These thirty-six pages illustrated with hand-painted artwork (a growing rarity in these days of computer art programs) will captivate young readers and introduce them to fundamental concepts of Catholic life. When the books arrived at my house, my one year old immediately demanded to see them and spent a full ten minutes turning the pages and pointing at things in the pictures (a whole ten minutes for my one-year-old is like an hour!).
A young sister arrives in the ideal town of Mercyville to teach in the local Catholic school. As she makes her way to the church, she reflects on offering up small sufferings to comfort Jesus on the cross, meets a young boy named Pio and tells him about St. Aloysius, Patron saint of young Catholic boys and girls. The book ends with the young Pio offering to carry Sister Aloysius’s luggage to the church for her. Though the Sister Aloysius books are written so you can read them in any order, if you read this one first, followed by “Arrives at Our Lady of Sorrows”, then “Gets Ready for the First Day of School” and then “Says Pray, Pray, Pray,” they form one continuous narrative.
As a convert to Catholicism, I can see how helpful these books will be to my children. Because I converted as an adult, I am more familiar with how to discuss and demonstrate the faith to other adults, but how to convey the faith to a child’s mind is something I and many Catholics, cradle and convert alike, lack the tools for. Sister Aloysius Comes to Mercyville provides a natural way for me to tell my children about offering up pains to Christ and about young saints who struggle with the sorts of sins relatable to young children. In this particular case, St. Aloysius’s story is told in a way that highlights his struggle with learning and using curse words.
Sister Aloysius also talks about the custom of receiving new names when embarking on a life newly dedicated to God; Abram to Abraham, Saul to Paul, and Simon to Peter. This concept—one that I did not fully grasp until well into adulthood despite reading the Bible cover to cover, will help young boys and girls understand the importance of choosing a Patron Saint when they are confirmed.
The back of the book also includes a page that lists the scripture passages and excerpts of the Catechism that are mentioned, as well as the Morning Offering prayer, and a prayer to Jesus’s Sacred Heart. Each Sister Aloysius book contains a similar back page with different prayers so that young readers can learn a host of the church’s prayers as they read through the series. There is also a note encouraging parents to pray the prayers with their children and discuss the scripture and catechism passages with their older children.
The author also has free activity sheets she will send to any parent who requests them. The activity sheets reinforce themes in the stories and provide thought provoking activities and vocabulary reinforcement for terms which might be new to them. They include a variety of levels of activities including fill in the blanks, matching, coloring, writing, drawing, crosswords, word searches, sentence scrambles, and others.
Parents can contact the author to get free activity sheets through this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The text is a little long to make for an easy bedtime story, but as a book for a beginning reader it is excellent. My only complaint is that, other than the young boy Pio who might be Hispanic, all other the characters in the story are white. The Catholic church has one of the most diverse memberships of all religions in the world, and some families might feel like this story doesn’t apply to them because they don’t look like any of the characters. Aside from this oversight it will still be a great addition to any young Catholic child’s library.