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Book Review: Saints Alive!

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When my five-year-old daughter came home from school proclaiming excitedly that there is a saint who is still alive, she was indignant when I gently explained that all saints are in heaven. Her face lit up a few days later, however, when I brought home Word on Fire Spark’s Saintly Creatures by Alexi Sargeant, the book, she said, that taught her about the still- living saint. She turned to the story of Blessed Carlo Acutis, and after reading it together, she said, “He doesn’t seem very saintly, does he?” How could an ordinary boy with four dogs, two cats, an indeterminate number of goldfish and love for video games be a saint? Blessed Carlo’s life looked so familiar to her—as if he is still alive today.

Another Word on Fire Spark book, Light of the Saints, is a favorite in our house. When we remove books from our shelves as the seasons change, that one stays. Its interactive nature is especially appealing to my toddlers, who love shining their flashlights through the pages to make the Holy Spirit’s image appear on nearly every page. Bonus points: the stories rhyme.

While Light of the Saints appeals more to my two- and three- year-olds, and the sophisticated language of Saintly Creatures better captivates my five-year-old, both books dazzle with their illustrations and mystical, miraculous — but also ordinary — stories of the saints. Over and over, these two books open my children’s eyes to the understanding that each saint in heaven had a unique vocation here on earth. “St. Martin de Porres cut hair in Peru. Cutting hair is something that you could do too.” He worked as a barber, but he could also levitate and bilocate. In our faith, the ordinary and the extraordinary exist side by side.

These books teach my children (and me) that sainthood is not only something we should strive for, but something we can strive for. Heaven is made attainable in these stories, which continue to open new, startling, but oh-so- encouraging conversations with my children. We talk about how suffering—in the form of stigmata on Padre Pio and the permanent wound on St. Rita’s forehead—are actually gifts from God. We talk about how every creature—even the wolf plaguing the town of Gubbio where St. Francis of Assisi lived—can be made new in God.

These books have been a catalyst in the understanding of these small children and their unworthy mother that living a holy life is simply being who God created you to be. Living a holy life, while not free from suffering, means living freely, happily; an idea that does not compute for so many. And with every page, we’re reminded that the saints are not just legends long gone, but rather they exist in communion with us today. So, while Blessed Carlo isn’t still living here on earth, my daughter wasn’t so wrong after all.

Margaret Craycraft Swensen is Director of Video Production for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Photography editor for The Catholic Telegraph

Alexi Sargeant, Saintly Creatures: 14 Tales of Animals and Their Holy Companions, illustrated by Anita Barghigiani; Word on Fire Spark; 64 pages; $19.96.

Cory Heimann, Light of the Saints, illustrated by Tricia Dugat; Word on Fire Spark; 60 pages; $19.96.

This article appeared in the December 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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