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This summer explore nature, poetry, saints with new children's books Print E-mail
Written by Regina Lordan, Catholic News Service   
Friday, 16 June 2017 14:46

The following books are suitable for summer reading:

"How to be a Hero: Train with the Saints" by Julia Harrell, illustrated by Chad Thompson. Pauline Kids (Boston, 2017). 176 pp., $14.95.

This summer elementary-school readers can take a timeout from preparing for the next grade or athletic event, and train to become a saint by using the virtues as a guide. Organized by mini-biographies, reflections and questions, "How to be a Hero" explores the virtuous lives of St. John Paul II, St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Charbel Makhlouf among many others. The book includes discussions on the cardinal, theological and "little" virtues, and can be read daily or weekly as a part of a summer religious curriculum. Ages 9-11.

"The Blue Hour" by Isabelle Simler. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017). 42 pp., $19.

Rarely does a book so beautifully capture with images and prose the majesty that is God's creation of nature. "The Blue Hour" journeys through dusk when all is still and quiet. Animals of all shades of blue are cloaked in the blue shade of night as they creep through forests, climb amid trees and dive into the ocean. The illustrations are stunning, and the language is calming. The animals featured, such as the blue-tailed damselfly, indigo bunting and blue racer snake, highlight the gorgeous shades of just one color that appear in nature. Ages 4-8.

"Mary and The Little Shepherds of Fatima" by Marlyn Monge and Jaymie Stuart Wolfe, illustrated by Maria Joao Lopes. Pauline Kids (Boston, 2017). 48 pp., $14.95.

This sweetly illustrated book tells young readers about the story of Our Lady of Fatima and the three young children who, unbeknown to them at the time, radically inspired many in their devotion to Mary. As told in the book, a sister, brother and cousin were shepherding their flock of sheep when an angel appeared to them. Then, on May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to the children for the first of several times. A timely read, "Mary and The Little Shepherd of Fatima" honors of the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Fatima. In May, Pope Francis visited the Portuguese city and declared as saints Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, both of whom had died from illnesses as young children. Ages 5-8.

"A Muslim Family's Chair for the Pope: A True Story from Bosnia and Herzegovina" by Stefan Salinas. Camelopardalis (San Francisco, 2017). 48 pp., $16.99.

How did a Muslim carpenter from a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina come to make the chair for the papal Mass during Pope Francis' visit there in 2015? A brave idea, a skilled worker and more than 2,000 hours of hard work led to a collaborative masterpiece. Written from the perspective of Salim Hajderovac, the cheerful and humble carpenter, this book is a wonderful story about interreligious teamwork. Working closely with his good friend the local parish priest, Hajderovac's brazen idea came to fruition. Within the context of a true story, children will learn a few basic truths about Catholicism and Islam. Ages 6-10.

"I Like, I Don't Like" by Anna Baccelliere, illustrated by Alessandro Lewis and Alessandra Panzeri. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017). 28 pp., $16.

Topics such as child labor, poverty and slavery are not readily addressed in children's literature or easily discussed, but they are a part of the church's teachings and work for social justice. "I Like, I Don't Like" uses two strikingly different perspectives on the same object to show how children from the same world face very different realities. Told in images and only a few words, the book shows how one child plays freely with a soccer ball while another distressingly sews the balls together. On another page, a child leisurely stretches out on a rug while another child weaves a rug together. An astute child with guidance from an adult can use this book to open up discussions about solidarity and compassion. Ages 5-9.

"Brigid and the Butter" by Pamela Love, illustrated by Apryl Stott. Pauline Books and Media (Boston, 2017) 25 pp., $13.95.

Pamela Love retells the legend of St. Brigid in this brightly illustrated hardcover book. As a young servant girl, St. Brigid heard St. Patrick, then just a local bishop, preach about Jesus feeding an entire crowd with just a young boy's lunch. Inspired by the boy's generosity but with no substantive food to share herself, St. Brigid gave all that she had to a poor woman. As the legend goes, God blessed St. Brigid's selfless generosity by giving her two heaping bowls of butter. For young lads also interested in Irish legends and saints, "Patrick and the Fire" by Cornelia Mary Bilinsky and illustrated by Maggie Coburn, also by Pauline Books and Media, is a short story about St. Patrick's explanation of the Holy Trinity to a king. Ages 4-8.

"Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets" by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Candlewick Press. (Somerville, Massachusetts, 2017). 48 pp., $16.99.

Colorfully illustrated by award-winning fine artist Ekua Holmes, this book celebrates 20 poets with works inspired by the poets' unique styles. "Out of Wonder" highlights legendary writers including Robert Frost, Rumi and Emily Dickinson as well as contemporary poets, such as Terrance Hayes and Judith Wright. The book is a treasure of inspiration, art and wonder to educate and inspire children to write poetry. A brave undertaking masterfully achieved, Alexander and his colleagues successfully pair poetry with beautiful artwork while teaching the reader about the poets themselves. All aspiring poets, young and old, should add this one to their bookshelves. Ages 7 and up.

