It’s undeniable that what we consume through our eyes and ears impacts our thinking and behavior.
We can do our part to move our cultural conversation in a positive direction simply through what we read and watch.
Let’s equip our kids and ourselves with good food for internal growth and strength. The surprising reality is that we truly can nourish our soul while we relax and enjoy a good story. Below are five lists of books, and a few movies, to help us do so. Each recommendation is a lip-smacking, tasty title that you can enjoy like a s’more for your spirit that will fan the flame of faith and virtue in your soul. Click on each title to follow a link to find out more. Many of the books are one of a series. Get to know the author and discover the rest of their great work.
Forgive me. I have way too much fun with hashtags. And I really like the simplicity of top ten lists. Since we are stepping back into the nine-/almost ten- month window we call the school year, and people on average tend to read about one book of some kind per month, here’s ten for ten for all ages. Our hashtag code can be: #TOP10 #FAVE #BAM! That translates to: Top 10 faith and virtue entertainment: books and media. (But the hashtags are more fun, right?)
I’m positioning these lists with the school year, but the titles are timeless and can be enjoyed whenever you like. There are recommendations for all ages because we grown-ups need fun things to read and watch to decompress during the often frenetic scheduling of the autumn-to-spring stretch too. You can enjoy them in any order. The lists are categorized by an age group “and up” to indicate the youngest age to have appropriate interest and maturity to enjoy the titles. But everyone older than that age can enjoy them too! Number one does not mean best. Number ten does not mean best. It just means I had to start and end somewhere.
PRE-SCHOOL and KINDERGARDEN and up
1) Angel in the Waters: The miracle of a child growing in the womb who is comforted by the voice of a guardian angel demonstrates the virtue of trust.
2) The Treasure Box books offer classic stories and activities about saints and more in which it’s FUN to build habits of virtue.
3) The Princess and the Kiss: Princesses of any age enjoy this endearing story of faithfulness, appreciating value of one of their their greatest treasures, their kiss.
4) Sister Anne’s Hands helps children develop the virtue of empathy in a story set in the 1960’s where an African American nun challenges her students to choose love that looks beyond skin color.
5) Take it to the Queen A parable of hope in which children learn how to seek the intercession of a beloved neighbor who became a queen.
6) The Monk’s Daily Bread A band of hungry monks with growling tummies show us the virtue of joyful acceptance of each difficult circumstance.
7) The King of Shattered Glass A loving king’s heart flows with the virtue of mercy for a young servant who keeps making mistakes.
8) Going on a Bear Hunt The classic story with surprising wisdom for any problem in life: we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ve got to go through it.
9) Little Lamb Finds Christmas This unique parable demonstrates the virtue of trust. Close to baby Jesus, even natural enemies, like lions and lambs, can be friends.
10) Finding Patience As a family makes a big move, the children learn how to exercise patience with each other, and wait for the hidden blessings in their new life.
PRIMARY GRADES and up
1) The Sisters of the Last Straw are a comic band of mystery solving nuns with bad habits, whom every child can identify and laugh with. A four-book series that cultivates empathy and understanding.
2) The Chime Travelers Series takes a pair of fun-loving twins on time travel adventures to meet holy heroes from the past. Each of the five books cultivate a child’s faith and spiritual imagination.
3) Molly McBride , the great lover of purple, has definite ideas about what she likes to wear. She inspires children to cultivate the virtue of devotion: the willingness to give themselves completely to their heart’s desire. Part of a darling two-book series. Get to know Peanut Butter and Grace Publishing for more faith that’s fun.
4) Lost in Peter’s Tomb is one of four books that take children on an adventure through some historic holy sites with Sister Philomena, Special Agent for the Pope. This story shows that adaptability is a key virtue in solving a mystery.
5) The Three Cousins Detective Club is the first of a 30-book series in which each book brims with abundant faith and virtue delivered with laughter and smiles.
6) Zita the Spacegirl is the first in a collection of heroic graphic novels that sparkle with kindness and courage. The link takes you into the witty, wonderful world of artist Ben Hatke.
7) Shepherds to the Rescue is the book that opens the door to a series which takes children back in time to experience moments in the Gospel like they are really there. This fun read spotlights the virtue of courage found in unlikely people and places
8) Joan of Arc, Brave Soldier for Peace is a simple-to-read story that is part of a large collection of Saints and Me! stories. St. Joan is portrayed as the girl God called to be a soldier whose heart was filled with the virtue of peace.
9) MOVIE The War of the Vendee is the exciting, professionally produced film acted entirely by children, that inspires the virtue of heroic steadfastness in the face of persecution. Every second grade child preparing for First Communion should see it.
10) MOVIE The Lego Movie is the hysterical portrait of humility in which a “nobody cansave everybody”.
10.5) (Bonus) TV SERIES: Daniel Boone is a truly enjoyable classic series for primary grade children in which the virtue of integrity and honoring the dignity of each person is portrayed in every episode. Currently available to DVR on INSP channel on cable.
