So “Book and Bagels,” which was supposed to only be a summer program, is continuing every month. We’re moving onto other authors and rotating through different genres now. All that reading, though, had me wondering, Where are the Catholic characters among the books for children and teens? To answer this question, I headed to the Collier Public Library. I was surprised (and delighted) to find quite a few books when I searched for Catholic juvenile fiction and by well-known authors. Here are a few I read this summer:
Molly McGinty Has a Really Good Day by Gary Paulsen
A fun, slim book about finding balance between strict organization and realities of life.
Molly is ultra organized, A binder helps her keep every aspect of her life—and her grandmother’s—on track. This is essential since she lives with her super spontaneous grandmother, Irene, who is an animal talent agent.
But on Senior Citizen’s Day at Our Lady of Mercy Middle School, Molly’s binder goes missing. Like a missing security blanket, it sets her off kilter and she has mishap after mishap. Plus, she is trying to keep her grandmother out of trouble, which isn’t easy when her best friends Mary Margaret, Mary Pat, and Mary Bridget egg on Irene’s chaotic and creative approach to life. As the day goes on, Molly’s attitude changes (with nudges and pokes from Irene) and Molly “survives” without her notebook (only to find it where she never thought to look).
A fun book about coming to understand what (and who) we can and cannot control and finding balance in life.
Revenge of the Green Banana by Jim Murphy (Clarion Books)
A mostly autobiographical account of Murphy’s 6th grade year at St. Stephens Catholic School (New Jersey) in 1958 makes for hilarious reading and a great family book. (Adults will reminisce and see the juvenile logic that leads to miscommunication between the nuns and their students.)
Jim is determined that 6th grade will be a fresh start. But this last for about 12 minutes because his new teacher, Sister Angelica, won’t see beyond the thick red folder of his past. His humiliation escalates when he is forced to sing and dance, dressed as green banana, with the 2nd graders in a school assembly. He and his best friends devise an elaborate prank to humiliate Sister Angelica. But revenge can get out of control, especially when the girl he secretly likes may end up as the victim of their prank. Can he stop that from happening in time?
Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman
This is a charming, laugh out loud funny, and touching story about change, prompted by both moving and loss—and the grief that points us toward growth.
When Justine’s family moves from New Rochelle, New York to Greenwich, Connecticut, she greatly misses Bubbe, her father’s mother, but she soon makes a new friend, Mary Catherine McAllister. The McAllisters are Catholic and their family life is chaotic but loving which fascinates Justine. This prompts Justine in trying to convince her family to keep Kosher, like Bubbe. Justine’s perfect older sister teases her and her mother and Grandpa Leon and Grandma Lila aren’t exactly encouraging either.
Feeling they are only Jewish by birth and wanting the family life of her friend, Justine announces that she is giving up being Jewish for Lent—to fit into her new home town and to be like her new friend. She enjoys spending time with the McAllisters because it is fun and busy at their house, their mother bakes cookies from scratch and is engaged with the children.
Justine is so fascinated with Catholicism that she secretly practices going to confession—in her closet with her Teddy bear as the priest (Father Ted)—and she practices communion using grape juice and matzah, despite her mother’s strict rules about no food in the bedrooms.
When Bubbe has a serious stroke on the day Justine begged to attend mass with the McAallisers, she is convinced God is punishing Bubbe for her own sin. Guilt creates drama AND humor as mice are discovered in the bedrooms and an exterminator uncovers Father Ted and the closeted remains of communion. Drama escalates in her family BUT Bubbe is on her side, though growing weaker every day.