REVIEWS: Mother Teresa Books for Kids

Mother Teresa: The Smile of Calcutta

This beautiful book by Charlotte Grossetete is wonderful for introducing the story of one of our newest Saints, St. Teresa of Kolkata, to young children (ages 7 and up).  It may be a little wordy for younger attention spans, but is perfect for this recommended age range, as it incorporates major life events and quotes from St. Teresa in an age-appropriate manner. Illustrations are an eye-catching cartoon style that will certainly capture young readers’ attention. It also includes facts about her life at the back of the book; a wonderful bonus! This would make an excellent addition to a Catholic home or school library!


Mother Teresa of Calcutta


This book by Francine Bay is recommended for ages 9 and up and is perfect for that age range, for readers becoming more independent; the text is broken up into short “chapters” of a page or so and the illustrations are beautiful and eye-catching.  The events of St. Teresa of Kolkata’s life and her quotes are woven seamlessly in this beautiful book so as to give a very whole picture of her life and person that young independent readers will understand and relate to. It also includes a timeline and prayer at the back of the book.  This book would be a wonderful addition to a Catholic home or school library!


Regina Planchet received copies of these books for the purpose of review.

REVIEW: Guadalupe Mysteries

Guadalupe Mysteries: Deciphering the Code by photographer-writer team Grezegorz Gorny and Janusz Rosikon is a beautiful full-color picture book of the story of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe and why this was the perfect way for her to unite two peoples to create a brand new one. Throughout its almost 300 pages, Guadalupe Mysteries explores every aspect of the native peoples of Mexico, the Spanish conquest, the struggle that occurred, and the different elements of the Guadalupe apparition that appealed to both parties and, ultimately, united them.

The book begins with Juan Diego and the origins of the Guadalupe apparition. Then, in what I think may be the most interesting portion of the book, the authors go into “the Guadalupe code”- looking at how the Indians and Spaniards each interpreted the different symbols in the image of Our Lady and how this shaped the Latin America that we know today. For instance, the stars on Mary’s mantel, to Aztec priests, corresponded to their location on December 12, 1531 as they would be seen from outer space and the brooch with a cross under Mary’s neck, symbolized the image of a god in Aztec culture, among many other symbols that would be clearly interpreted by the Aztecs. Likewise, there are many Christian symbols in the image which would be recognizable to the Spaniards, such as the sash around her waist symbolizes virginity, purity, and devotion to God and her bent knee signifies her humility before God. When these symbols are interpreted together, we receive a full picture of Our Lady as both the protectress of the earth and its inhabitants and God’s most faithful servant, the one through whom all the graces of God flow.

The book continues with the history of the Aztecs, then the Spanish conquest, how Our Lady and Christianity fit into keeping this new nation together, the scientific data that can be found in the image, the mystery of the eyes (another very interesting section! What’s in her eyes?), and finally, the impossibility of the indestructibility of the material of the tilma the image is on.

All in all, this is a wonderfully informative book with rich photographs and details. If you have even a passing interest in Our Lady of Guadalupe or how the Mexican people came to be or in the vast mystery of God, this book will be a welcome addition to your home.


Theresa Williams received a copy of this book for the purposes of review. She is sending it as a surprise Christmas gift to a dear priest friend who has a great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe 🙂

REVIEW: Catholic Realism

Catholic Realism: A Framework for the Refutation of Atheism an the Evangelization of Atheists by Dr. Sebastian Mahfood and Dr. Ronda Chervin is a good guide for anyone trying to convert anybody. Their definition of “atheist” is broader than I’d typically go. They include anyone who does not believe in a personal deity, which would include many people who are New Age or influenced by Eastern Spirituality. This does make you reconsider the importance of the “personal” in personal God and makes you think about what that phrase really means. It was a bit unsettling for me because under their broad definition I was once an atheist although I would never have called myself that.


This guide is helpful in illuminating the atheist mindset and some of the reasons why people embrace atheism. It gives great pointers for evangelization in general such as:

  • Meeting people where they are
  • Being a beacon of light
  • Converting people with our lives

The book definitely needed another trip or two to the editor’s desk. It wasn’t enough to be a distraction, but I did notice missing punctuation and some odd grammar, among of other little things. Again, it wasn’t bad enough to detract from the value of the book by a long shot, just enough to notice.

My only other concern was the second part of Chapter 6. In it, Dr. Ronda Chervin goes one by one through Church teaching on ethical issues. I think she provides a good summary that would be very useful in an RCIA class or for evangelizing fallen Catholics. With its heavy emphasis on magisterial teaching and the Bible, however, it would be completely unconvincing for an atheist. A little disappointing for me, as I was looking forward to that part of the book for a personal project of mine, but I think it would definitely be useful in other contexts.

