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Tomorrow is the feast of St. Nicholas. You can read all about him and find ideas of how to celebrate his feast day here, at the St. Nicholas Center. But I wanted to highlight two books that we read each year to celebrate this important saint.

The first is by Ann Tompert, simply called Saint Nicholas. I previously reviewed other books by Ann Tompert (here and here), and I consider her with as much respect as Tomie de Paola with regards to her skill in re-telling legends beautifully for children. Her Saint Nicholas book does not disappoint. She draws on the important stories passed down from Nicholas’ life, giving the gold to 3 poor women for their dowries, saving a ship from a terrible storm, among others. She ends with his incarceration during Diocletian’s Rome and his death as the Bishop of Myra.
I should caution though, that there is one part of the story you may want to skip depending on how sensitive your children are. One story goes that there was an innkeeper who had taken some school boys and held them for ransom. Nicholas was called upon to help find the boys. Here’s the part that gets gruesome

…the innkeeper admitted he had butchered the boys and put their remains into pickling barrels…

The story continues that Nicholas waved his crosier and the boys stepped out alive. But anyway, there it is, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Michael Garland is the illustrator for this book and it done in such a way to look like mosaic tiles placed together to form the images. Very stunning and unique. I’m not so sure that the kids appreciated it, or even noticed, but I think it makes for stunning scenery throughout.


The second book is not so much about Saint Nicholas, but loosely related to his feast day so we read it anyway. It is a story that recounts the origins of the phrase “a baker’s dozen.” The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale tells about a baker in colonial America who learns an important lesson in generosity while making his Nicholas cookies for the feast of St. Nicholas. It’s a fun story. You won’t learn anything about St. Nicholas, but might inspire your children in generosity!

So go practice a random act of generosity and happy feast of St. Nicholas!

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This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. In our home, that means it’s time to get out the manger scene. We put everything out, minus the baby Jesus (he’s added after Mass on Christmas Eve). At a local used book sale this year, I picked up book that I hoped would be a nice addition to our Advent and Christmas collection.

Joanna Cole has written a beautiful story explaining how St. Francis started the first creche. His was a live one and done in a time when Christmas wasn’t a big celebration as it is now.

By Christmas Eve, word had spread that something wonderful was going to happen on a wooded hill outside the town, and people came from all around. The light from their torches flickered through the trees as they climbed the hillside paths. Their excited voices echoed through the woods.
When they arrived at the spot Francis had chosen, a shout of joy went up from the crowd. Never had the poor farmers of Greccio imagined that they would look upon the holy scene they had heard about since childhood. There was the infant Jesus, lying in a manger, with Mary and Joseph watching over him, and a donkey and an ox standing near.

Michele Lemieux’s illustrations complete the story and some of the pages remind me of Celtic Illuminations. The story is definitely for ages 4 and up, as there are a couple paragraphs on each page. It would also be appropriate to read around St. Francis’ feast day in October.

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My kids and I have been spending a week delving into the early years of the church and how Jesus’ message spread from the disciples out into the world.  We are in between our history books, so I thought it would be a good time to take a break to really focus on the early church.  For our read aloud this week, I chose a book by Mary Fabyan Windeatt. She is the author of countless children’s book and coloring books about saints, in the series called Stories of the Saints for Young People ages 10 to 100.  For this week, we are reading St. Paul the Apostle:  The Story of the Apostle to the Gentiles. These are chapter books that are definitely for older children or for a family read aloud.  Of the chapter books I’ve read to the kids, this one is likely one of the more difficult ones.  The vocabulary and sentence structure is definitely more advanced than most of the books we’ve read with the kids.  However, we are all enjoying it very much.  We stop to talk about things along the way of course and it helps that the subject matter is somewhat familiar to them and they already knew a bit about St. Paul from previous Bible readings.  The story begins with Paul’s (rather Saul at that time) conversion story and ends with his death.

As we are reading through this, we are making a map of each missionary journey, using this book as a guide.  It’s a Reader’s Digest book and serves as a good resource for me to read as I’m reading along with the kids.  There are a lot of pictures and photographs that illustrate places that Paul stopped at along the way.

If you need a coloring page of St. Paul, you can check out Charlotte’s list, just scroll down, they are listed alphabetically.  My kids always listen much better to stories when they have something to color or draw while listening!

