Saturday, February 21, 2009

What About the Catholics?

Laurel Snyder has written a kick-ass article about Jewish children's literature. Betsy at Fuse also talked about Laurel's article. The conversation in the comments evolved, as conversations do, as to how Laurel's thesis (good Jewish children's literature) can apply to any group.

And Wendy asked about Catholics in books.

On the one hand, as a child I assumed every character in a book was like me until I was told differently. Unless there was evidence to the contrary, the characters were Catholic like me.

Of course, that's not true. I think some authors perhaps do that deliberately (not mentioning religion at all).

So what about the Catholics?

And DO NOT refer me to that VOYA article. Personally, an article about religion in books that includes books that are anti that religion really do not meet that need. If I gave Godless to a person asking for a book about Catholics (unless the RA said, "and I want it to be a book about no longer being Catholic"), I would be doing a huge disservice to the person asking for the book. And, frankly, most of the VOYA books fall under the "religion is to be questioned and found wanting if you're smart" category. Don't get me wrong; Godless and the other books in the VOYA article are great. But it does not answer the question -- where are the books that show Catholic kids and teens?

Now to answer that question!

Well, since many authors don't mention religion, it's a bit hard for me to remember Catholic characters. Often, it falls under "the person is Catholic and they realize religion is wrong" category, or it's historical, or it's the "big Irish family with too many kids and too little money the father drinks" stereotype that is insulting (yet still exists in literature and books and movies.)

Here are the books that I can think of. Do you agree? What others can you think of?

Penny from Heaven by Jennifer Holm (my review here)

Clay by David Almond. (my review here) For the record: Almond is one of those few authors that asks questions about religion and belief and Catholicism, but does so in a way that is always respectful and true. His The Fire-Eaters includes abusive religious teachers; but, like Clay and Stained (below) includes wonderful things about belief and religion.

Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce (my review here)

Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Litman (my review here) The main character's spiritual journey brings her back to her Jewish faith, but her flirtation with Catholicism is depicted with warmth, wisdom, and respect.

Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (my review here) A beautiful book; and this shows how a book can ask hard questions (here, about a priest and a teenage boy as well as about how people within a religion don't always live up to the principles) yet still be spiritual and belief filled.

Historically, anything by Lenora Mattingly Weber. Her books are set amongst Catholic families and were contemporary at the time they were written (early 40s through the 70s). Personally, I always liked Katie Rose better; but Beany is pretty good, also.

There aren't many Catholic publishers today; not like you see with other religions. Since most Christian publishers include books with a "have you found Jesus/convert to our brand of Christianity" moment, I hesitate to look towards them for books. I'm going way back now; but I adore the Mary Rose at Boarding School series by Mary Mabel Wirries, written and set in the early part of the 20th century, and published by Benziger Brothers. Wikipedia shows that it's currently RCL Benziger. A very quick look at their website shows no fiction.

OK, that's it for me this morning! I have listed no picture books. I cannot think of any off the top of my head, that aren't Bible Stories types of things.

What have I missed?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Tricia said...

Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells the story of a girl who converts to Catholicism after realizing it fills a void in her life. I was pleasantly surprised to find a YA book that dealt with a character finding religion and not just questioning and/or abandoning it. I am currently reading The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas and I love how it incorporates the characters faith in a fun and playful manner.

Stasia D said...

I stumbled across and old one on my shelves this year. "The Bells of Bleecker Street" happens in the West Village and all around Our Lady of Pompeii church.

Anonymous said...

I'm rereading a Beany Malone book right now! (I like Katie Rose and Stacy better, too.)

There's Tacy Kelly in the Betsy-Tacy books. When I read these as a kid, I thought of her Catholicism as just a passing reference and didn't notice a few things she says/does that are clearly Catholic--like, when she instructs the other girls about saints--because, as you mention, of it being a default for me. But I didn't tend to assume everyone was Catholic in books, maybe because I didn't have many Catholic friends.

I was interested when Margaret followed Laura Danker to confession in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and was always sorry that that didn't get more exposition. I mean, in the context of the book it made sense, but I think that shows how hungry I was to see more Catholics in books.

There's also an interesting scene in Elizabeth George Speare's Calico Captive where Puritan Miriam realizes that Catholics Are Not So Scary After All.

Anonymous said...

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas has a fun positive portrayal of Catholicism, and in my last book (Jenna Fox) the grandmother is a devout Catholic.

Liz B said...

Ah, the Catholics are scary books! I read one (had to have been published late 70s/early 80s) where the conservative Christian girl came of age and her growth was noted by her thinking, "hey, if I had been raised a different religion, I would think that was the only true religion to be. Except if I was Catholic. I would realize that was wrong." With nothing in the text at all to explain or counter the Catholics: they're scary! If I can find the book, I'll post the title.

Unknown said...

great post! I read Laurel's article and thought the same question about Catholic books - I worked in a Catholic school for 4 years and I can't remember any "Catholic" themed picture books other than ones about Saints or about going to Mass, etc. I guess we can identify with "christian" books, ones about Christmas, Easter etc.. where as jewish kids cannot relate to those. An even sparser "genre" would be the ones where the kids are half Jewish/half Catholic like my kids are -

Laura said...

Antsy in The Schwa Was Here mentions that he is Catholic, but it's not a big part of the story.

I thought that Evie in What I Saw and How I Lied was Catholic, but now I'm not sure. Maybe her friend was?

