Let’s pretend we are on a drive to go see the lights of great Christmas reading and entertainment that are shining in what often may seem like cultural darkness. We can discover great choices to select as gifts for 2017. Let me introduce you to some talented authors and movie makers who happen to be Catholic. In much of their work no mention the Catholic faith ever appears. Others weave Catholic elements into a darn good story. Either way, they embrace their work from a Catholic worldview that gently invites us to imagine and internalize compelling stories that demonstrate faith and virtue. Often, these successful Catholic authors and movie makers, kindred spirits with Tolkien, hide their faith deep in their work in such a way that often readers and viewers may hardly notice it.
Because subtlety is their strength, Catholic consumers have a hard time discovering them because too many raunchy and spiritually reckless titles often rule the marketplace. Buying from the authors and artists who demonstrate Catholic values in their work can make us patrons of Catholic arts this Christmas. These books and movies enrich our ability to imagine, value, and exercise virtue and selflessness. With our support, they will be enabled to make more. Together we can help to shine a cultural light of virtue in our families, our children, and our communities.
(All the names or titles in bold are hyperlinked so you can click and find out more. I earn nothing from those clicks…I’m truly doing this with pure intentions.)
First Stop on the Lights of Christmas Gift Ideas Tour
Great reads for GROWN-UPS. Meet Catholic suspense and romance novelist, Irene Hannon. She has won dozens of awards and sold thousands upon thousands of her, over 50 published titles. Yet, because she writes clean fiction and publishes through a Christian publisher, she remains largely undiscovered by a vast number of Catholics. Thin Ice is her award-winning second book in the Men of Valor series. Catholic moms, dads, and TEEN guys and girls will be delighted to find their best new binge reads from Irene Hannon. The other novelist whom many are surprised to discover is a Catholic is Dean Koontz. He is the epitome of a gifted storyteller whose suspense thrillers are built on a world-view of faith. His bad guys are stark shafts of darkness and his heroes are sublime glimpses of light. Christmas is Good! is his adorable guide for holiday happiness told “by” his dog, Trixie. Giving either of these accomplished author’s books as a Christmas gift can begin a natural, effortless, and non-confrontational, faith and virtue conversation at Christmas.
Last fall, I was honored to meet a new and promising Catholic novelist, Leslie Lynch, who attended my first Virtue Works! Event. Leslie is a Kentucky girl who has authored three novels in which she doesn’t flinch from creating characters who experience trauma and gritty darkness, but she writes from a strong foundation of faith. She takes readers on surprising journeys of healing and restoration. Her novel, Hijacked was a Romance Writers of America® 2013 Golden Heart® Finalist. Readers also enjoy her Christmas novellas. To discover more hidden talent, if you check out the Catholic Writer’s Guild site or their Seal of Approval list on Goodreads, you’ll find a large collection of books for all ages that are both well-crafted and are faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. With gems from guild authors like Leslie, and others, like Ellen Gable’s Julia’s Gifts, and Brian Kennelly’s Two Statues, we can help everyone on our gift list meet a new favorite author or book.
Second Stop on the Lights of Christmas Gift Ideas Tour
Reading choices for Catholic TEENS. I believe the most spiritually at-risk population in our society are teens. The simplest, most natural way to spiritually nourish the soul of a teen or preteen is offering them a well-crafted fun-to-read virtue-rich novel. Reluctant readers discover humor and inspiring depth in Catholic author-illustrator, Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novels including his multi-award-winning title: American Born Chinese. Catholic author and publisher, Regina Doman has written an amazing collection of must-read novels for teens that have a subtle Catholic heart. They are called, Fairy Tales Retold. Catholic author and speaker Stephanie Engleman’s book, A Single Bead, gently weaves the rosary into an exciting and mysterious story. Parents, grandparents and teachers can find more terrific Catholic YA fiction writers and books, like Leslea Wahl’s Perfect Blindside and Carmela Martino’s Playing by Heart, all in one place at Catholic Teen Books.com.
Third Stop on the Lights of Christmas Gift Ideas Tour
Children’s and Middle Grade Books. The other pivotal age group who need our help to imagine themselves as Catholics are in Junior High. Storytelling that is well written and affirms faith and virtue can make all the difference for these readers as they begin to internalize their faith so that they “own” it. Another talented Catholic author I connected with through the Catholic Writer’s Guild is Deanna Klingel. Deanna has written numerous titles enjoyed by middle grade readers. My 13-year old son particularly loved her 2-book civil war series. A Catholic author from Florida whom I’ve had the delight to meet is Anthony Kolonek. He offers a captivating and mysterious series for preteens in his Chronicles of Xan Trilogy. Books like Freeing Tanner Rose by T. M. Gaouette, and Billowtail by Sherry Boas are also great choices. Check the CatholicReads.com site for a good collection of reviews and recommendations for middle grade books and books for all ages. A BONUS! They offer discounts on many of the books they feature.
