Secrets Visible & Invisible

Authors: Corinna Turner,  Cynthia T. Toney,  Theresa Linden,   Susan Peek,  T.M.Gaouette,  Carolyn Astfalk,  Leslea Wahl.

Publisher: Catholic Teen Books.

Age Range:  11+

I recall from my teaching days that finding short stories for teens was always a problem – there never seemed to be enough collections of short stories available that were good examples of the genre.

Well now we have here a great selection of short stories from Catholic Teen Books.  This group of Catholic authors have collaborated to promote Catholic teen books.  Their Facebook page is HERE.  Each author is published in her own right, but they have joined together in this collection for the purposes of providing a neat little anthology of short stories and for showcasing their work.  Luckily for us they now have three compilation books.  Today I’m reviewing Secrets: Visible and Invisible, which is their first compilation book, published in 2018.

This is a fabulous idea.  Each author offers a short story that showcases her work.  The characters and settings in the short stories sometimes come from the author’s published works – so you get to ‘taste test’ their writing and stories.  This volume brings together a range of teen characters in a range of settings – each story explores different themes such as making choices, consequences, courage under fire, friendship, family and loyalty and more. We move variously from a dystopian present/future to 16th Century Italy and back again to a kid’s vacation camp in the mountains.

Each of these stories is Catholic in its own way.  Corinna Turner’s story which opens the book portrays a world where Mass is said in secret and the Government controls people with guns and suspicion.  In the second story, Recreation, Cynthia T. Toney writes of a young man who is intrigued by an isolated, elderly neighbour. He begins to help her out around the house, and she encourages him to say the rosary with her. His growing friendship with this elderly women has surprising consequences.  Theresa Linden’s story of a Catholic teen group is an interesting exploration of our attitudes towards people with disability, while Susan Peek’s chapter is a confronting story of a young soldier’s final hours as he prepares to meet God. Sister Francesca by T.M. Gaouette is a sweetly sad love story about following your calling into a religious vocation, and Behind the Wheel by Carolyn Astfalk is a story teens will love and relate to that explores the difference between truth and lies, right and wrong. Finally, Leslea Wahl explores the inherent value in each individual, even those who are mean and objectionable, as her characters try to solve an old mystery.

The stories are all high quality and varied enough to keep teens interested and reading.  The theme of ‘secrets’ can be found in each story.  I think that would be a great springboard for teachers or homeschool parents to begin from: ask young readers to find the ‘secret’ in the story. Having such a diverse range of stories will also be helpful for teachers of a diverse classroom of students who each has different preferences and abilities. I really would recommend this volume of short Catholic stories for your children or your classroom.

Watch these seven fabulous, hard working, Holy Spirit inspired authors speak about Secrets Visible and Invisible HERE

Secrets Visible and Invisible has the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.  You can purchase Secrets Visible and Invisible HERE

Teacher and Homeschool Ideas.

As I mentioned in the Review: I would start by asking young people to identify the secret or secrets in each story – sometimes there’s more than one!

Ask students to choose their favourite story:

  • More capable students/teens to write an alternative ending. Ask them to explain why they have chosen that ending.
  • Ask teens to explain why they like this story in particular. You might give them elements to explore – the characters, the story line, the ending, the excitement/tension/feelings the story evokes.

Here is a good summary of the 5 elements of short stories:

https://users.aber.ac.uk/jpm/ellsa/ellsa_elements.html

  • Using each of these elements in turn you could ask student to critique their favourite short story.
  • Ask students to write a blog review using these five elements for structure.

Finally, have students/teens write their own Catholic teen short story.  I would probably help them with an initial brainstorming session, helping put the elements together – many teens will love talking about their characters and storyline.  You might make up a worksheet that helps to order their thoughts eg:

  • Character – what is his/her name, what do they look like, dress like, what are their favourite activities, pastimes, what do they hate?
  • Setting – what time era, whereabouts, city or country, describe the town/place they live, what is their house/dwelling like?
  • Conflict – what will the conflict or problem be? What are the stakes – what happens if they lose or the problem becomes worse?
  • Resolution – How does the resolution happen? Who is responsible? What does the main character do/think/feel?  What about the other characters; what happens to them?
  • Theme/Lesson – what lessons have been learnt and by whom?
  • What makes this story Catholic?