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I hope to do more blog entries that are not about our country study, but for now it seems to be when I have the time we are in the midst of geography study and it’s fresh on my mind.  You can read my previous geography entries here for Argentina and here for the spine we are using.

So if you’re looking to get a little introduction to Brazil, here are some books you might want to check out.  Very likely that you’re library has them, so be sure to check there first.  I always have to put a plug for our great libraries.  They get so little funding but provide so much to the community!

One thing about Brazil is that it provides a good jumping off point if you want to learn about rain forests.  We kept it mostly focused on the country for now but I’m sure we’ll make our way back to a rain forest study sometime.

Keeping in mind that there are plenty of educational guides simply about Brazil aimed at older children, I was searching for books that would be for 3rd grade and under, as read-alouds.

Count Your Way Through Brazil written by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson is a fun book that gives an introduction to 10 significant characteristics of Brazil.  On each page, it introduces the Portuguese number and explains the topic.  Some of the explanations are rather lengthy, so for a few of them I just picked out the main points to highlight with my kids.  They had fun trying to pronounce the numbers in Portuguese (there’s a pronunciation guide for each one).  The book covers the beginnings of Brazil, products that come from Brazil, foods, national pastimes, music, animals, ethnic groups, and more.

The next one is a kind of an alphabet book, and reminded me of Jerry Pallotta’s alphabet booksB is for Brazil by Maria de Fatima Campos.  This book is similar to the one above, but instead of using numbers it uses letters to teach us 26 things about Brazil.  For instance, R is for rubber which is made from the liquid in the rubber tree and is an export of Brazil.  C is for Carnival, the huge celebration before the start of Lent.  The pictures throughout are actual photographs, which I appreciate for a book about a specific country.

Yet another alphabet type book, A to Z Brazil by Justine and Ron Fontes uses the alphabet to give us 26 categories of information.  F is for food, then the page has the description of a popular Brazilian food.  N is for Nation which includes a full page map showing where Brazil is located in South America, and a large picture of the Brazilian flag.  This book is a good intermediate country book when children are too young to glean much from a long country guide.  Again, the pictures are actual photographs, so it’s nice just to page through it with your child, even if you don’t read every page.

The next three books are literature suggestions that go with Brazil.  Not specifically giving facts about the country but good stories nonetheless.

First is a trickster tale from Brazil called The Dancing Turtle, by Pleasant DeSpain.  A turtle is captured by a native Brazilian family and the father puts him in a cage to be cooked in soup the next day.  His children are asked to watch over him.  Turtle tricks the kids into setting him free.  My 5 year old especially enjoyed this story and loved to imagine this turtle dancing his way out of danger.

The Sea Serpent’s Daughter tells a Brazilian legend about how day and night came to be created.  In this creation story the sea serpents daughter arrives on land, to a village and realizes that so much day-light is too much for her.  So the villagers head out to collect some darkness from the depths of the sea, and so it continues until there is finally a balance of daylight and darkness.

The last literature selection is more specficially about the Amazon Rain Forest.  The Great Kapok Tree tells about a man who begins to cut down a tree in the rainforest.  He ends up falling asleep at the base of the Kapok tree and begins to dream.  In his dream, animals and people of the rain forest visit him and tell him the importance of this tree to their lives.  When he awakes, will he continue to cut down the tree or will he be changed?  I’ll let you and your kids find out!

Finally, if you’re looking for a saint to study with Brazil, check out a previous post of mine, in the Holy Friends book you can find the story of St. Pauline of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus, Brazil’s first saint.

So there it is, Brazil by books!  Please leave a comment if you have other literature suggestions for Brazil.

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Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, of course!  Or as most of the world knows her, Mother Teresa.  Just last week, was her birthday and she would have been 100 years old.  September 5, is her feast day, the anniversary of her death in 1997.  It’s hard to imagine that my children are living in a world without her in it, but of course now we have a saint in heaven, doing heaven’s work.

I have three books for you to check out to observe her feast day, or for any other time you want your children to learn about this remarkable woman.