Over all, I intend to loan this book out to a friend of mine who is active in St. Paul Street Evangelization. I think anyone involved in a ministry such as that would benefit from this book. As the authors of this book points out, however, we are all surrounded by atheists (especially with their broadened definition) all the time, so maybe we should all pick up a copy just in case.

Bethanie Ryan received a copy of this book for the purpose of review. A version of this review may also be found on her blog.

REVIEW: Refractions of Light

Have you ever wondered how the Church decides what is a “real vision” or “true private message from heaven”? Or what is the process they go through to approve an apparition or state that it is in error? In my studies of saints, I’ve often wondered how the Holy See (the Vatican) decides that what this saint saw was a real vision or a private revelation is divine in nature (such as St. Faustina or Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich), yet others who have also said they’ve experienced visions and received miracles were determined to contain doctrinal errors and deemed to be false. Refractions of Light by Kevin Symonds makes this all very clear, in a very straightforward and logical manner. Symonds writes the book in the format of a student asking questions, and provides documentation for each key point. He begins with the simple, asking, “What is private revelation?” and to the more complex of how does the Vatican investigate these claims, ending with, why would God grant a request to an individual that would cause confusion.

refractions of light symonds cover

15. Why must alleged private revelations be immune from theological and spiritual error in doctrine?

Alleged private revelations must be free from error in the above areas because God cannot contradict Himself. What he has established for our salvation does not change.

The questions are very straight forward and answered in easy to follow logic and language. After answering the questions on the process to confirm private revelation, Symonds discusses the effect on the faithful that these devotions or messages may have on the Church, especially if that message is deemed to be in error and the process to have them corrected. The most important point here is that the Church takes it’s time when determining the validity of a message and that no grace is lost among the faithful, no matter how long it takes.

118. Why is it not true to say that by waiting the faithful are losing grace?

The faithful are not losing grace because, “Visions are not like sacraments that produces their effect by their own power in those who do not place an obstacle [to sacramental grace]…There is no grace to be had by disobeying. To wait will not entail any loss at all, rather, God’s favor will be upon those who obey.”

Symonds also touches upon the dissemination of information through published materials, the Index of Forbidden Books (which is no longer maintained), and the current power of censorship the Church has on books published on alleged private revelations. This is where a local bishop or diocesan “censor” will check a book for nihil obstat or “nothing obstructs” and grants an imprimatur or “let it be printed.” The questions and answers only cover the first half of the book. The second half are the documents Symonds used to research and answer each of these questions, straight from the Magisterium. These are amazing documents to read! The documents have been translated into English and are also included in their original language (for those of you who read Italian or Latin)! He also gives a brief introduction and background to each of these documents. Finally, Symonds has 26 pages of endnotes documenting his other resources cited throughout the question and answer portion of the book. Talk about a well-researched book!

I highly recommend Refractions of Light by Kevin Symonds. It is the most complete question and answer book covering the complex topic of apparitions, visions, and private revelations I have ever come across. He clearly reveals the Church’s stance on messages given beyond the completion of the New Testament revelation, how the Catholic Church takes great thought, time, and care when evaluating these messages, and making sure these messages ultimately do not harm the faithful of the Church. This book is an invaluable resource for anyone who is interested in the study of private revelation and learning more about how the Church approves of those messages and visions which ultimately lead to greater devotion to our Lord.


Laura Hensley received a copy of this book for the purposes of review

REVIEW: 99 Ways to Teach Like the Master

Jesus is the most profound person to have ever walked the earth. It wasn’t only that he was the Son of God, but the way that he taught that drew people to himself and allowed him to easily spread his godly message. He spoke and taught to his audience, sometimes very clearly, other times in parables that allows us to ponder and think about the deeper meaning. “99 Ways to Teach Like the Master” by T.J. Burdick takes the methodologies that Jesus used to teach, explains what he did in detail and gives us ways to use his methods to share knowledge with others, whether that be in our own families or teaching students, even when teaching might not be our strength.

99 Ways Burdick cover

Mary’s role is a constant reminder for us humans to accept God’s gifts even when we find them unorthodox. Without her, Jesus would never have been able to step outside of heaven and share His love with all humanity.

Your students are unique…As we create new lesson plans and brainstorm different activities, it is important to remember that, although our weaknesses might be exposed at times, our mission remains the same – we are to say “fiat” or “yes”, to Christ’s call to instruct our children well. (3. Fiat, pg 13)”

Learning how Jesus taught us helps us to teach others in his same way allowing the student to absorb any information we are trying to pass along to them. In the book, T.J. covers 99 topics, starting each one with a Bible verse to use as an example or teaching method, and follows it with insight and ways to apply it to the classroom or improve yourself as a teacher or leader. It is not just for teaching the Bible truths, but these instructions can be applied for teaching any subject because it demonstrates effective ways to pass along any information we are trying to teach. For example, number 40 is titled “Getting Frustrated” and speaks about how frustration is not a fun part of the job, but if we use it to increase our own self-control and endurance, frustration can actually be used to make us stronger, healthier and more pure teachers.

