more about her life with my students. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, pray for us!Shrine website here