Author: Carissa Douglas
Illustrator: Carissa Douglas
Age Range: 9 – 14
I loved this story. From the very start I recognized this book as the type I absolutely love. All of the winning elements are present – finding a mysterious old key, a secret tunnel, a spirit guide and a cracking adventure! I also appreciated that it is extremely well written. The story is interesting, engaging, well-paced and clever. AND it is absolutely Catholic! What more could you want?
I particularly like children’s stories that include parents, and other adults. This story included everyone in the family including cousins, babies and old friends. Initially I thought it was aimed at a younger audience, but it is very suited to the 9 – 14 age range. The story contains many references to the spiritual dimension, including angels, demons, Saints and Satan. If stories that contain supernatural characters and situations are not to your liking then you probably won’t enjoy this book. I, on the other hand, revelled in the ongoing battle between Angels and demons.
The premise of the story is simple enough. Children of a large Catholic homeschooling family stumble across an ornate and ancient key. They are soon creeping around a forgotten tunnel that leads them to a secret, deeply hidden room in which Saint Padre Pio resides. The children are tasked with a most challenging quest – to confront and defeat Satan in the form of a disgusting creature that lurks deep underneath the Earth in a hidden lair. I loved it!
I particularly loved how the children are each given a hidden power – one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One child can discern spirits, another can understand tongues, and yet another is given the gift of healing. I swear this story just got better and better! Finally, the children were adorned in the spiritual armour of God from Ephesians which gave them the ability to run at great speeds and protect themselves against the deadly assault of vicious demons. And of course they each have an invisibility cloak – how can you write a story like this without an invisibility cloak? Kids will be swept up into this story in no time.
At one point, I wondered if there was too much included in one book? The backstory of Morta and Lily that was alluded to was confusing, and I had a little trouble processing and understanding it. Certainly Morta’s reasons for falling from Grace were important but perhaps could have been clearly stated in a more child-friendly way. The introduction of cousins seemed to be un-necessary in an already packed story.
The Good vs Evil ending was exciting, building to a climax and final showdown. More than one reviewer has mentioned the similarity to the Will Wilder series, and I must admit I also made that connection as I read the book. It is different from the Will Wilder series, probably more overtly Catholic, but both series are commendable and enjoyable from a Catholic perspective. In Mystic Informant, the children earn graces and protection from doing the simplest of good deeds, Catholic icons act as shields against the attacks of evil spirits, and demons recoil in disgust when faithful prayers are uttered.
I liked the different personality traits of all the children: perhaps a pictorial representation of each child and something about them would have been helpful. A map of the tunnel and evil lair would also have helped young readers visualize the story. I thought more than once that this would make a great graphic novel, or even a TV series. The illustrations included were attractive and well suited to the writing style.
I loved that the scenes with the children were often light-hearted and veiled in amusing dialogue. They trip up their assailants, make fun of them and get away safely. The henchmen invariably become mumbling, fumbling fools as they are picked off one by one by the children. I found this ‘comic relief’ was a welcome change of tone from the sometimes deeply scary parts where evil seems almost ready to overcome them.
A glossary of Catholic words and concepts might have been helpful at the end, and also a discussion guide for teachers or homeschoolers to use. I believe there is a final, short chapter about Saint Padre Pio included but it was missing in my Ebook version.
There is a website HERE that has more information about the Little Douglings. I also found a Salt and Light interview with author Carissa Douglas in which she explains her writing process and the input of her children. Carissa begins at @30 minute mark HERE.
So if fantasy adventure is a genre you enjoy, then I recommend this story to you wholeheartedly from a Catholic perspective and I very much look forward to reading the next book in the series.
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