‘Saints Around the World’ is a welcome gift for both children and parents

Reviewed for The Catholic Post by Nancy Piccione

When my now almost-grown kids were very young, we had a saints book written for children. Let’s just say it wasn’t a smashing success.

You see, I started reading to them one saint every bedtime so the kids could learn about the women and men who lived lives of virtue and heroism. Edifying and inspiring? Not so much.

Unfortunately, many of the stories were written in an appalling way, describing in frightening detail their martyrdoms or terrible sufferings endured for Christ. Though it was written for a younger audience, the actual result was scared kids and a flummoxed mom.

It’s good to introduce our kids to the saints. It’s good for our kids to know that you can be heroic. But I knew something was wrong about how the content was conveyed, not the content itself.

I learned two lessons from this:

  • Don’t read saint books at bedtime.
  • Go carefully when you introduce children to tough topics.

RESPECTING YOUNG MINDS

Over the years, I learned to “rephrase” some of the saint stories — never at bedtime, mind you — so that I could share the truth of the saints’ heroism, while preserving youthful imagination. I wasn’t trying to “water it down,” but I wanted to communicate the lives of the saints in a way that young minds could absorb. Sometimes I did this well, and sometimes I fell short, but I did try.

That’s why I’m thrilled there is a saints book written in way that respects children, but is profound enough for adults to enjoy and pray with.

Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s “Saints Around the World” — charmingly illustrated by Lindsey Sanders — is that book.

Consider this description of St. Jerome, the fourth century monk who translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, and is also known for his strong temper:

“But he never stopped losing his temper. And he never stopped repenting and trying to be better. That’s what makes a Saint, after all; not that you never mess up, but that you always seek forgiveness. And Jerome was always asking for forgiveness. He wanted to be holy, he really did. It was just so hard.”

Or ponder the gentle guidance Hunter-Kilmer gives after sharing that St. Germaine Cousin, a 16th century French girl, was treated harshly by her stepmother:

“I hope that if someone is treating you very badly, you will tell a grown-up. And if that grown-up doesn’t fix the problem, I hope you will tell another grown-up and another and another until somebody helps you. God doesn’t want you to be treated badly, he wants you to be loved and cherished.”

APPROACHABLE, ENJOYABLE

Hunter-Kilmer will be familiar to Catholics online: she is a self-described “hobo” for Christ’s kingdom, who travels the world sharing her love of Jesus and the Catholic faith, armed with two theology degrees and a rare gift for speaking and connecting with her audiences.

“Saints Around the World” is Hunter-Kilmer’s first book, and her writing style is just like she talks: approachable, enjoyable, and on fire with the Faith.

The front of the book features a map dotted with all the saints’ locations on a watercolor world map, overlaid with the Scripture from Isaiah: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Each spread features on the left-hand side a saint story written by Hunter-Kilmer, and on the right-hand side an illustration by Lindsey Sanders.

Sanders’ illustrations are beautifully crafted and rich with imagery of the saints lives, what they loved, and by what they were known.

The icon-illustration of newly beatified teenager Blessed Carlos Acutis is almost crammed with things he loved, from skis, to the Eucharist in a monstrance, to his laptop and Playstation.

Each saint illustration contains a caption explaining the image. For instance, the illustration of Blessed Benedict Dawsa (a 20th century South African father of eight children, educator, and martyr) includes him wearing dress work clothes, holding a soccer ball in one hand and one of his children in the other. The caption tells readers that he “is wearing a tie, which he called ‘the rope of honor’ and required of all male teachers.”

This treasure of a resource includes 100 saints and blesseds, with a diversity of time, geography, situation, and more.

The message of “Saints Around the World”? Anyone can be a saint, and everyone has friends and intercessors in the saints.

What a gift this book is — not just to parents and children, but to people in every walk of life.

NANCY PICCIONE edited The Catholic Post’s Book Page for eight years and is part of its book review team. A member of St. Jude Parish in Peoria, she blogs at ReadingCatholic.com.

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