Heaven, hell and purgatory will probably make you think of Dante's Divine Comedy, the classic masterpiece we all feel we should have read but have not - except my husband, my daughter and a few other people who love to read lengthy medieval poems.
Why do I talk about the Divine Comedy here? It contains detailed, halloweenish descriptions of hell and purgatory - and paradise - perfect for a good Catholic fright. What's more, I actually discovered two authors who had the courage to retell the story for kids.
Poet Joseph Tusiani is the author of Dante's Divine Comedy As Told For Young People, an illustrated retelling in simple but beautiful prose interspersed with Dante's original verse translated into English. I would recommend this book for grades 3 and up. Adults may also enjoy this more accessible version of the Medieval classic. The suitably gloomy illustrations are by the 19th century French artist Gustave Dore. The cover shows Dante portrayed by Florentine Renaissance painter Domenico de Michelino.
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Saint John Paul, the Great, states, "To a certain degree man does get lost; so too do preachers, catechists, teachers; and as a result, they no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell. And perhaps even those who listen to them have stopped being afraid of hell. In fact, people of our times have become insensitive to the Last Things" (p183)
Reading Dante with your kids will certainly remedy this problem.
Stories From Dante Told To The Children is another great retelling of the Divine Comedy. This book is a reprint of a the 1906 edition by historical children's book author Mary MacGregor who had the gift of adapting classic works into simple but exciting prose. The book has eight beautiful black and white illustrations by R.T. Rose. Grades 4 and up.
The Bible itself gives us descriptions of hell. A famous one is the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Read the original story in Scripture, Luke 12:16-21.
For the younger members of your family you may want read The Rich Fool: A Parable of a Man and His Treasures: Luke 12:16-21 for Children by Janice Kramer, with quirky illustrations by Sally Mathews. This book was first published in 1964 in the popular Arch Books series of religious books for children.
The Church celebrates All Saint’s Day on November 1 followed by All Soul’s Day on November 2. The vigil of All Saints’ Day, in more archaic English called All Hallows’ Eve, is what the English speaking countries celebrate as Halloween. At this often dark and gloomy time of year, the entire Mystical Body of Christ is celebrated together in he two feasts: the Church Militant here on earth prays for the intercession of the Church Triumphant, the Saints in Heaven. We also pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, the Church Suffering. In fact, November is the month dedicated to the Holy Souls in the Roman Catholic Church.
Our priest, Father James, unwittingly helped me in my search for Halloween reading in a recent homily. He talked about the wonderful power we have to pray souls out of purgatory, how most souls are saved through the prayers of the living. What a wonderful task to teach our children and what a terrible task to neglect or forget! We have a family tradition of praying for hopeless cases like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. We figure there are not many people praying for them and with God all things are possible, even the salvation of the most sinful souls.
Praying With the Saints For The Holy Souls in Purgatory by Susan Tassone is a wonderful guide book for establishing a routine of prayer for the Holy Souls. The Book introduces Saints who had visions of purgatory or encountered suffering souls along with the prayers and practices they used to alleviate the suffering of the Holy Souls. there are seasonal devotions and spiritual guidelines for the entire family.
Father James also talked about the importance for children to know about hell - the real scary stuff! You may think that hell, purgatory and the suffering souls are topics too dark for children. Father reminded us of Our Lady showing a vision of hell to the children of Fatima, Jacintha, Francisco and Lucia.
There are quite a few children's books about Fatima out there. Here are my two favorites:
The Children of Fatima And Our Lady's Message To The World by Mary Fabyan Windeatt, illustrated by Gedge Harmon, is one of the author's many classic middle-grade novels about Saints. Windeatt is an outstanding storyteller and our kids have enjoyed all of her books. The book is illustrated by Gedge Harmon.
Our Lady's Message to Three Shepherd Children And The World by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, illustrated by Ann Engelhart, is a beautifully-told chapter book for 8 years and up. Each chapter is followed by a "something to think about" section encouraging reflection and meditation. This book is published by Sophia Press and recommended by Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers.
You may also like my 2018 Halloween posts:
Enjoy this holy season and remember the Holy Souls!