MIDDLE GRADES and up
1) A. K. A. Genius is a fun portrait of an adolescent whose crazy experiences cultivate the wisdom to appreciate the gifts God gives to each of us.
2) The Good Bad Boy is a quick read, a retro, blast-from-the-past, diary of an 8th grade boy who has all the goofy experiences of typical middle grade boys but exemplifies a nobility rarely portrayed in modern entertainment. (Virtuous alternative to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This does not have cartoons.)
3) Many are Called is true “manga,” a graphic novel that surprisingly retells a bible story as a heroic action adventure sparkling with the virtue of transcendence, in which heroic deeds are motivated by a greater purpose.
4) Billowtail brings readers on an unlikely journey along the way of St. James in Spain with a group of heroic…squirrels who exemplify self-sacrifice. Young tween and teen fans of The Warriors series will enjoy Billowtail.
5) Will Wilder and the Relic of Perilous Falls is the story of an ordinary kid whose impulsive mistakes unwittingly awaken an ancient evil…that threatens his town with destruction. Averting disaster with the help of his eccentric aunt Lucille, Will gains a larger vision (and just a bit more self-control). Fans of Percy Jackson may find Will Wilder even more mysterious.
6) Rosa Sola is a story of the virtue of hope that emerges amidst tragedy, in which a 10 year-old child’s grief and healing over the loss of a long-awaited baby brother comforts and encourages everyone.
7) Avery’s Battlefield, tells of the journey of a young teen and his dog across both sides of the Civil War. Get to know this author. Deanna K. Klingel is a talented children’s storyteller.
8) Full Cycle is an example of a title that a parent and middle school son or daughter can BOTH enjoy reading. This story revolves around a father and son training for a long distance bicycle race, but readers can’t help but grow in the virtue of empathy imagining what this father and son team overcomes together.
9) Seven Riddles to Nowhere invites readers to enter an adventure as a 7th grade boy must solve clues to inherit a fortune and save his school. This book brings the virtue of generosity alive in so many surprising ways.
10) McCracken and the Lost Island launches readers on a fantastic adventure with a hero who has the courage, bravado, wit and charm of Indiana Jones, but is also man enough to kneel and pray. This five-book series is a richly satisfying ride.
10.5) (Videos) Dude Perfect is a YouTube sensation and celebration of the virtue of friendship, ridiculous achievements, excellence and fun. Good sportsmanship is imbued in each battle these guys film.
HIGH SCHOOL TEENS / YOUNG ADULT and up
1) The Perfect Blindside is a snow-packed collision of young romance, mystery and faith. The virtue of trust sparkles like icy crystals on a mountaintop in the relationships of a snowboarder, his family and the girl set against him.
2) The Chronicles of Xan series mesmerizes readers with mysterious medieval darkness in which danger and adventure open the door to courage and forgiveness.
3) I AM Margaret is the faith-filled heroic novel series every teen should read. First in a dystopian series of four books, it offers the gripping action, memorable relationships and disturbing intrigue of The Hunger Games but without the gratuitous violence.
4) 6 Dates to Disaster is one of three books in a series of “books with twisty plots, because life is complicated.” Teens will enjoy the way this story explores the difficult realites and deeper rewards of the virtue of honesty in relationships and in life.
5) A Single Bead is a captivating story in which a teen girl discovers how a single rosary bead can lead her to the surprising power of prayer as she copes with depression and loss after her grandmother’s death.
6) Chasing Liberty introduces teens to a three book series described as a “phenomenal, fast-paced and gripping” dystopian ride with a girl named Liberty. She must exercise the virtue of courage at a time when society’s peril involves the loss of freedom itself.
7) The Shadow of the Bear opens the door to an amazing five book series of timeless fairy tales that are clothed in modern settings and unforgettable characters. Both guys and girls are mesmerized by these excellently crafted stories in which integrity and a host of other virtues are woven simply and imperceptibly into the cloth.
8) My Rock and Salvation brings readers face-to-face with the consequences of human sexuality used for selfish reasons or offered as a selfless lifelong gift. Without any graphic sexual imagery, teens witness the struggles of a pro football player, a rock star and the young women they love.
9) Jennifer the Damned is horror of the best kind. Older teens who enjoyed the Twilight series, will delight in this vampire who is undead, but longs for eternal life … who drinks blood but thirsts most deeply for the blood that appears as wine, which she can’t consume. This is an intense tale with some sensual moments but does not cross the line into gratuitous sexual encounters.
10) The King’s Prey is a novel “with raw adventure, gripping action, and even humor in the midst of dark mental turmoil” that will inspire and comfort older teens who struggle with depression (or who has friends that do).
10.5) Movie Race is the film that tells the incredible story of Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympic games. His story demonstrates that internal strength and integrity overcomes prejudice. The ultimate victory is achieved when angry racism expressed in hatred of people of any color, country or ethnicity, is transformed into friendship, honor, and respect. The movie Race is a poignant reminder.
