Two Catholic Alphabet Books

Two Catholic Alphabet Books

An Alphabet of Catholic Saints written and illustrated by Brenda and George Nippert. I like it, though there are things I think could be better. The pictures are a little cartoony for me. I’d prefer something a little more classic. But they aren’t bad either and do include some traditional elements. The saints all have halos. Each saint is pictured with his or her initial letter as well as some of the customary iconography: St. George has his dragon and his shield with the red cross, St Helen has the cross, St Lucy a lamp, etc. The saints frequently stand or sit on or in their letters, St. Martin de Porres has a laundry line strung from his M.

There’s a nice mix of saints. Some of the ones I’d consider standard, St. Joseph, St Ignatius, St Anne—old friends, that most children will have met before. There were a couple I’d never heard of, like St. Sharbel and St Joseph Yuen, a chance to make new acquaintances.

Each saint has short rhyming quatrain:

St Therese loved God in every way,
she was His little flower.
Her little way led many souls
to trust in God’s great power.

Beneath that, in a smaller font, are a couple more sentences with more details about the saint’s life:

Saint Therese of Lisieux became a nun at fifteen by special permission of the Pope. She became very close to Jesus through prayer and her “Little Way” of trusting and loving God.

Some of the rhymes were a little forced and a bit treacly: “St Helen was a queen of old / who found the cross so true. / It leads to everlasting life, / even for me and you!” That “so true” feels awkward to me and the “even” is a bit odd.

I liked that the book included a fair number of martyrs and didn’t hedge about their martyrdom and yet at the same time don’t give unnecessary details that would be too much for young children:

Ursula and her companions vowed to love only God, and were killed when they refused to break God’s law.

Bella likes the book. It isn’t one of her favorites; but she does let me read it to her. And today I watched her pick it up and flip through it, naming several of the saints as she did so, including St Sharbel, one of the saints I didn’t know previously.

An Alphabet of Catholic Saints is a nice addition to our library. A good introduction to the saints as heroes and role models and familiar friends. I’d like to add that this is perhaps the only alphabet book I’ve seen where X didn’t feel like a stretch. Thanks, St Francis Xavier!

A is for Altar, B is for Bible, art and text by Judith Lang Main, is from Cathechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications and really feels like it’s meant to be used in conjunction with the catechesis program. I’m not so sure it’s very effective as a stand-alone book.

Each letter is accompanied by a brief verse from scripture or a line from the liturgy. So A is “I will go to the altar of God, / to God my exceeding joy.” (Psalm 43:4a) W is for water and wine: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ.” (Roman rite, preparation of the gifts).

The pictures are pastels and the images are images from the materials the child would find in the atrium during the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. This choice felt odd to me. I’d much have preferred a nice icon of the Good Shepherd such as we included in Isabella’s prayer book to accompany Psalm 23 to the image of the model shepherd and the sheep in the toy sheepfold. Again, I prefer more traditional artwork and I think it is selling children short to give them childish images. We have such a rich artistic heritage and I think children are drawn to beautiful pictures. Isabella loves flipping through two fine art calendars of images of the Blessed Virgin that I’ve saved for her. I can see the logic in the choice the artist made, giving the child an image that is familiar from atrium work; but it isn’t the choice I’d have made. And I really don’t much care for the crucifix image, which looks like a straw man.

I assume that all the terms were chosen because they would be familiar to children who have spent time in a CGS program. Some of the choices feel a little stretched: “D is for delight” (accompanying a picture of the three wise men: ‘When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy’), “X is at the end of crucifix”, “Z is for zzzzz” (I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.”)

There’s a sort of glossary at the end of the book with an explanation of each term: “At Mass we gather around a table called the altar”, “The Bible is a sacred book that tells us about God. It is the word of God.” I thought this would much better have been incorporated into the main book, much like the non-rhyming text in the Alphabet of Catholic Saints. I found myself flipping back and forth so that I could read the definition as I read through the book.

I do like the page layout. Each letter is centered on the page, brightly colored (red, blue, gold, green, blue, orange, purple), and the letter is again highlighted in the same color in the representative word below.

I’m still on the fence about this book. I like the introduction to some of the terms and I appreciate the inclusion of scripture. I don’t think this book really stands alone outside of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd setting, and that seems a real shame.

Also, the concern I’ve had elsewhere with CGS materials, the worry that they tend to de-emphasize the Real Presence in the Eucharist, resurfaces here: “The chalice is the cup that contains the wine at Mass.” and “At Mass the priest pours a few drops of water into the wine. They mingle together.” While the book isn’t wrong, it doesn’t introduce the deeper reality. There isn’t anything wrong with what is says, but I don’t understand why it shies away either.



Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.