This is the first post in a monthly feature where I match – mostly fiction – books to the monthly virtue for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilla’s popular Catechesis program, “Virtues in Practice”. A note that not all – not even most – of the books I recommend are “Catholic” in the sense that they speak directly about Catholics, Saints, virtue, etc. Rather, they are books – regardless of the author’s faith – that promote the virtue of the month the program focuses on. A note, too, that Amazon links are affiliate links. If you should click and buy through one of my links I will receive a small commission. How small? Put it this way, I’ve a long way to go before I can buy a cup of coffee.
For October in the year of Hope, the virtue is
Studiousness – Seeking knowledge to grow closer to truth.
One of the most obvious literary devices where this occurs without fail is the detective novel. It’s true, at the heart of the detective novel, until post-modernism, is a protagonist searching for the truth. Along the way, small clues – knowledge – are picked up to bring him closer to the truth.
No, the detective is not generally searching for “Truth” with a capital “T”. Symbolism, my friends. Symbolism. Would that we all searched for Truth as the detective hunts out truth.
I think Chesterton saw this quite clearly, as evidenced in his popular “Father Brown” mysteries. So, we’ll start there. Nancy Carpentier Brown has the children’s reader version, two. That’s where my kids started out. With the children’s version, but now they pick up the huge “complete” Father Brown and are quite content with it.
Recently, our family listened to Pie by Sarah Weeks. It appealed to the 7 year old immensely ( he has a penchant for puzzles), and the 10 and 12 year old’s were entertained, too. Each chapter starts out with a recipe for pie – minus the crust. See, the crust recipe can’t be found. Its author, Aunt Polly, ran a Pie store where she gave away pie. Gave it away. To make people happy. Also, she made note of which person in the small little town of Ipswitch liked which pie, and then baked it for him on his birthday. A generous woman indeed! Unexpectedly, Polly passes away and everyone is in search of the famous pie crust recipe, including two people who want it more than anything – or anyone – else: a mysterious person who will stop at nothing to obtain the world famous pie crust recipe; and Alice, Polly’s niece who wants nothing more than to follow in her aunt’s footsteps and make other people happy with her gifts. A twist at the end gives an unexpected and fulfilling ending. The book is practically Catholic.
Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol. Short stories about a boy in search of neighborhood truths. My youngest one loves that the author gives him a chance to come up with the solution before finishing up the story. We often listen to these in the car, too.
There seems to be no end to the stories of young people in search of truth while solving miscellaneous crime in the neighborhood: Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden (my favorite as a youngster), Hardy boys, The Boxcar Children. Take your pick. But did you know the original Carolyn Keene was Mildred Wirt. And there are a few other young detective series she wrote as well. For the girls, Penny Parker. The boys might enjoy reading about Dan Carter. Both series are available for free downloads at Project Gutenberg.
For the older crowd, there is the classic Sherlock Holmes. Also, there is the other your-life-is-not-complete-unless-you-read-it-mystery The Westing Game. Some mature content (mention of affairs, murder) but nothing overt or scandalous. And I’m sure I hadn’t a clue what it all actually meant when I first read it in the 5th grade. I’ve read it a few times since. And no, I didn’t peek ahead for this one.
Switching gear, there is another series of books out there that promotes studiousness, the actual act of studying: The Mysterious Benedict Society. It’s the story of a group of crazy smart kids who must work together to find the truth before the falsehood takes over the world. I mean, no pressure! The entire series is loved by all in this house. There are four total.
Generally, I stick to fiction on this blog, but given the subject matter it seems only appropriate that I point you in the general direction of numerous – more than that – non-fiction picture books on nature and the natural world. Gail Gibbons is a popular author, with compelling illustrations usually accompanying her text. Seymor Simon’s books on space have awe inspiring photographs on the subject of outer-space. These books inspire awe in our children and encourage them to wonder about the natural world around them. I think Saint Albert would approve. As would St. Thomas Aquinas.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t include links to the biographies of the saints emphasized in Virtues in Practice.
The pre-K through 2nd grade students will be focusing on St. Albert the Great. The 3rd through -5th grade crowd are looking at St. Thomas Aquinas this month (there is a Vision Book on St. Thomas Aquinas, perfect for this age). And the 6th- 8th grade students will be focusing on St. Edith Stein (there is an Encounter the Saints book on Stein, but I fear its a smidge too young for this group).
Phew! A whirlwind of books! Still, I’m sure there are more out there. What about your children? Will they be reading anything to tie in with the virtue they are studying?