Author: Paul McCusker
Illustrator: Robert Dunn
Publisher: Augustine Institute
Age Range: 6 – 10
Author, Paul McCusker, has written a series of books about twins named Nick and Sam who are presented as typical kids in a relatively happy family. While brother and sister have adventures and learn lessons along the way, McCusker uses the stories as vehicles to help children understand our Catholic faith. So far, I can count nine books in The Adventures of Nick and Sam series.
Book One, Perfect Gifts, introduces the twins as they approach their eighth birthdays. With mounting excitement, the children try to guess what their birthday presents will be. It’s a premise that readers of this age will very quickly understand and relate to. As the story progresses, Nick and Sam seem to have real problems with staying out of trouble and following their parents’ directions. I liked that their parents, Mr and Mrs Perry, allow the children to experience the natural consequences of their choices. For example, Sam wears brand new shoes on a hike and despite her mother’s warnings, she soon develops sore and blistered feet. But Mum and Dad don’t gloat and say, “I told you so”, instead they carefully tend to Sam’s feet. Mum produces a more sensible pair of shoes from out of her backpack, much to Sam’s relief.
The story continues and Nick in particular seems to be having a hard time with ‘obedience’. The more he disobeys or bends the rules, the more dire the consequences. Happily, Mum or Dad always seems to be on hand to pick up the pieces whenever Nick makes the wrong choices. Ultimately, he learns his lessons and seeks forgiveness. Throughout the story, McCusker explores what it means to be truly sorry, and the importance of seeking forgiveness.
The book is fun and light-hearted, although children will probably despair every time Nick or Sam stray from the rules and end up in deep trouble. By book’s end, I liked Nick and Sam and their family, and was looking forward to their next adventure.
I think I enjoyed Book two, Hidden Treasures, more than the first. The story seemed to flow more naturally from beginning to end, probably because we already know most of the characters. The book tackles a surprisingly complex topic – the nature of Faith. Conversations about Faith are peppered throughout the book, as Nick tries to articulate and understand what Faith is. At various times, Nick seeks out clarification from his mother, his friend, and old Mr Norm at the school. It’s a somewhat complex topic for a book aimed at eight-year-olds, but none the less I believe McCusker has done a good job of introducing this question. There are sure to be plenty of questions and conversations with children if you share this book with them.
Meanwhile in Book Two, the character of Nick and Sam’s older sister, Lizzie, is developed. I was fascinated by Lizzie, the ten-year-old artist who can see her own Guardian Angel. Young Sam prays to God and asks if she might be able to see her own Guardian Angel. The concept of Guardian Angels is a fascinating one for children and they will love this aspect of the story.
Book two has a satisfying conclusion as a mystery is solved and a treasure (of sorts) is discovered. Both books are going to be easy for most readers of this age. The first book has simpler shorter sentences than the second. Book two had a more advanced vocabulary and the subject matter was also more advanced. These books are wholesome and interesting, and very well pitched at this age group. I have read books aimed at this readership that are probably too hard for children who are in the lower range of reading ability. Children of a wider range of reading abilities will be able to enjoy these books. While they are simply written, the subject matter is engaging and interesting.
Paul McCusker and the Augustine Institute have done a great job with this series of books. You can read more reviews of other books that Paul McCusker has written HERE.
You can see Paul McCusker interviewed about the series HERE