"Jesus's Story" illustrated by Virginia Noe. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts,2017). 18 pp., $14.99.

Reminiscent of the tender Precious Moments dolls, the illustrations in this sturdy and sweet board book for young children are darling. Gentle pictures and simple narration cover the story of Jesus, from the Angel Gabriel's visit to Mary through Jesus' ministry, death and resurrection to Pentecost. Ages 1-3.

"The Suitcase -- A Story About Giving" by Jane G. Meyer, illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts,2017). 32 pp., $16.99.

Thomas was a little bit different. Energetic and typically untypical, Thomas would interview his pet goat and line up blocks one after the other after the other. But one day Thomas did something stranger than usual. He showed up for dinner with a suitcase in hand and declared that he was going to the kingdom of heaven. What Thomas packed inside was a loving and generous expression of faith that will leave an impression on readers. The main character is influenced by the everyday experiences that author Jane G. Meyer has as the mother of a child with high-functioning autism. "The Suitcase" was published in April for National Autism Awareness Month. Ages 7-9.

Lordan, a mother of three, has master's degrees in education and political science and is a former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.

Author recalls era when women fought Europe's 'glass ceiling' Print E-mail
Written by Daniel S. Mulhall Catholic News Service   
Friday, 05 May 2017 13:29

"Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe" by Sarah Gristwood. Basic Books (New York, 2016). 351 pp., $28.99.

European history between the years 1474, when Isabella became the regnant of Castile (in what is now Spain), until the death of the English queen Elizabeth Tudor in 1603 is a remarkable era for many reasons, one of which is the number of women - 16 in total - who played significant roles in ruling their respective countries either as queens in their own right or as queen mothers or regents. The story of the role these women played in history is delightfully told by Sarah Gristwood in her book "Game of Queens."

In France, where the law prevented women from inheriting thrones, women could not rule in their own names or by their own authority. While law did not prevent this in other countries, custom called for thrones to pass to the oldest surviving son or male next of kin. This period of 110 years saw more women occupy thrones than ever before.

As Gristwood notes, prior to Isabella's reign all pieces on the chess board were male. The queen, with her almost unlimited ability to act, was added in Spain during her reign and spread throughout Europe. Just as adding the powerful queen to the game changed chess, Gristwood suggests, adding powerful women to political rule changed the world.

One of the most difficult challenges to telling the history of this period - whether history in general or the role of women in it - is keeping track of the names, countries and dates of the characters. This is especially complicated by the fact that the ruling families of Europe intermingled incessantly to create alliances, for example Katherine of Aragon's marriage to Henry VIII linking the English and Spanish thrones. Add to this mix the popularity of the names Mary (Maria) and Margaret - 8 of the 16 women were so named - makes for confusion. Although Gristwood provides dynastic charts, a "dramatis personae" - a list of significant actors - and a chronology, keeping track of who's who remains a challenge.

The style of type used in this book is confusing. For example, Gristwood uses asterisks within the text to indicate her many informative footnotes. Unfortunately, the asterisks are so small that they are difficult to find, even when one searches the page diligently for them.

Another type problem is that single quotation marks are used for quotes, not double marks, which takes a while to recognize automatically. One additional disappointment is that while the book is filled with helpful quotations taken from the letters of the period, they are not footnoted. Gristwood does provide helpful information in this matter at the end of the book in the Notes and Further Reading section, but this information would have been more helpful if noted at the time.

Those problems aside, this book is well written and the chapters are short and well organized. The story told here does justice to the lives and memories of the women who broke the European glass ceiling so many years ago.

Mulhall lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Two new offerings on connection between faith, science disappoint Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 April 2017 12:15

"Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science" by Stacy A. Trasancos. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2016). 178 pp., $15.95.

"The Believing Scientist: Essays on Science and Religion" by Stephen M. Barr. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016). 226 pp., $25.

Few areas of thought today are as exciting and as important as the conversation between religion and science. Unfortunately, these two books don't contribute that significantly to this dialogue. Both authors, with strong backgrounds in science and far weaker backgrounds when it comes to theology, disappoint the reader in different ways.

Stacy Trasancos, a chemist and a Catholic, teaches online from home while she helps raise and educate her children, and she talks early in her book about the excitement of seeing the connections between science and faith and does so well.

However, besides Pope Francis' encyclical "Lumen Fidei" ("The Light of Faith"), many of the theological sources she uses are pre-Second Vatican Council, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and the fathers of the church, helpful in the tradition but not as useful here as the many contemporary voices on this topic. Authors such as Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio, John F. Haught, Father Thomas Berry, Father Diarmuid O'Murchu and Judy Cannato merit not a mention here at all.

