Number one requested post when all of this Coronavirus stuff started going down was how to homeschool all of a sudden, so I wrote this. Second was what to do about Mass when there are no public Masses, so I wrote this. And now, third most requested is book recommendations, specifically for older kids and grownups. So here goes.
Note: Amazon has deprioritized the shipping of books so that they can get essential good to people during the pandemic, so there are shipping delays of about a month on many books from Amazon. Check Barnes and Nobel for faster delivery of physical books, or take advantage of immediate access to ebooks and/or audiobooks from Amazon or the library.
For our favorite Catholic picture books, see this post: The Ultimate Liturgical Library Post: Saint Books for All Year Long
Books are an invaluable tool in troubled times (and also in all times). Through books we can gain inspiration from the way characters deal with challenging situations. When we think we’ve got it pretty bad we can gain perspective by reading about the challenges that others faced, real or fictional. Reading books aloud as a family, or listening to them as audiobooks together, gives us shared experiences, and inside jokes, and characters and situations to reference. They are an escape in this particularly strange time that can feel somehow deeply ominous and really, really boring at the same time.
Here are ten books from which I/we have gained inspiration, perspective, and enjoyment, that I think you and your family might enjoy as well. I’m including Amazon affiliate links, but these are all probably also available from your local library as ebooks or audiobooks. Check out the Libby app.
Snowbound, by John Greenleaf Whittier
This isn’t a chapter book, it’s a poem. But it’s a pretty long poem. It is the poet’s memories of three days during his childhood in which he and his siblings, parents, and extended family were trapped in their home by a snowstorm.
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death,
And Love can never lose its own!
We sped the time with stories old,
Wrought puzzles out, and riddles told,
Or stammered from our school-book lore
“The Chief of Gambia’s golden shore.”
And while their circumstances aren’t exactly the same as ours of course (the same goes for all these books), I take solace in the fact that as an adult, he looked back with great fondness on that experience. It must have been scary for his parents. But for the kids, it was an adventure, and it was cherished family time. That’s my official goal for this experience for my kids. That and them cleaning out their closets.
The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum
A book about a Dutch family in Nazi-occupied Holland during WWII, it’s also the single most beautiful, natural depiction of devout Catholic family life I’ve ever seen in fiction. I ❤ this book.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Another book about a Dutch family in Nazi-occupied Holland during WWII, but this one is an autobiography. The most lasting takeaways from this book for me are that God can do great things with ordinary people, and that God can turn even our worst suffering to good. (The fleas! The fleas!)
Get the book here. Or the audiobook here. Or a good movie adaptation here. I’m comfortable with my kids listening to this version, but there are difficult moments of violence and degradation. If you have more sensitive kids, there is a young readers version here.
The Screwtape Letters
The Screwtape Letters was on my Lenten reading (listening) list, and it was the perfect thing to have in my ear as the tumult of current events began to unfold. It gives a really helpful eternal perspective to the challenges faced by Britons at home during WWII that seemed applicable to today as well.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
We have done read alouds and audiobooks since my oldest, Jack, was a toddler, with a focus on the “classics” of children’s literature. Within classic children’s literature there is a subcategory that Jack had dubbed “Superbrave Sally.” A Superbrave Sally book features a plucky young heroine, usually an orphan, who uses her indomitable spirit to win over townspeople and/or guardians who are against her, often because they have been unfairly prejudiced against her for some reason. Examples include Pollyanna, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, The Secret Garden, and this book: A Little Princess. I enjoyed all of them, to varying degrees, Jack not so much, but I think we would both agree that our favorites are The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. I put the latter on this list because Sara Crewe is a lovely example of steadfastness in altered circumstances.
Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody
The first in an eight volume series of an early twentieth century ranching family in Colorado. These Jack likes. There’s humor and adventure and hardship and hard work and a good dad.
Little House on the Prairie
Family love, pioneer spirit, making do, triumph, tragedy, and so so much hardship. They didn’t have ANY toilet paper 🧻, ever. (Interesting Laura Ingalls Wilder toilet-related sidebar.) Note: I wouldn’t recommend these books as a read alone for kids of any age. While historically accurate, the motivations of the pioneers and their views about and language about and treatment of Native Americans all deserve thoughtful discussion. I think this post is helpful to read to facilitate discussion. See the set of books here.
I especially appreciate the spirit of charity for others even when the March family is itself in difficult circumstances. But I have to say I’m skeptical of Marme’s parenting style. “Just let them be super messy for a week and they’ll decide to clean up after themselves” has not proved effective at my house. Cute hardback here.
The Chronicles of Narnia
Mostly just a fun escape with beautiful Christian themes, but the first book makes me so so SO grateful that I have my children here with me and haven’t shipped them off to a country manor house. In related news, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe should be read first. #publicationorderforevah Complete series on audible for one credit here.
Bonus book to consider for adults and teens is A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm Of 1914 by Joseph Loconte It’s about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, WWI, and the Spanish Flu, so it’s a lot. But really interesting. Available here.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
You think YOUR family is feeling cooped up? I listened to this book on my own a year ago and found it interesting, and definitely appropriate for a lesson in perspective. If you read it in school as a child, it was probably the “original” version edited by her father which left out some birds and the bees questions, some body exploration, and some romance. This newer version includes all that, which I didn’t find particularly inappropriate for teens but I do think it would feel awkward to read aloud or listen to together, but also I wouldn’t want them to read it without discussing it with them, so . . . More troubling for me was how vicious she could be about her mother. Reading it again as a mom . . . ouch. But the more I think about it, it’s real, and important, but they’re really not a great example of how to get along in a confined living space, so maybe wait on this one? Book here.
to be continued . . .
If you’re looking for an escape instead and to NOT be challenged or inspired or reminded that other people had it worse than you, don’t worry, I’ve got recommendations for those books too. Check back for more, maybe after Easter?
I hope these recommendations will come in handy for those of us who are quarantined, sheltering in place, self-isolating, or cloistered.
New in the shop, for times such as these:
What books would you add to the list?