Christy Wilkens reviews a new full-color journal aimed at encouraging young boys to build strong relationships with God.
I could tell you just two things about Amy Brooks’ new journal Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Boys, and probably call this review finished:
- When I handed it to my third-grade son to test the target market reaction, he flipped through it, then looked up at me with shining eyes. “It’s all for me?”
- He disappeared with it into some unoccupied corner of our house and did not emerge for several hours.
This book is lovely both in form and function. My son recognized immediately the quality of both the writing (he read the introduction out loud to me, giggling every few lines) and the physical object itself — creamy paper, striking typeface, colors that are bold but still childlike and fun.
The well-executed design is just the icing on a well-constructed cake, though. The reflections move in an increasingly outward facing progressions, from “You” to “You and God” to “Who Does God Want You to Be?” (put another way: you and God and the world). One short final section, called “Make a Plan,” is the capstone on the entire reflection project: now that you’ve answered these questions, what concrete steps can you take to become a saint?
The third section is the longest, and a crucial question for modern Catholics. It’s one thing to understand ourselves or to have a solid grasp of Catholic theology. It’s an entirely different thing to know how to apply both sets of knowledge to messy living in the real world. Brooks deftly handles the natural Christian tension between being a peacemaker and a warrior, between humility and evangelization, at a level that’s appropriate and encouraging for tweens and young teens.
Throughout the text, Brooks draws on all the best parts of Catholic tradition, in particular highlighting the stories and prayer practices of male saints. She provides smart, accessible introductions to everything from St. Ignatius’ lectio divina to spiritual warfare prayers introduced by Pope Leo XIII. One of my favorite pages highlighted the powerful relationships between well-known saints, including friendships between men and women like St. Francis and St. Clare; that constant reminder about building holy friendships is critical for the middle-grade set.
Another great feature is the many different styles of written interaction Brooks invites. There are places for long passages, if you have a boy who loves to write. For boys (like mine) who don’t, there are many other places for short answers, circling, crossing out, sketching, and even one Mad-Libs-style story … with multiple sets of lines to complete it more than once, for multiple siblings or friends!
There is room within these pages for many types of boyhood -- the illustrations include comic books and skateboards but also nature scenes and neighborhoods. Each is expertly drawn and each page design is inviting and engaging, drenched with scripture or quotes from saints. I love any book that puts more holy words in front of my kids’ eyes.
Be Yourself is best for kids who are strong, independent readers and writers. Upper elementary and middle school are safe bets. You’ll definitely want a copy for each one of those boys in your life; this precious book is not meant for sharing, except between your boy and God (which is exactly where you want sharing to happen, isn’t it?).
Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Boys is published by Our Sunday Visitor.
Copyright 2020 Christy Wilkens
About the Author
Christy Wilkens, wife and mother of six, is an armchair philosopher who lives in Austin, TX. She writes at FaithfulNotSuccessful.com about disability, faith, doubt, suffering, community, and good reads. Her first book, Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, a memoir about a pilgrimage with her husband and son, will be released by Ave Maria Press in 2021.