10.75) (Can’t get enough great teen recommendations? Need a few more?) Check out CatholicTeen Books.com for even more great choices. The titles featured there have Catholic characters but the stories can be enjoyed by people of any faith.
GROWN-UPS of all ages
1) Tangled Webs is the third installment in the “Men of Valor” suspense trilogy. In each of this award-winning author’s more than 50 books, authentic relationships and rich plot lines always delight the reader. These are clean fiction that honors the privacy and dignity of intimate relationships.
2) Race with the Devil shows the power of God to transform the life of an angry “Neo-Nazi” who was consumed racism and hatred into an eloquent voice for the good, true and beautiful. This amazing man has become a compelling voice igniting spiritual imagination by exploring classic literature with fresh eyes. (Click the link to find out more.)
2) A World Such as Heaven Intended will delight historical romance readers with a Civil War story in which love endures like a tiny flower amidst the destruction of a blood soaked battlefield.
3) Hijacked starts an intense five book series in which author Leslie Lynch doesn’t flinch from creating dramatic characters and situations that captivate… without a need to include gratuitous sex or violence. The darkness in these stories allows the light of virtue to shine brighter.
4) Mind Over Mind is the first of a sci-fi fantasy thriller trilogy by Karina Fabian, an author who knows how to craft fantasy, science fiction and even campy horror in which a foundation of strong faith surrounds each story like an invisible force-field.
5) The Tomb transports readers to first century Bethany, Israel, to enter into the struggles and virtues of Martha, Mary, Lazarus and more … imagined in storytelling that enthralls and inspires.
6) Dying For Revenge is the first of the “Lady Doc Murders” that will delight bloodthirsty whodunit mystery fans with page turning suspense and with a richness of faith and an appreciation of mercy coursing through its veins.
7) Rachel’s Contrition is a contemporary work of “grit lit” that explores timely and compelling issues through richly developed characters and page-turner plot lines.
8) The Spear is an excellent historical novel that brings the crucifixion of Christ to life through the eyes of the centurion whose spear pierced Jesus’ heart. Discover this prolific author in whose other works we experience the lives of holy saints in dramatic and inspiring detail.
9) Most Highly Favored Daughter is described as a “sanctified suspense” that explores dark differences between two sisters in which the strength of faith shines in the midst of betrayal and conflict. Romantic relationships add to the complications, refreshingly without the addition of graphic sex.
10) Unclaimed transports everyone to the world of “Jane Eyre, friendless orphan” as imagined in a futuristic society of cloning and bio-terror. This title launches readers on a three-book journey in which dignity can survive beyond betrayal and love IS worth fighting for.
10.25) (Just a couple more…)Stay With Me just might be the the perfect novel for a mother and college-age daughter to both enjoy. This story explores the deep struggles and the bright smiles of romantic and family relationships. This title exemplifies virtue in the love and laughter alive on each page.
10.5) A Hunger in the Heart is a tale from the south in which vivid characters embody vice “as thick as grits and gravy”, who also experience redemption as refreshing as sweet tea.
10.75) MOVIE Bakhita portrays the story of an incredible African woman who never lost her dignity or her generosity during her heroic and virtuous life journey from slavery and suffering to ultimate freedom and sainthood. It is worth reading closed-captions to see this film.
When you encounter these books and authors as I have, it becomes extraordinarily clear that…none of us has to read or watch a yukky book or movie ever again…because of a lack of alternatives. (“Yukky” meaning: spiritually empty, morally misguided or culturally toxic.)
This collection of lists is an appetizer … a sampling of the thousands of book, movie, TV series and YouTube video title recommendations that will eventually be offered on the Virtue Works Media Guide platform. (Once the good Lord enables us to get it built.) In the meantime, this will get us started. This can be our basic handy access for some great recommendations to select as birthday gifts, to read by the fire on a cold Sunday afternoon, or to snuggle up with before bedtime. The blessing is that each one is a well-told story that is … a clean read (no explicit content) and it focuses our imagination on goodness. And each one, I promise, gives you an appetite to desire MORE of the good stuff.
A final note.
Since so many of these are hidden treasures are from boutique publishers or smaller distributors who have small to non-existent advertising budgets, many faith leaders and school educators know nothing about them. Use this article to let everyone know that, contrary to popular belief, quality faith- and virtue-filled books and movies do exist AND are NOT all sappy and boring. There are so many fun titles in a broad list of genres, from both religious and non religious sources, that are now available, and the numbers of them are growing all the time.
Use this list as a helpful resource to offer to librarians to energize their collections with NEW fun books that affirm faith and virtue. Or purchase and donate titles to your school libraries yourselves. Let’s evangelize and inspire the imaginations of children (and all of us) everywhere with virtue that is fun to read and watch. We don’t have to settle for something fun, but empty, to consume for the sake of literacy anymore. God has created and called us to be much more than wimpy kids, no matter what age we are.
Virtues always involve hundreds of tiny choices that over time become internal muscle memory. Let’s choose reading and media that is good for us on the inside and good for everyone else around us too.
Copyright 2017 Cathy Gilmore