Catholic New York's Christmas Reading List


Members of Catholic New York’s editorial department selected favorite books they’ll be reading, and perhaps giving, this Christmas season. The selections offer reading pleasures ranging from Pope Francis’ answers to questions from children around the world to a first-time novel by CNY’s Juliann DosSantos about the adventures, and misadventures, of a rookie Catholic journalist. Former Jets quarterback and current Mets minor leaguer Tim Tebow offers a spiritual prescription for finding your true identity, and readers facing loss may find comfort in Margaret Carlson’s “The Christmas Angel Project.”

“Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World,” by Pope Francis and the Children of the World

If you could ask Pope Francis one question, what would it be?

So begins the charming 71-page book (Loyola Press, $18.95) for children by the pontiff himself, written “in conversation with Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., director, La Civiltà Cattolica.”

Children have questions and struggles just like adults, asserts a passage on the book jacket, but rarely are they given the chance to voice their concerns and ask the big questions deep within their precious hearts. 

In “Dear Pope Francis,” the pope provides curious youngsters around the world that chance and in doing so celebrates their spiritual depth by answering their varied questions directly. Some of the innocent inquiries are sweet. Others are serious. And still others are heartbreaking.

The children’s drawings that accompany their questions are equally adorable.

Prajla, age 6, of Albania, asks: 

“Dear Pope Francis, When you were a child, did you like dancing?” 

Pope Francis replies: “Very much, dear Prajla!”

“Really a lot! I enjoyed being with other children, playing Ring Around the Rosie, but also dancing our traditional dances from Argentina. I really had so much fun! Then, as a young man, I liked to dance the tango. I really like the tango…

“Usually, young people have one great resource: being happy. And for this reason, when you are young, you dance and express the joy in your heart.” 

Emil, age 9, from the Dominican Republic, asks:

“Dear Pope Francis, Our deceased relatives, can they see us from heaven?”

Pope Francis replies:

“Dear Emil, Yes, you can be sure of this. I imagine that you’re thinking about your relatives who are in heaven. You don’t see them, but—if and when God allows it—they can see you, at least in certain moments of your life. They are not far from us, you know? They pray for us, and they lovingly take care of us. This is the important thing.

“You can imagine your deceased relatives this way: they are smiling down on you from heaven. The way you have drawn them, they are flying around me. But they are ‘flying’ next to you. They are accompanying you with their love.”

Christie Chicoine

‘Jesus on the Scene,' by Juliann DosSantos

Twenty-something Amy Roberts has a secret. 

She just got a dream job of sorts. As a reporter. With a Catholic newspaper. In New York City.  

There’s just one problem. If her faith were a fuel gauge, the needle would be on E.

“Jesus on the Scene,” a debut novel by Juliann DosSantos, a 10-year-reporter for Catholic New York, shows the perils of covering your tracks by acting like someone you are not to hold onto a job as you seek what you are missing.

Amy does a lot of seeking in the 182-page volume (Tate Publishing, $12.99), which fits neatly in a coat pocket for easy reading on the subway or Metro-North.

For the most part, her co-workers at the Catholic News already sing in the heavenly choir, and they expect her to join their chorus without skipping a beat. 

That leads to some uncomfortable situations for Amy. One involves a sing-off with a co-worker at Mass. Then there was the company retreat on Staten Island, where she was asked to lead a prayer on the bus ride and wound up delivering a kitchen-sink construction of disparate thoughts. 

Things went from bad to worse, when a stumble during the Rosary led other staff members to discover that Amy was not exactly the perfect Catholic she pretended to be. Instead of admitting it, she let her nerves got the better of her, which resulted in an unforgettable unburdening. 

In keeping with the book’s title, a hipster character named Jesus appears, often out of nowhere, at times when Amy can use really use his help. His name led one of her friends to question what his parents were thinking when they named him. 

Amy agrees, adding, “And he makes me uncomfortable because every time I see him it’s as if my life changes, or I start to question things more. I don’t know which.”

John Woods

“The Christmas Angel Project,” by Melody Carlson

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for people who are grieving the death of a loved one. “The Christmas Angel Project” (Revel, Baker Publishing Group, $15.99) by Melody Carlson can be a source of comfort. 

The story begins a few weeks before Christmas, when one of the members of a women’s book club suddenly dies. Devastated, the remaining four members aren’t sure if they can continue the club with the hole left by their friend. She was, after all, the strong binding that held them together.

When their deceased friend’s husband contacts them saying he has something to give them from his late wife, the women decide to gather one last time. 

Their dear friend had left each of them a special Christmas gift—all the same size, wrapped with Christmas paper. 

“The only sound in the room was the rustling of tissue paper being peeled away, followed by some oohs and aahs,” writes Ms. Carslon in the 165-page hardcover book. 

“Made with satin and lace and glitter and ribbons, the small figure was lovely,” she continues. All four women held a handcrafted Christmas angel ornament, similar in nearly all ways, except each face was painted in the likeness of its owner. 

Along with the ornaments, their friend also included a letter to her four “angels” describing how much they affected her life in unique and positive ways. For the first time, the women see themselves in a different light. That’s where the story, the healing, and the idea for the “Christmas Angel Project,” really begins…

Juliann DosSantos

“Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms,” by Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow’s “Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms’’ (WaterBrook, $25) is the perfect gift for the spiritual sports fan.

The former New York Jets quarterback and current baseball player in the New York Mets organization relates to many readers by discussing the obstacles and disappointments he’s faced and how his faith helped him see past them. Tebow played for four NFL teams in five years before signing with the Mets this year.

“Was my identity found in those highs when we were making a playoff run? No. Was my identity found a year later when I was being let go? No. I was excited, proud, happy, disappointed, and sad at times, but that’s not what made me—that’s not who I was and that’s not who I am. The world doesn’t get to define you because God already did that,” Tebow writes.

Tebow recalled the shock and disappointment following his release from the New England Patriots, initially questioning God’s plan for his life before realizing God was still with him. “I knew God hadn’t left me. I knew He still had a plan for my life. I knew He still had a purpose. And though my foundation in Him was solid, much of what rested on top of that was shaken,” Tebow writes.

This is the first of four books being released in a seven-month period written by the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, who led the University of Florida to a national championship and the Denver Broncos to the playoffs in his second season. The book is already a top-5 New York Times Bestseller for hardcover nonfiction and was No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for sports and fitness in November.

—Dan Pietrafesa