The Monks Make Amends

Author: Sylvia Dorham

Illustrator: Christopher Tupa

Publisher: Tan Books

Age Range: Ages 4 – 7.

This delightful and clever picture book is part of a series of books about a group of Carmelite Monks.  It is based on a real-life monastery in Cheyanne, Wyoming. In this story, there is tension and discord amongst the holy brothers and tempers begin to flair.  The very patient and pious Father Abbot notices that his monks are not happy, so he prays to the Blessed Virgin Mary:

“Father Abbot cries, ‘Hail Mary,

Help me lead this monastery.”

So Father Abbot goes about hearing the whole story of who did this and who did that to who. He then reminds the monks that we have to try as hard as we can to live together in peace. The monks grumble a little but then go to confession and take time to kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. They all pledge to try to be nicer to each other. The final page is a quote from scripture:

“If it is possible,

as far as it depends on you,

live at peace with everyone.”

Romans 12:18

The message is simple, the story is simple, and the prose is simple.  Using rhyme and rhythm, Sylvia Dorham has cleverly created a story for young children that will engage and hold their interest while teaching them a simple but important lesson about forgiveness and getting along with others. In an interview, Sylvia Dorham spoke of how rhyme is a great way to help children learn.  Having homeschooled her ten children, Sylvia Dorham has learnt what works with children. And this picture book is proof of that.  The rhymes do not strain to work, but flow seamlessly and are really quite clever.

Another great aspect of this picture book is the full page, vibrant illustrations.  Apparently Christopher Tupa spent time at the monastery, observing the monks as they went about their daily business.  He has carefully recreated their clothing and captured the stark interior of the monastery very well.

I have not read the full series of books but I highly recommend that teachers, librarians and homeschoolers purchase this series of Catholic story books to sit on your bookshelves.  They are clever, high quality, entertaining and wonderfully Catholic in their orientation.

You can purchase your copy of The Monks Make Amends HERE.

Homeschool and Teaching Ideas


This would be a great book for either:

  • Lessons on vocations
  • Lessons about forgiveness and getting along.

The age range for this story is quite young but I’m sure there would be lots of questions about monks, monasteries and vocations in general.

I’d start with these beautiful images of the Monastery in Wyoming:

And then this wonderful resource that describes the monk’s habit:

Watch the monks in their various jobs:

Beautiful footage of the monks adoring the Blessed Sacrament:

In response to these rich and beautiful images, I’d then ask children to either draw or write what it might be like if they were a monk for a day.  What job would they do?  Why that job?  What would it be like to wear the monk’s habit every day?

List out the vocations: Marriage, blessed singleness, priesthood, religious.  You might need to explain what each one is: then have a conversation with children about which vocation they think they might be drawn to.

Have a look at Molly McBride’s picture book review HERE.  I’ve included more ideas for teaching children about vocations.

Counting on Faith

Author: Maurice Prater

Illustrator: Jason Koltuniak
Publisher: Divine Providence Press
Age Range: 3 – 6

This is a great read aloud book that follows the conventional format of a counting book. On each page Maurice Prater has chosen something numerical from scripture, e.g., the TEN commandments, or the FOUR writers of the gospels. This is such a fun way to learn some basic facts about our Catholic Faith. I was impressed with the close references to scripture like the SEVEN gifts of the holy spirit, or the EIGHT requests of the Our Father. Even though this is a counting book aimed at younger readers, the content is actually quite theologically rich and ripe as a conversation starter.

Time has been taken to align the content of this picture book closely with the Catholic faith, as evidenced by the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur signed by The Most Reverend David D. Kagan, Bishop of Bismarck. Children will learn about the FIVE wounds of Jesus and the NINE different types of angels that God has working for Him. This is indeed a different type of counting book!

The book comes alive with the glorious illustrations of Jason Koltuniak. His full page, colour drawings are bright, engaging and thoughtfully crafted. I particularly liked the colourful depiction of Noah’s ark with TWO of every animal, complete with rainbows adorning the sky.

Every number from one through to ten has scriptural references included, which adds to the authenticity of this book, and will also help teachers and homeschoolers to find and read the relevant passages from the Bible. There is really a lot of material in this book that can be used in Religious Education classes. A handy glossary is included at the end.

So I recommend you purchase this book for the children in your home or classroom. It is a fun, bright and interesting counting book that can also be used quite fruitfully as a teaching aide. And why not buy the other two books by Maurice Prater – What Colour is Heaven? and Saved by the Alphabet. You can purchase Counting on Faith at amazon HERE. 

Homeschool and Teaching Ideas

Every single page in this book could have a lesson plan built around it.

Given the young age of the intended readers, you could have children work independently or in groups to create a large ‘Noah’s Ark’ or ‘Ten Commandments’.

I would prompt conversation by commenting on how Noah was obedient to God and asking children to think about what it means to be obedient.  There is plenty to talk about with the ten commandments, and I would set aside a different activity and conversation for each of the ten commandments – a very rich topic!

  • Here are some links for ideas and activities for the Ten Commandments:

Lap books from the wonderful Shower of Roses:

For a few dollars, this Catholic Ten Commandments game from Teachers pay Teachers.