I really liked lesson #47 Shock Value. As a catechist, I only have an hour and a half (often times less due to other activities) to teach the kids their lesson. While it may be easy to just have them take turns reading out of their workbooks, the lesson will be more memorable if the kids come out of the book and I teach them in a more “shocking to them” way. Burdick quotes the Bible verse was from Mark 9:42-48, where Jesus states, “It would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck” should he cause a little one to sin. Burdick explains that sometimes when we teach we can get into such a routine that our classes become boring and tedious. Sometimes we need to be a little shocking to wake up the kids and get them excited about learning again.

Teaching in an uncharacteristic way like Jesus did challenges our students to open up their eyes to the realities that surround them. When we teach with shock value that requires a wise response, we give them the first sprout of understanding that will eventually lead to full-grown happiness. This is a gift that they will surely accept, but only when their soul has been rocked enough to respond passionately.”

To apply this lesson, I will get the kids out of their seats and sing a prayer, or have them demonstrate Reconciliation rather than just talking about it or I will even teach the Bible story using large movements or a loud voice. This is a great reminder for us teachers or even parents, we need to teach our children in maybe some unorthodox ways in order to get our point across or help them to really remember the lesson.

99 Ways to Teach Like the Master” by T.J. Burdick is a wonderful teaching guide for any leader, teacher, catechist, or parent that teaches us how to teach any scholastic or life lesson in the way that Jesus taught us. I will be using the lessons taught in this book to help me be a better mother, wife, and catechist, and I feel I will be able to better communicate in the ways my Lord and Master taught us.


Laura Hensley received a copy of this book for the purposes of review.

REVIEW: A Second Look, Encountering the True Jesus

I’ve studied the Bible for years, and each time I read the same story I’ve studied before, I always seem to pull some new “golden nugget” of information God is trying to give me. Each time we read God’s Word, we are at a different point in our lives and have a different perspective than what we had the previous time we read the same verses, which is why reading the Bible never becomes “old”.  A Second Look, Encountering the True Jesus (OSV 2016) by Mark Hart is so exciting to read because it takes those same stories and gives us a new look and new “golden nuggets” in each of the stories studied.A Second Look book cover

Mark Hart, an award-winning and best-selling Catholic author and speaker, takes many well-known stories from the life of Jesus where he touches the life of someone profoundly and allows the reader to encounter Jesus in that same way. Hart doesn’t just retell the story, but first wants us to read the Bible and then experience that encounter through the eyes of the person seeing Jesus; for example, the Magi, Peter or Zacchaeus. He details how this encounter fundamentally changes that person and how we too can be fundamentally changed by that encounter with Jesus. The Bible is not just a historical book or a book of nice stories; these accounts are meant for us to get to know who God is, who Jesus is, and live the way he wants us to live to gain eternal life. After detailing the scene and gleaning the lessons, Hart asks us to reflect on several questions to help us to understand what we might have done if it was us encountering Jesus or what we should be doing to grow our relationship with Jesus.

Just imagine being the Magi, watching before your very eyes old prophecy being fulfilled, following the star and worshiping the Lord as an infant child, so small and helpless. What would it have been like to ask to hold the Christ-Child? To hear his cry? To witness the love of this new family, between Mary and Joseph? WOW!

Or imagine being the young rich man longing to follow Jesus, calling out to Him, “What do I need to do to gain eternal life?” and receiving the answer to give up all his riches and follow Jesus. He was so self-assured that he was living a sin-free life, yet Jesus wanted him to give up his riches too. Hart writes:

”…in light of the rich young man and, in truth, in light of most of us (including myself): The urgency we assign to something is directly proportional to the value we place upon it. How eagerly do you want to experience the deepest love God has to offer? How deeply do you desire life to the fullest? How far are you willing to go for God? Are you willing to open your hands and to let go of all this world offers in order to experience what the next promises?”

Hart goes on to say, “The cost of eternal life is ongoing discipleship, constant conversion of heart, and reckless abandon to the will of the Father.” After a statement like that, how could we ever turn away from Jesus like the rich man did? Rather, we need to focus on our discipleship and do the will of the Father at all cost – even if we have to give up everything.

Hart allows us to have our own personal encounter with Jesus in each of the chapters. Each one offers us real life stories and applications which can call us to either move as that person did (like in the calling of Peter) or revealing to us our true purpose (through Hart’s own calling). Pondering these stories, just as Mary kept and pondered everything she experienced in her heart, will allow us to actually feel the love Jesus has for each of us and will increase our desire to come closer to him and have our own personal encounter with our Lord. Placing ourselves into these stories and taking a second look at the true meaning of these encounters will draw our hearts closer to Jesus himself and allow him to speak to us in new ways we could have never imagined.

Laura Hensley received a copy of the book for the purposes of this review.