Aishwarya said...

Possibly a bit too dated to be relevant, but Antonia Forest's Marlow books feature a pretty prominent Catholic character who I rather like. I've just used your post as an excuse to write one of my own on literature in Girls Own writing here

Jennie said...

Liz, one of Alice's best friends in the Alice McKinley books by Naylor is Catholic.

Jennie said...

OH! And in the Calypso chronicles (Pulling Princes, etc) they go to a Catholic boarding school. While the girls don't focus too much on religion, I don't think I've ever read a book where the nuns were so awesome. The nuns are the NICE teachers--always there with good advice, a candy bar, an extra hug, and a bit of good celebrity gossip gleaned from the latest issue of Hello or OK magazine. Also, the nuns save the day in helping Calypso get her guy.

Jess said...

The family in Ten Cents a Dance is Catholic, I think, and they go to church but spirituality doesn't really factor into the story. I'm sure I could think of more...

And speaking of under-represented religions, I don't think I saw an Orthodox Christian character in a children's book until I ran across Patricia Polacco. I still don't think I've seen any chapter books that aren't historical fiction.

Anonymous said...

Heart of a Shepherd has only been out for a month but Catholicism plays a substantial role in the main characters life, although he is also influenced by a Quaker grandfather.

When I was writing this story, I thought I'd never sell it because of the religious aspects of the story.To my amazement, Random House made me an offer and they've been behind my book 100%

Andrew Karre said...

I haven't finished A SWIFT PURE CRY, but its world and tone reminds me a lot of beloved CLAY.

Teens could read the first half or so of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED and/or PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN. . .

My introduction to Catholicism came in The Great Brain series--obviously before I was a teen.

Anonymous said...

Dancing in the Middle,
by Barbara Tuttle
Published Dec 2008
Novel for pre-teens, esp girls

Written with lots of love, insight,good humor,and practical tools to help kids who are being teased, or prone to teasing.

This is a friendship story between two families - one Catholic, and the other Protestant. The unlikely girl who becomes a heroine is Catholic.

I have a background in teaching and children's ministry. I wanted to do something positive to help kids who are having trouble fitting in, when they reach the awkward middle school years. If this story helps even one girl "make it through Jr. Highschool," feeling good about herself and being kind to others - it was worth it to me to write it!

Bibliovore said...

I'll second both Leap of Faith and The Possiblities of Sainthood as great Catholic books.

Andrew, my vague memories of the Great Brain series makes me think it was Mormonism rather than Catholicism. Of course, I could be wrong.

Liz B said...

I can't believe I forgot the Great Brain series! They were set in Utah, so many of the friends & neighbors were Mormon, but the family was Catholic. The boys went to a Catholic boarding school for high school, until their town had enough kids who were old enough to have their own, if I recall correctly.

Cynthia said...

Lambs of God by Marele Day--this is an odd book about three nuns living in isolation in a crumbling facility that the church is now interested in selling. When a priest comes to evaluate the property, things take a strange turn. I found this book when looking for stories with lots of knitting in them. What I found was something much different...

MotherReader said...

Perhaps the middle-grade series of Mary Margaret by Christine Kole? That name - it has to be Catholic, right?

Anonymous said...

Of course, FROST IN MAY is one of the scariest Catholic books ever written--it conveys the beauty and fervor of Catholicism as well as its potential atrocities. I'm a happy Catholic myself, but I wouldn't want to be without FROST IN MAY, terrifying as it is. FRANCINE GREEN is Catholic, I believe, and I think Emma Jean Lazarus' kind-hearted friend is Catholic--and her priest is very nice to her when she's in crisis. There's also THE THEFT AND THE MIRACLE, though I'm not 100% sure the heroine is Catholic and not Episcopalian. Rumer Godden's classic EPISODE OF SPARROWS touches on Catholicism in an intriguing and heartfelt way. And EMILY OF NEW MOON has a brief but charming encounter with a Catholic priest--she doesn't abandon her Protestantism, but she finds him simpatico.

Anonymous said...

Regina Doman's books for young adults have Catholic characters in modern situations, highly recommended.
Also Hilda VanStockum's books have Catholic characters. Try Bethlehem Books for reprints of all her books.

word verification:coseally. Pertaining to living with seals or seal-like creatures.

Jennifer said...

Jean Little's Look Through My Window includes discussions of religion - the main characters are Protestant and Jewish, but secondary characters are Catholic. Very well-written, and not, I think, outdated. The sequel, Kate, is more focused on Judaism.

Elinor Brent-Dyer's classic boarding school series, Chalet School, includes both Protestant and Catholic girls. They're hard to find, every once in a while reprints pop up and then disappear.

My big peeve is never finding any juvenile/ya books on homeschoolers where the characters aren't a. in a cult/commune b. unwilling forced to stay home or c. being incorporated back into school and proving themselves total social failures. Grr.

Anonymous said...

Mary Hershey has two books that are very catholic:
My sister is so busy she says you can't read this book and 10 lucky things that happened to me since i almost got struck by lightning.

Also, Ann Hood's book How I saved my father's life (and ruined everything else).

Anonymous said...
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Mrs. F-B's Books Blog said...

How about Sister Anne's Hands by Marybeth Lorbiecki?

Seven-year-old Anna has her first encounter with racism in the 1960s when an African American nun comes to teach at her parochial school.