Trasancos is trying to address the right issues here. For example, she observes that "science can be the very venue through which we reach out into the world and shine our faith to illuminate the path to truth." And she reminds us that "faith and science are two different manifestations of the same reality. When they seem to have conflicting conclusions, it is because our knowledge is not complete."

There also are occasional stories from her experience as a mom; when her son heard her say that everything was atoms, he wanted to know if he was eating atoms and was told he was. "He put the idea of 'science in the light of faith' into words during our blessing: 'Bless us, O Lord, and these thy atoms.' Leave it to a child."

At times her questions as well as her answers fall short. Examples of her questions that seem to be the wrong ones include: "Is the Atomic World the Real World?" "Does Quantum Mechanics Explain Free Will?" and "Did We Evolve from Atoms?" Her discussion of Adam and Eve and evolution seems to be woefully lacking in an understanding of the historical-critical method of interpreting Scripture, first encouraged by Pope Pius XII, which might see the Genesis account as true in another sense than scientifically.

This is a worthwhile effort, but unfortunately she is hindered here in her treatment by a limited and overly dogmatic theology, which changes the whole conversation.

Stephen Barr is a professor of theoretical particle physics at the University of Delaware and brings a highly academic perspective to the questions of science and religion. (It isn't completely clear what his credentials are when it comes to theology.)

He, too, sets the perspective well for the reader: "It was in the heavens that the orderliness of nature was most evident to ancient man. It was this celestial order, perhaps, that first inspired in him feelings of religious awe. And it was the study of this order that gave birth to modern science in the 17th century. It is not altogether accidental, then, that it was an argument over the motions of the heavenly bodies that occasioned the fateful collision between science and religious authority that will forever be evoked by the name of Galileo." (He goes on to talk about that controversy as being between two naturalistic theories of astronomy, not as supernatural.)

He also describes the role of the scientist in an interesting light: "So we see in science something akin to religious faith. The scientist has confidence in the intelligibility of the world. He has questions about nature. And he expects -- no, more than expects, he is absolutely convinced -- that these questions have intelligible answers. The fact that he must seek those answers proves that they are not in sight. The fact that he continues to seek them in spite of all the difficulties testifies to his unconquerable conviction that those answers, although not presently in sight, do in fact exist. Truly, the scientist too walks by faith and not by sight."

The bulk of Barr's book, as indicated by his subtitle, are essays, largely book reviews or comments on blogs, as well as an occasional lecture, which have limited usefulness to the reader unfamiliar with the specifics of what he is referring to.

One hopes for more helpful books than these in the conversation between faith and science soon.

Finley is the author of several books on practical spirituality, including "The Liturgy of Motherhood: Moments of Grace" and "Savoring God: Praying With All Our Senses," and has just finished teaching in the religious studies department at Gonzaga University.

Retrospective of original Donald Duck comic book artist fills the bill Print E-mail
Written by Mark Judge Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 05 April 2017 10:28

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Parents looking to lure their youngsters away from digital devices and toward material that might foster reading and imagination should consider the work of legendary Disney comic book artist Carl Barks. In fact, Mom and Dad may enjoy Barks' work as much as their kids.

For three decades, beginning in the mid-1940s, Barks (1901-2000) created Donald Duck comic books for Western Publishing. For the past several years, Fantagraphics has been republishing Barks' classics in beautiful new editions.

These hardbound volumes contain all the original comics, including their covers, as well as commentary by comic-book historians. Their content is, of course, suitable for all -- and they're especially fun for youngsters learning to read.

Surveying Barks' work in issues like "Lost in the Andes," "The Terror of the Beagle Boys," or in the latest release, "The Ghost Sheriff of Last Gasp," it becomes evident why he was one of the first three artists inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, together with legendary Jack Kirby and the hall's namesake. Eisner called Barks "the Hans Christian Andersen of comic books."

Barks' texts work on two levels. The first is simply as delightful comic strips. Barks was a master of sequential art, and the characters he created to interact with Donald -- miserly moneybags Scrooge McDuck and the robbing Beagle Boys, among others -- are constantly getting into situations that pay off in slapstick poses and kinetic action.

Whether it's longer 10-page stories about hunting for gold or tangling with a sea monster, or single-page gags about baseball, Donald's adventures are always alive with color and motion. Yet, as the commentary that comes at the end of each volume notes, Barks also used his Donald Duck strips for personal and social commentary.

Barks was born in 1901 on a farm in Oregon. His family moved frequently as they tried to make a living from stock-breeding or through selling produce.

After studying the work of master cartoonists such as Winsor McCay and completing four lessons from an art correspondence course, Barks began his professional life. He made his way to Disney Studios in 1935.

