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  • Writer's pictureFaith Hakesley

Passing on a Spirit of Hope

A review of two new children's books: The Grumpy Old Ox by Anthony DeStefano and The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo

+JMJ+ One of the many things that has helped me to connect to and grow in my faith as I’ve gotten older is my children and building Christ-centered traditions with them especially at holidays, holy days, and special feast days. My husband and I do our best to pass on the hope, beauty, and spirit that comes with each feast day or time of year.

We’ve built some beautiful traditions over the years. We just celebrated All Saints Day and, although we originally had no special plans, our three littles put together saint costumes at the last minute for a quick visit to my parent’s house. Most years, we have a special All Saints Day gathering in our home but COVID made that impossible this year. To some people, our visit could be classified as “nothing special” but in reality it was truly special. With kids, it's often the little, simple things that count the most and the things they remember most! I'm always amazed when one of our children says, “Do you remember when....?” and proceeds to talk about something so small that happened long ago. I can't help but think, “Wow! You remember that?” They do! They hold these things close to their heart.

We have developed the tradition of celebrating their name days. On the feast days of their patron saints, we always have a little celebration. We celebrate Mary’s birthday and other Marian feast days as well. Our celebrations are nothing big or fancy – they are usually simple, involving making a special dessert together, reading a special story, giving them a small gift, or dedicating extra time to talking about the significance of that particular day.

One of the kids’ favorite days to celebrate is St. Nicholas Day and, since we are in November, it’ll be here before we know it. The children leave their shoes out so St. Nicholas can leave some goodies, pajamas, and usually a Christmas book or two. They also leave out their Christmas wish lists so St. Nicholas has a better idea of what they might be wishing for. I have it on good authority that this year St. Nicholas is also bringing them two very special children’s books. These newly published books have delighted my husband and me, and we are sure the children will be just as delighted. I can't wait to introduce them to these two stories!

First up is Raymond Arroyo’s The Spider Who Saved Christmas. Raymond Arroyo is quite popular in our home, not just because of his show on EWTN, but because of his Will Wilder series that has won its way into our 10-year-old son’s heart. I have to admit, I have read the books too and I am also a fan. I won't pretend that my son is the only one impatiently waiting for book #4 to be released! Come on, Raymond! In any event, Raymond has a great talent for writing and so I was excited to take a look at his new children’s Christmas book.

What a delightful story especially for the dark times we are living in! I've heard plenty of Christmas stories told from the point of view of an animal but never from a spider. They're such a feared creature (I'm not exactly a fan of them being in my own personal space). This spider is rather charming, however, and wins her way into readers' hearts because of the hope and light she brings to the Nativity story. The prose is charming and the pictures are beautiful to look at. The artist did a wonderful job portraying the various emotions of the characters throughout the story.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. As our private meeting back in 2008 came to a close, he said to me, “There is always hope,” and I carry these words close to my heart. Sometimes hope comes from the unlikeliest of places. In the case of The Spider Who Saved Christmas story, it comes from a spider. This just goes to show that God can use any of us (no matter who we are) to bring light to the world. Sometimes we are so busy judging people who seem different from us that we don't take the time to see the good, joy, and beauty they bring. In the case of the spider from the story, she actually helps to save the Holy Family by using the gifts God has given her.

Next up is The Grumpy Old Ox by author Anthony DeStefano whose children’s stories have never failed to disappoint my family. Once again, Anthony enchants his readers with simple, sweet prose and stunning drawings. I am rarely as taken in with the illustrations of children's books as I am with those in Anthony's books! The Grumpy Old Ox is a spin on the Nativity story but focuses on one very grumpy ox who is blind, not only in a physical sense, but in a spiritual one as well. Yet, he is experiences a beautiful transformation of both a physical and spiritual nature when he is present at the birth of the Christ Child.

Anthony has used animals as his main characters in some of his other children's stories as well, and I just love how relatable these simple and sometimes unexpected creatures are. The lessons presented to readers are simple but profound and, even as a parent, I always take away a lesson from these stories. We all need reminders from time to time, don't we? Anthony's stories help remind parents of that childlike innocence and wonder that is all too often lost as we get older, and there is probably no time of year when that wonder is revealed more than Christmastime.

Between a pandemic, unrest in our country, uncertainty, suffering, and confusion, a lot of us may be struggling as we approach the Advent and Christmas seasons this year. Holding onto hope is key in these times! These two books are sure to bring a little bit of hope, comfort, and beauty to any family, and I hope that they will bless you in the same way that they have blessed me (and are sure to bless my family).


To order your copy of The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo, you can go HERE (non-commissioned link).

To order your copy of The Grumpy Old Ox by Anthony DeStefano, you can go HERE (non-commissioned link).


Disclaimer: this post is in no way sponsored by Sophia Press. I received copies of these books in exchange for my honest feedback and am simply sharing my thoughts in this blog post.

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