Finnian

Author: Philip Kosloski

Artist: Michael LaVoy

Published: Voyage

Age Range: Parental discretion: 10 +

 

I bought the first four books of Finnian bound together in one volume.  The premise of the story is based on a real-life, but strange natural phenomenon – seven mountains which form an almost perfect straight line across the globe from just off the coast of Ireland through to Israel.  On every mountain, a monastery has been built and devoted to St Michael the Archangel.  Each monastery was built independently without the knowledge of the other six monasteries that make up the Line of St Michael.  Legend has it that this line represents the strike of the sword of Archangel Saint Michael where he defeated Satan and sent him to Hell.

And so Finnian’s tale contains everything a lover of historical fantasy fiction could possibly want: ancient maps, a mystery to solve, a legendary sword to find, dark monasteries and abandoned castles, evil bandits, dragons and flying demons.  But it’s not all bad. Finnian also finds a small band of heroic friends and holy monks who help point the way forward. This series is a beautiful blend of Jungian archetypes, Tolstoy like quest and Hollywood blockbuster.  You’ll love it!

On Page one, a young, fresh faced Finnian embarks on a journey to seek out the legendary sword which has the power to defeat evil. His initial intentions are selfish ones: he wants to avenge the death of his family who were murdered by evil men. Within three pages, Finnian is plucked from the dangerous sea by a monk who becomes his right-hand man throughout his adventures. Archangel Michael makes a stunning appearance in the form of a vision, and half an ancient map is discovered.

In Book 2 the feisty, bow and arrow sharpshooter, Merewyn, joins them.  With everything she has ever known destroyed, she decides to help Finnian on his quest.  The baddies do bad things and hassle the poor old monks.  And Finnian has begun to sprout a beard!

The first four books follow Finnian on his quest to piece together the different sections of St Michael’s sword; and his character develops along the way.  With each adventure Finnian grows in courage and wisdom. The old monk sacrifices his own life for our heroes and facing imminent death utters, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.  Such a great moment in the story!  (The old monk appears later as a spirit guide, so don’t despair!).

As I read, I was engrossed in the developing story and characters.  Although there was nothing particularly surprising in the way events unfold, it is still a pleasure to read and appreciate the efforts put into producing this wonderful series. What totally grabbed me were the graphics.  Each panel is meticulously designed, with attention given to perspective, placement and facial expression. All of the conventions of comic books are present – sound effects such as SCREE, or KRACK are plastered across the panel in creative fonts, perspective is used to emphasize greatness or vulnerability, dynamic colour brings the action to life.  I believe that many youngsters will love reading this series.

Each separate graphic novel within the volume is approximately 20 pages long.  The production of these graphic novels is stunning – from quality drawing and colouring to careful characterization and writing, these are extremely good examples of their genre.

Voyage is a relatively new venture founded by author, Philip Kosloski. He has gathered together a group of talented and experienced Catholic men who together create graphic novels that promote out faith.  In a recent interview these men – illustrators, colourists and writer – talked of how people will respond to the stories of our faith if they are not “banged over the head with the gospel”.  They intend to write and produce positive stories that real people can relate to. The mission statement on Voyage website is to

“…create exceptional entertainment, informed by Catholic values, that inspires people to live a heroic life. Through our products, we seek to advance the truth, beauty and goodness found in powerful stories.”

I would highly recommend this volume of four books, “Finnian”.  There are three more books in production at the time of writing.  These would be perfect for young teens, especially boys.  Actually, anyone would enjoy them simply because of their high quality and great story telling.  A warning that there is bloodshed, violence and scary creatures, so they may not be suitable for some younger readers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daTLWygByW8

Check out the Voyage website HERE.

You can purchase Finnian HERE.

Teacher and Homeschool Ideas.

Where do I begin?

The legend of St Michael’s Line would be a great place to start.