Here’s a relatively easy activity from Today’s Catholic Teacher.  I would probably use the words as they are written in Counting on Faith.

As you’re working through each of the commandments you can talk to your children about how this commandment relates to them in their own lives.  Some prompting questions might be “How do you show your love for God each day?”; “How do we honour God’s name?”; “How do we keep Sunday holy?”; “When was a time that you really wanted to have something that belonged to someone else?” etc.

  • Here are some ideas for Number Six (God created the World in Six days)

A lot of ideas and templates here from DLTK:

A cute creation wheel here:

Some great questions to ask kids here, as you make your own animals:

Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls

Author: Raymond Arroyo

Illustrator: Antonio Javier Caparo

Age Range: 10 and up.

It was only after reading this book for the second time that I truly appreciated how much is going on.  Raymond Arroyo is a master storyteller, and I was so wrapped up in the story the first time I read it, that I didn’t fully appreciate all of the themes, nuances and strengths of this book. Both times I read this book, I had to put it down towards the end because I was getting over excited.  Yes… it’s one of those books that keeps you turning pages and then wanting to flip ahead, and then putting it down so you can go for a little walk and catch your breath.

If you love fantasy as a genre then you’ll love this book.  There are demons and a secret society called the Brethren who each have a special gift that they must use in order to fight the ever-lasting fight against evil. And the latest leader of the Brethren is twelve-year-old Will who is just coming into his gift and his understanding that he is a chosen one. There are repulsive beasts, frightening beasts and black, gloopy beasts.  I loved it!

I don’t know that I would recommend this book for those under ten years old – it can be really scary and a li’l violent at times. I think parental guidance is recommended.  If your child is excitable or easily frightened, then don’t give them this book to read.  But for most 10 and up readers this book will be loved.  It is a long book with few illustrations so younger readers will need to be advanced to read it alone.  It is also a fabulous book for reading aloud (although it might be a bit scary for some children before bedtime).

Raymond Arroyo

There are several aspects to this book that I love.  Firstly, it is extremely well written by an author who has obviously honed his craft.  Raymond Arroyo has been writing Catholic books for adults for a long time.  This is his first children’s book, which he developed from the stories he told his own children. He is an absolute Master of the Cliff-hanger ending to a chapter. I defy you to put this book down once you reach the halfway mark.  Arroyo seems to hit the climax at around about midway through the book – and it just keeps on going!  Here’s an interesting Facebook stream that Raymond Arroyo released where he talks about the Will Wilder series:

Catholic symbols and references to Catholic ritual, tradition and theology are used throughout the novel.  Scriptural references are also made, particularly about Saint Thomas and the prophet Elijah. There are moving statues, sacred books, miracle-working relics, booby trapped secret chambers and supernatural forces.  A major part of the story takes place in and around an old church perched on the side of a cliff. Arroyo stated in the above interview that the book is just as much for adults because there is so much more going on in the background to think about – he sure got that right!

Another part of this story that I loved was that it involves a whole, multi-generational family in the action. In fact, it involves a whole community of people.  There are so few children’s stories around that actually celebrate how people of different ages, abilities and capabilities can work together. Aunt Lucille is in her sixties and Bartimaeus is blind. But when everyone’s abilities are combined, the demons are defeated. Will is a little defiant and disobedient to start with, but by book’s end he has been suitably humbled and chooses to take a stand against evil in order to put things right again.

So far, there are three books in the Will Wilder series, and I have heard there are more to come!  If you or your children love adventure, fantasy, and getting really, really scared then get onto Amazon or Booktopia and buy these books!

Homeschool and Teaching Ideas.

There are a number of teaching possibilities within this book:

  • English – visual literacy: discuss the colours and design of the front covers – what do they convey. Design your own cover or dvd cover.
  • Think about quests: the chambers, quizzes and booby traps – how does this work as a literary device? (As the characters make their way through the chambers, we as readers are also making our way through the story – discovering more, being surprised, being confused or scared etc). Design your own chamber complete with booby traps and beastly baddies – then (for the more advanced) compose some clues using scriptural references.
  • For a writing and comprehension exercise: How does Will Wilder’s character change throughout the story?  What are the events that change/influence Will Wilder? (Hint: he is humbled; he gives in to temptation, he learns that he has a lot to learn, he grows up, he experiences fear, he takes responsibility, he chooses to be courageous…)
  • Produce a graphic novel: take one scene from the book and design a graphic novel page. This could be a whole of class project with different groups working on different scenes. You might also use the characters of this novel and create/write your own graphic novel scene.
  • Design a beast. Describe it, draw it, what are its special forces/abilities. How can it be overcome?
  • Catholic symbols: how many Catholic references: altar, statues, relics, church, saints. Draw them or create an online reference (WIKI) that describes each symbol.  This if for older students and will require some research. This could be a class-wide project that continues for the entire year with students adding to the WIKI of different Catholic Symbols throughout the year.
  • Scriptural references: find them and read them, put them in biblical context what do they add to the story? (this would be for older students and would require teacher/parental assistance).