Over the course of his lifetime, Barks held many different jobs and often struggled financially. His stories sometimes set Donald against obstacles reminiscent of those the artist himself faced.

In "Terror of the Beagle Boys," for example, Donald is exhausted from overwork when he is pressed into service by his Uncle Scrooge to defend Scrooge's pile of money from the nefarious bandits of the title. As genre scholar Jared Gardner writes in the notes, "this is a tale not about the Beagle Boys but about terror and worry." The story reflects the anxiety Barks felt as a result of his second wife Clara's mounting medical expenses.

For all the serious subtext underlying them though, these wonderful stories can be appreciated straightforwardly and exclusively for their celebration of life in all its craziness, color and fun.

Author offers guidance for those on journeys of spiritual renewal Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 10:05

"Interior Journey: A Spirituality for Contemporary Seekers" by Dolores Leckey. Twenty-Third Publications (New London, Connecticut, 2015). 83 pp., $12.95.

A five-month sabbatical after experiencing several key losses in life "was salvific" for Francis, a Jesuit whose story is one of the many told in Dolores Leckey's "Interior Journey: A Spirituality for Contemporary Seekers."

"The anxieties associated with transition and with accumulated loss dissipated" for Francis during his sabbatical. At the same time it served him as a time of unique insight.

The sabbatical "revealed his subconscious attitude of 'entitlement,' namely, that somehow he was entitled to have his life move along smoothly." He explained, "I had lost touch with my creaturehood."

The account of Francis' sabbatical appears in a chapter of "Interior Journey" devoted to "the power of gratitude." Today, this Jesuit's "cup of gratitude overflows because he knows that the Lord is ahead of him, beckoning him onward," the author writes.

Leckey calls attention in this context to medical research indicating that patients "heal much more quickly with an attitude of hope and gratitude, rather than what ... Francis calls 'entitlement,' which often carries depression and anger in its wake."

Few people, I am sure, consider themselves strangers to the sense Leckey describes that life sometimes does not "move along smoothly." Indeed, a good many of us renew our spiritual journeys precisely when we feel under siege, so to speak.

Perhaps this is because of a long illness in the family, or a job loss, or the realization that an important goal of ours will not be achieved, at least not now. It is fascinating how real-life events and developments intersect with Christian spirituality, stimulating its growth and expansion.

This book's great strength is its capacity to illustrate how this happens with stories of spiritual journeys in the lives of people much like me or you.

Such stories, the author says, "point to the possibilities for happiness if we trust the surprising path God is pointing us to." They are stories about people who "went inward to find the courage to act, and to act creatively."

The author's honest writing and willingness to share personal experiences that pushed her own spiritual journey forward are another of the book's fine points. Her countless friends and associates know well that spirituality is a driving force in her life, which she shares with them in rewarding ways.

In fact, while like many spiritual writers Leckey affirms that measures of solitude and quiet are essential to spirituality, she nonetheless firmly believes that room must be made for friendship and community. A concern otherwise, she writes, is "that one could live only for oneself."

Leckey will be known to many as a former executive director of what is now the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She is the author, too, of numerous books, including "Grieving With Grace" (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and "The Ordinary Way: A Family Spirituality" (Crossroad Publishing).

She hopes readers will view "Interior Journey," which is part of Twenty-Third Publications' Adult Faith Formation Library, as an invitation to know themselves by exploring the "inner space" that constitutes the "landscape of the soul."

The book approaches spirituality under four headings: change; simplicity; solitude and friendship; and gratitude. Each of these "reflects an aspect of one's spirituality, which is the innermost part of a life, where desire and hope and life sparkle."

Individual readers intent on according a larger place to spirituality are sure to benefit from "Interior Journey," but I can well imagine it serving as a valued resource for parish discussion groups, retreat participants, parish and diocesan staff members, classes and others.

"Interior Journey" is a brief book, easily read in a few hours. I hope, though, that readers will not finish it off too quickly, but revisit and reread various passages and paragraphs again and again.

"Prayer changes us," Leckey insists. She mentions this after telling how, many years ago as a young mother, she "joined with other women to explore the world of prayer." As the group's members "grew more confident," they shared their needs and worries.

"When we discovered that someone's alcoholic father had joined AA, or that a depressed spouse was seeking medical help, or that the atmosphere of worry in someone's life was lightened, we felt the Spirit's encouragement to stay with it," Leckey says.

A leitmotif of sorts emerges in the book through its occasional quotations drawn from meditations by Jesuit Father Karl Rahner, a major 20th-century theologian. "Let us step forth on the adventurous journey of the heart to God," Father Rahner advises at the book's conclusion.

He adds: "Let us forget what lies behind us. The whole future lies open to us. Every possibility of life is still open, because we can still find God, we can still find more."

Gibson was the founding editor of Origins, Catholic News Service's documentary service. He retired in 2007 after holding that post for 36 years.



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