Write up your own short adventure story, and then make up your own graphic novel.  As a classroom activity this could be done in groups – sometimes students are painstaking with their drawings and art so this might end up being a term-long project.  Ask students to have their characters demonstrate virtues – courage, wisdom, loyalty and charity – have a discussion about these virtues.  (You might want to focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the Catholic Catechism’s seven virtues – four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude and the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love).

  • Depending on the age group I might begin to link the “hero’s quest” to some classic literature – there are plenty around so choose those your children/class will know eg: Bilbo Baggins, Harry Potter, Katniss, Jo from Little Women, Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, Robin Hood, Spiderman, Hamlet…
  • Here’s a quick refresher for teachers/homeschool parents about the literary hero: https://literarydevices.net/hero/

The Boy Who Knew

Title:  The Boy Who Knew

Author: Corinna Turner

Publisher: Zephyr Publishing

Age Range: 10 and up.

This is an impressive book about a modern-day saint.  Well, actually at the time of writing, Blessed Carlo Acutis is not yet a saint, but he has recently been beatified. Corinna Turner has written this book from the point of view of fourteen-year-old Daniel, who has just received a diagnosis of leukemia. The story then cleverly intertwines the experiences of Daniel with that of Blessed Carlo Acutis– an Italian boy who died of leukemia in 2006, aged only 15 years old.

Daniel is well drawn as a quiet boy trying to come to terms with an impossible diagnosis. While his parents succumb to anger and despair, Daniel seeks out support from his parish priest – who points Daniel in the direction of Blessed Carlo Acutis.  Daniel must wait ten agonizing days for a prognosis – will his illness be fatal or not?  He has just enough time to complete a novena to Blessed Carlo.

The novena to Blessed Carlo is a clever device that drives the story forward.  Daniel learns something new about Carlo every day as he works his way through the novena. By meditating on Carlo and his life, Daniel begins to discover more about himself.  Through a process of reflection and prayer, Daniel grows in spiritual awareness.  As his physical health deteriorates, the spiritual stakes rise – it becomes increasingly imperative for Daniel to strengthen his faith and find spiritual comfort.

A quick journey to Assisi to witness the beatification of Carlo Acutis is a delightful twist in the story.  The voice of Daniel within the story starts to change – as if Daniel and Carlo are becoming ‘one’. I really did enjoy this clever little book, which held my attention and kept me turning the pages until the end.  And believe me, the ending is perfect.

I imagine that this book would be ideally suited as a class set for young people aged about 13 – 15.  There is so much to discuss as a class – the ultimate meaning of life, how do we deal with/manage death in our society, what really matters in the end?  There is also a great deal to learn from the example of Carlo Acutis, who devoted his last days to promoting miracles of the Eucharist.

I highly recommend this timely book which is available on Amazon here:  as a book or ebook.  Author, Corinna Turner is a British writer who has published books for the Catholic teen and young adult market.  Corinna has been writing fiction since she was fourteen years old. She was raised in the Methodist tradition and later became a Catholic Christian. She is a Lay Dominican and works in the field of disabilities. Please support Corinna Turner and connect with her online:

Amazon

Website I Am Margaret

Facebook

Homeschool/Teacher Ideas.

  • As mentioned above there is such scope to facilitate group/class discussions about “the big questions” – what the meaning of life is etc. I would probably use questions such as:
    • Imagine someone has just months to live – what do you think they would do in those months?
    • Write down a list of things you would want to do if you only had months to live
    • Write a letter to Daniel. What do you think you need to write to him?  What would he like to read in a letter?
  • Think about the way Daniel’s parents behave in the book: why do you think they react to Daniel’s diagnosis like this?
  • Can you think of any stories or quotes from the Bible that might give Daniel comfort?
  • It would be interesting to revisit the story of Daniel in the Bible: what characteristics does Daniel in the Bible have? Is Daniel in this story like Daniel from the Bible: in what ways?
  • Ask students to research Carlo on the internet:

Where did he live?

How old was he when he died?

What have you learnt about his family, his personality, his likes/dislikes, his interests?

What is “beatification”?

Research some of the Eucharistic miracles that Carlo Acutis documented.