Kudos to Neumann Press for re-issuing these vintage, formerly out-of-print books, for Catholic children. The Saints and Friendly Beast series, written by Eva K. Betz, features retro pen and ink illustrations and an engaging tone.
It is the story of a goodness so abundant that it embraces every person and even the animals.
Saint Germaine and the Sheep will remind children of another beloved child’s tale, Cinderella. It tells the story of young Germaine Cousins (canonized in 1867), who is barely tolerated by her stepmother and ignored by her father. Germaine suffers, but prayer, and the presence of the faithful sheep she tends, comfort her. Betz does a good job of explaining why Germaine is often shown making thread from her sheep’s’ wool. She tells the stories of the miracles attributed to Germaine as well as the stories of her everyday faithfulness. Betz points out that Germaine was born with a crippled hand and that she had a disfiguring skin disease. For children who worry about looking “different,” Germaine is a worthy model and guide.
Betz’ Saint Brigid and the Cows is a longer book and will probably take more than one evening to read with younger children. It is a wonderful story: Brigid (died 525) is a king’s daughter who knows herself, from a very young age, to be the daughter of the True King. So that when she is sent to learn wisdom with a rural teacher who is also a dairy farmer, Brigid begins giving away the milk and butter and cheese she has been tasked with collecting and making. Her teacher is angry, and accuses Brigid of feeding “all the scoundrels in the countryside” with his food.
She is shocked. “Scoundrels? The poor whom God loves so much are scoundrels just because they are poor?”
Brigid’s teacher tells her that the poor are poor because they refuse to support themselves and take from those who do. He warns her that he is going to the dairy cave the next day to count the cheeses and tubs of butter, and that, if any are missing, he will punish the girl.
She replies, “It is your cave, and it is your cows that give the milk for cheese and butter. But it is God who gives the grass to feed the cows, remember.”
Brigid prays for Mary’s help and the angry farmer enters his cave to find it filled to overflowing with rich cheeses and creamy butter. This is only the first of many miracles in Brigid’s long and interesting life. She marries, but also founds a monastery and becomes a friend of St. Patrick.
Saint Martin de Porres and the Mice follows Brigid’s story of care and generosity to the poor, but with a twist. Martin (canonized in 1962) is the son of poor parents, and he is black-skinned in a country where white skin is preferred and privileged. He is not apart from the poor, but one of them. When Martin becomes a Dominican lay brother, he delights in handing out food to the needy that come to his door. One day, as the food was running out, he was warned to give out smaller portions to each person. Betz writes, “Martin shook his head. ‘Each man is just as hungry, you know, whether there are many people beside him or just a few.”
Martin kept handing out food and the supply did not diminish. It is the story of Elijah and the widow, the story of Jesus and the loaves and fishes. It is the story of goodness and faithfulness that never grows old and never changes, yet is always fresh and ever new. It is the story of a goodness so abundant that it embraces every person and even the animals.
These are books to give and enjoy, books to read and pass on to other children in coming generations. We love their retro illustrations and sweet stories. We found them online at The Catholic Company. You can also order directly online from Neumann Press.