Saints Ireland

Brendan the Navigator

A History Mystery about the Discovery of America
Author(s): 
Jean Fritz
Copyright: 
1979
Publisher: 
Paperstar/ Penguin Books
Number of pages: 
32 pages
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

The story of Brendan the Navigator, a monk from the middle ages who is believed to have discovered America even before Lief Ericson and well-before Columbus, is fascinating - particularly in light of a recent re-enactment of the recorded trip which seems to confirm the traditions. This book covers all of these details in a manner suitable for children, but includes a few details (about the way monks are described) which are somewhat irritating). The illustrations are rather weak.

Review Date: 
9-13-2000
Reviewed by: 

Celtic Heritage Saints

Book cover: 'Celtic Heritage Saints'
Author(s): 
Marian Keaney
Copyright: 
1998
Publisher: 
Veritas Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
74 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This book offers short, readable biographies of sixteen of Ireland (and Scotland's) greatest saints (covering the years from St. Patrick through 1142). The writing style and illustrations are reminiscent of Once Upon a Time Saints by Ethel Pochocki (Bethlehem Books). Despite the simplicity of the book (approximately a 4th grade reading level) it covers an important and oft-forgotten part of Catholic history. The great monasteries of Ireland fostered learning, culture and faith that eventually spread to all of Europe (through the help of some of the great missionary saints portrayed in this book) and was a major factor in the renewal of the Catholic faith after the fall of the Roman Empire and the conquests of Europe by the barbarians. The stories are of the following saints: St. Patrick, St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, St. Enda of Aran, St. Brendan the Navigator, St. Kilian (Apostle of Franconia), St. Brigid Mary of Gael, St. Columbanus of Bobbio, St. Colmcille Dove of the Church, St. Finian of Clonard, St. Malachy O Morgair, St. Hilda of Whitby, St. Carthage of Lismore, St. Margaret of Scotland, St. Dympna of Gheel, St. Kevin of Glendalough, and St. Comgall of Bangor.

My children enjoyed the stories as a read aloud (especially appropriate for celebrating Saint Patrick's day, but it would also make an enjoyable and very worthwhile addition/supplement to a study of this era of history for almost any grade level.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
6-20-01
Reviewed by: 

Fingal's Quest

Author(s): 
Madeleine A. Polland
Copyright: 
1961
Publisher: 
Savio Books
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
191 pages
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This work of historical fiction brings to life the stories of the great monasteries of Ireland and their evangelization of Europe (in the 6th Century), which had fallen away from the true faith after the Barbarian invasions. The story focuses on Fingal, a poor, fatherless boy, who becomes a student at Bangor Monastery in Ireland and becomes a stowaway in order to follow his beloved teacher Columban to Gaul. His lengthy quest to find Columban has some interesting parallels to growth in the spiritual life. Younger children will enjoy the story on a simple level for it's own sake (and it's quite a good story without going any further) while older children will discover some profound truths as they dig deeper. One recurring theme which is quite nicely handled involves the differences between human love and divine love and how they can either help or hinder us in our quest for God.

The book is originally from the Clarion series, which also includes: If All the Swords in England, Beorn the Proud, Son of Charlemagne and Augustine Came to Kent.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
6-26-01
Reviewed by: 

The Blackbird's Nest

Saint Kevin of Ireland
"Book cover: ‘<The Blackbird's Nest: Saint Kevin of Ireland>’"
Author(s): 
Jenny Schroedel
Illustrator(s): 
Doug Montross
ISBN: 
881 412 589
Copyright: 
2004
Publisher: 
St Vladimir's Seminary Press
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
32 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

The Blackbird's Nest is the story of St. Kevin of Ireland (498 A.D-618 A.D.). I first became acquainted with his legend in Seamus Heaney's poem, St Kevin and the Blackbird. In both Heaney's poem and in this beautiful picture book it's a fabulous story about a real historical figure, the abbot and founder of the monastery at Glendalough. And it's full of the most marvelous of medieval flights of fancy, typical of that era's hagiography, that carry deep spiritual truths, even if they may perhaps seem a little hard to swallow as historical fact.

The crux of the story is that St. Kevin, kneeling in prayer one day with his arm stretched out the window, has a blackbird build its nest in his hand. He then must continue to hold that posture for forty days until the eggs have hatched and the babies grown up and flown away. The book points out that the forty days has a spiritual significance:

Just as Kevin waited for the baby birds to break open their eggs and come to new life in his hand, during Lent we wait for Christ to break open the tomb and bring new life into our hearts.

The book follows St. Kevin from his miracle-touched birth (the snow melted all around his house) to his holy death at the age of one hundred and twenty and has a wonderful message about loving nature and our fellow men.

The story also highlights that Kevin is an imperfect person who grows in holiness. At first he is rather anti-social preferring to spend time with animals. He tormented other children, puzzled his parents, and often wearied the monks. His experience with the blackbird's nest teaches him reliance on God's strength as he turns to God in prayer to carry him through his ordeal (He repeats, "Lord have mercy," three times and concludes with "Amen" when the last of the baby birds flies away,) and teaches him gentleness and compassion toward his fellow men, not just to animals.

My two-year-old daughter loves the pictures of the animals and is especially enchanted with the image of infant Kevin's baptism. When we read the story she chatters about the priest "putting water on the baby's head" (just as her sister was baptized recently).

I love the fact that the book concludes with a historical note that includes a beautiful icon of St. Kevin, a short biography, and a prayer to St. Kevin, reminding readers that he's more than just a storybook figure, he's also an intercessor in heaven, a real person with whom we have a wonderful relationship as fellow members of the Body of Christ. I always conclude our reading of the story by reciting the prayer and having my daughter repeat, "St. Kevin, pray for us."

You were privileged to live in the age of saints, O Father Kevin, being baptized by one saint, taught by another, and buried by a third. Pray to God that he will raise up saints in our day to help, support, and guide us in the way of salvation.

Although the publishers recommend the book for ages 9-12, I think the inspiring story and beautiful illustrations will appeal both to much younger children as well as to older children and to adults, who can also benefit from the spiritual insights the book offers.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
6-28-2008
Reviewed by: