Reading aloud is not just for young kids; Kate Towne shares her list of theological read-alouds her family has enjoyed.
I’ve always loved reading out loud to my boys, and have loved being able to read bigger and more difficult things as they’ve gotten older. When Lent started last year (2020), I thought it would be a great time to extend our usual fiction read-alouds to more theological works for my older boys (grades 6, 8, and 10 at the time).
Of course, when Lent started, I had no idea that everything would soon shut down and we’d be sheltering in place for months, including remote school for my kids, but when that happened, I saw it as an opportunity to continue our nightly reading sessions past Easter. Indeed, we read twenty to thirty minutes just about every night until school resumed in-person in September, and were able to get through a really varied list of books; we then started again this Lent with some new titles. If you’d like to consider doing so with your middle- and high schoolers, these are the ones we read, in the order listed:
Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith. This was an excellent book to start with. It was a little headier than my sixth grader was used to, so I stopped frequently to explain and define things and recapped the previous chapter each night before starting the new one, which was helpful to all of us (me included).
Scott and Kimberly Hahn: Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism. This story of the Hahns' conversion to Catholicism played a role in my own family, as my husband wasn’t Catholic when we met. Rome Sweet Home was one of the first books I asked him to read. It was fun to revisit it with the boys, and fun to see how gripped they were by the Hahns' journey.
Ronald Knox: The Creed in Slow Motion. This was recommended to me by one of my readers who said she uses it in her Confirmation classes. It’s a series of homilies Fr. Knox gave to the students in an all-girls school from London, who had evacuated to the English countryside during World War II. The homilies each focused on one phrase from the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in God,” then “The Father Almighty,” then “Maker of Heaven and Earth,” etc. It was an incredible deep-dive into a prayer we say all the time and gave me new appreciation for it. We did have to take a detour when limbo was mentioned — I read from “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized” (commissioned by Pope St. John Paul II and approved for publication by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), as well as some articles written to help the laity understand that document — but otherwise I thought it was great for my boys and I appreciated that it was directed to teens.
Patrick Madrid: Surprised by Truth. When my husband was in the process of deciding to become Catholic, he read a lot of conversion stories (like the Hahns’, as mentioned above), which is the entire content of Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Truth books. I read about half of the first one to my boys, only moving on when the reasons given in the stories for conversion and the arguments in favor of Catholicism started to feel repetitive (which is awesome, as it really emphasized how different paths lead to the same truth, but started to lose the boys’ interest).
Catherine M. O'Dell: Father Solanus Casey, Revised and Updated. I thought a saint’s biography might be a good way to break up the focus on apologetics, and as Bl. Solanus Casey is special to my family, I thought it would be good for me and my boys to learn more about his life. This was an excellent book about an excellent man.
Bishop Robert Barron: How to Discern God’s Will for Your Life. The offer of this free e-book showed up in my email at a great time, as I know a couple of my boys worry about how they’ll recognize God’s calling. This booklet offered concrete advice about discerning one’s vocation — both in terms of one’s state in life, and in terms of everyday decisions — and also addressed the fear of choosing wrongly.
Jennifer Fulwiler: Something Other Than God. Though I loved this story of Jen’s conversion when I first read it, I wasn’t totally sure my boys would appreciate it, being that so much of what I loved about it was her journey as a woman. But this might have been their favorite of all the books I read to them! Jen is a gifted writer, and her journey from atheism to Catholicism had enough spice and twists and turns to really keep them interested. We had to spend some time discussing the Church’s teachings on contraception, abortion, and Natural Family Planning, but these are ongoing conversations in our house anyway.
Brian Butler, Jason Evert, and Colin and Aimee McIver: Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition. This Lent (2021), I wanted to work the Church’s teachings on sexuality into our readings, and prayed for months to find the right presentation for my boys’ ages (now grades 7, 9, and 11). I settled on this video series (8 videos that were about a half hour each; we only did the videos, I didn’t use the associated workbooks and guides) put out by Ascension Press, and was happy with it. The first few videos were very basic, so much so that I was disappointed, but the second half of them got into some of the meatier issues I was hoping for, and sparked a lot of conversation. I’d thought I’d follow this with the High School Edition, but then heard that the High School Edition might be more appropriate for teens who have had a lot of exposure to and/or have struggled with sexual sins, which wasn’t quite what I was looking for (I haven’t watched them, however, so I can’t verify their content).
Bishop Robert Barron: The Sacraments. My boys responded well to the video format, so Bishop Barron’s video series on the sacraments seemed a natural progression, especially as one of my boys will be Confirmed this year and another next year. I can’t recommend it highly enough, it was tremendous.
Peggy Pandaleon: Saints and Sacraments. This book came with the purchase of Bishop Barron’s The Sacraments videos — it presented a Saint (or more, in the cases of Holy Eucharist and Matrimony) that had a special connection to each sacrament. It was a great way to finish up our study of the sacraments, and to finish up Lent in general.
Middle school (sixth grade) seems like the right age, to me, for my kids, to start reading/watching this kind of content, and as I have another son starting sixth grade in the fall, I’m planning to start this list over again, which will also serve to remind the older boys of them. Hopefully, we can continue this cycle, and perhaps add to it, for years to come!
Do you have other titles you’d add to our list?
Copyright 2021 Kate Towne
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About the Author
Kate is a writer, wife to a really good man, and mama to their seven boys ages 1 to 15. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina, and her first book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018) can be found at ShopMercy.org and Amazon.