First, Mother Teresa by Demi is a beautiful biography of the lovely saint.  Each page features stunning artwork about her life, serving the poor in Calcutta, and telling about the important parts of her life.  The book starts with her childhood and ends with her beatification.  In my opinion, though the real benefit to most of Demi’s books is the artwork.  Once you see one of these books, you will always recognize the style.

The second book is more story like, and is a more exciting read.  It’s in the LifeTimes series, by Stewart Ross, called The Story of Mother Teresa.  This is a more advanced reading level, probably about 3rd grade but would be fine as a read aloud.

The final book has a different focus to it, as it is not so much biographical. 

Stories Told by Mother Teresa is a compilation of stories that have important lessons of love from Mother Teresa.  What did she tell her sisters about charity, what stories did she use to illustrate her lessons?  Each 2 page spread of this book has one story, and how she truly was a “professor of love.”  It is compiled by Edward Le Joly and Jaya Chaliha.

I hope you can find your own way to celebrate the life of a great woman, and that these books will give you and your children a feel for the holiness of Mother Teresa.  Please let me know if there’s a book out there about Mother Teresa for kids that I don’t have on the list!

Update:  If you need a craft project or coloring page to go with your reading, you can find one at Paper Dali.

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There are so many great books on dragons and knights and I wish I had the time to post them here.  My son goes through these books faster than I can get to reading them myself.  But I know it will be an ongoing theme for me to review here.  We usually manage to have at least one of this kind of book in our library basket.

The most recent one that we’ve read is an abriged version of a story by Kenneth Grahame.  He is the author of The Wind in the Willows which was our family read-aloud at the beginning of the summer.  Inga Moore abridged and illustrated The Reluctant Dragon and as a result we are left with a great picture book.  This is a longer story, each page has several longer paragraphs, so it would be probably for kindergarten ages or up as a read-aloud. 

The story is about a little boy who befriends a kindhearted, poetry loving dragon and helps to keep peace in his village.  The villagers find out there is a dragon about and decide that he must be a vicious creature.  They create all kinds of tales about the dragon’s horrible deeds and employ the help of St. George to deliver them from this wicked creature.  The shepherd boy meanwhile loves spending time with the dragon, discussing poetry and stories and is frightened for the dragon’s life.  He goes to St. George to help him understand the mix-up with the villagers.  Together, with the dragon they hatch a plan to give the villagers their battle between knight and dragon, at the same time allowing the dragon to live in peace.

I won’t spoil it for you, though.  You’ll have to read it to your kids to find out the rest!

The illustrations are colorful drawings, sometimes two page spreads and while I’ve never been to the Downs where it takes place, the drawings make me want to visit!  The dragon’s face shows his kindhearted personality and yet, gives you a sense that he could look fierce if he needed to.

My only minor quip about this book is that St. George is called “St. George” in the story.  Rather odd, and maybe it’s part of the humor to be addressing someone as “Saint” before they’re dead.

Although this isn’t directly about St. George it would be a fun read in April for that feast day as well.

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There aren’t many books about St. Joseph to read in honor of his feast day today (March 19).  But from the Catholic Mosaic booklist, I found one that seems appropriate for the day.  It isn’t specifically about St. Joseph, but is a good read nonetheless.

Author Leo Politi earned a Caldecott Medal for his book entitled Song of the Swallows. 

The story tells of Juan, a young boy who lives near the mission church in Capistrano, founded by Junipero Serra (a Franciscan brother) in California.  Juan and his friend Julian, a gardener at the Mission, fall in love with the swallows that come back to the Mission every year on the feast of St. Joseph.  Every fall the swallows leave for warmer weather and come back in the spring, on St. Joseph’s day.  Juan loves the swallows and treats them as friends.  After they leave, Juan works very hard to create a garden space for them at his home.  The next spring when the swallows return, again on St. Joseph’s day, sure enough they find a new home in his garden.

This story is definitely lovely, the illustrations simple and yet vibrant.  I love that every so often there is a page without any text, just allowing the readers to sit and gaze upon the sprawling Mission, as if it was a bird’s eye view.  The plot is not exciting or hang on the edge of your seat kind of story.  There isn’t a big struggle that gets resolved.  But there is something endearing about it, perhaps it’s the simple, relaxed flow of the story.  I definitely hope to make this a permanent fixture in our home library.

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