Catholic Children’s Illustrated and Chapter Books. Ben Hatke is a talented Catholic author/illustrator whose work I deeply admire. Click his name and check out his impressively fun collection of books. Children will be effortlessly more delighted to be Catholic if they grow up experiencing the characters that Ben brings alive through the amazing art in his books, even though he does NOT use overtly Catholic themes. I humbly include my (award winning) title, Little Lamb Finds Christmas as an adorably illustrated gift choice too. Young chapter-book readers will love Lisa Hende’s Chime Traveler’s time-travel adventure series, and Karen Kelly Boyce’s Sisters of the Last Straw series will have kids laughing out loud at her band of misfit nuns.
Fourth Stop on the Lights of Christmas Gift Ideas Tour
Film Makers Who Value Virtue. I can’t recommend highly enough that you experience and share the great work of film makers and producers like Leo Severino and the team at Novo Media Group. “We aim to broaden the quality of content and develop productions that are inspiring and have meaning and substance,” stated James Henrie of NOVO Media Group. “Our goal is to develop and produce superior films, television shows and digital media that positively impacts and inspires the audience.” These brilliant professionals are faithful and work hard to create excellent entertainment, movies like Little Boy, and Bella and Crescendo.
The following group of recommendations are more overtly faith focused, but lack nothing in performance quality. In 2016 at a STL Catholic Communications event, I had the pleasure of meeting Eric Groth, founder of Catholic Film production company, ODB Films. I recommend you follow and patronize their work. They created the beautiful and prayerful film Mary, Full of Grace. Eric is currently producing the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ, starring Jim Caveziel, due to be released in 2018. The ODB team has an incredible collection of short films, many available for free on YouTube with teens in mind
Devout Catholic film maker, Timothy Reckart has created a family film that is literally a bright light for Christmas: the animated movie The Star. Take your kids to this film, and then take them again. Box office success is what will get us more films that honor faith and virtue that are this much fun. Another must-see family film that will energize the faith of children, especially first through third graders, is the War of the Vendee, created by the amazing Jim Morlino, founder of Navis Pictures. We need to get that film into the hands of every Catholic second grade teacher in the US. The next recommendation is a gift you can give your church community. Get some friends together and plan an event to bring the live production of Tolton: From Slave to Priest created by talented actor/director, Leonardo Defilippis to your parish. With so much anger and polarization plaguing American culture, this fabulous story offers hope and peace. The final Catholic filmmaker to finish off this list of bright lights of culture to share for Christmas is Dos Corazons Films who gave us the excellent film, For Greater Glory. Their efforts make Catholic stories come alive in fresh and vivid ways, including animated features like, Max and Me, about St. Maximillion Kolbe.
Each one of these talented Catholic authors and film artists depend on our patronage. We can enjoy the process of standing in solidarity with them since their work is delivered with such a high level of performance quality. Banding together as patrons with authors and media creators, we can BE the light that transforms culture with faith and virtue… delivered through something as simple as a story.
One more consideration…as you shop for these gifts to read and watch, consider ordering them through a local Catholic retailer. Like the Catholic authors and film artists, they have put their livelihood at the service of God to help people grow in virtue that is rooted in our Catholic faith. Click HERE to enter your zip code to find a store near you. Give them a call. They can order any of these titles for you.
I’m Cathy Gilmore, an author, editor, educator and VIRTUE WORKS MEDIA Ministry founder. We are pioneering an entirely new way to look at both print and visual media. Through the lens of virtue. This is the start of a movement in which educators and families can have clear rubrics and a dynamic platform that enables everyone to think about, enjoy and recommend quality reading and entertainment that feeds starving souls and actually produces virtuous behavior. Follow me on twitter @PowerofParable to get virtuous movie and book recommendations and practical virtue tips and examples.
Follow this Virtue Ink blog at www.CatherineCGilmore.com. to get the latest information as this non-profit ministry emerges. If you’d like to support this important work financially, contact me at VirtueWorksMedia@outlook.com. Even a small gift can make a big difference.
I believe Jesus had the right idea. He spoke in parables. That wasn’t just for the folks in the first century. God can use the power of parable right now to reshape culture and renew the face of the earth.
Look for the Good. Offer it to everyone.
Portions of this article first appeared in the St. Louis Review Newspaper on November 22, 2017