His mother, Lady Pica, had him christened John, in honor of the Baptist. Peter Bernardone, the baby’s father, returning some weeks later after buying fine cloth in France, would have none of it. His name, he insisted, must be Francis, in tribute to the country the merchant had just visited and his wife’s heritage.

Today, we know that onetime baby as Francis of Assisi — proclaimer of the Gospel, peacemaker, troubadour, founder of the order that bears his name, and patron saint of animals and the environment.

Above all, as Pope Benedict XVI observed during a visit to Assisi in 2007, we know him as a model of radical conversion to Christ.

Francis’ love for nature and animals has endeared him to countless Christians and especially children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that all are called to treat animals, which by their existence bless God and give him glory, with the same gentle kindness as St. Francis of Assisi.

These books about Francis, his friends and a beloved animal — Chico, Pope Benedict’s favorite cat — will give young readers cause to celebrate the popular saint’s feast day on Oct. 4 and appreciate his deep love for Our Lord.


SAINT FRANCIS

written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith

Eerdmans, 1996

40 pages, $20

Presented in the first person, this version of Francis’ life unfolds as if being told by the saint himself. The quiet text recounts key events in his life and how he came to exchange riches for rags and the love of pleasure for the love of God. Highlights include the saint’s commitment to rebuild a church, his renunciation of wealth, and his deep and abiding love for God and all of creation. The book’s amazing illustrations are full of both beauty and visual play. Readers of all ages will appreciate the detailed drawings, gilded accents, and the fun of following the movements of a not-so-hidden angel who is present in each double-page spread. Ages 5 and up.


ST. FRANCIS IN SAN FRANCISCO

written by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

illustrated by Kathy Baron

Paulist, 2001

32 pages, $12.95

In this cheerful book, St. Francis travels across time to commemorate his Oct. 4 feast day. Arriving in San Francisco, the city named in his honor, the gentle saint befriends a little boy and his dog for a day of adventure. Every turn provides an opportunity for Francis to share Gospel values with his newfound friends. A trip to a city park allows him to talk about his love of creation. A visit to a mission church is a forum to pray for those who built the chapel as well as all who visit. A trip on a cable car and view of the Golden Gate Bridge prompt Francis to rejoice in the wonders of life. The joys of the day serve as a reminder to be thankful to God for the blessings of one another — and especially for Jesus who was born among us over 2,000 years ago. Ages 4 to 8.


SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI: A LIGHT FOR THE WORLD

written by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Pauline, 2009

111 pages, $7.95

The name Clare literally means “clear” or “bright.” This book tells of the ways in which St. Clare both saw the light of God and allowed his light to shine through her. A childhood friend of St. Francis, Clare was moved by his all-out love for Christ and the way he embraced a life of poverty. Her zeal for Jesus led her to follow in the ways of Francis and to eventually establish the Poor Clares, a religious order that continues to serve the Church to this day. Full of faith and adventure, this engaging chapter book will be enjoyed by middle-level readers. Ages 9 to 12.


AN ALPHABET OF CATHOLIC SAINTS

written and illustrated by Brenda and George Nippert

Joseph’s Heartprint, 2007

64 pages, $12.95

The alphabet book, dating back to Colonial America, comes today in every stripe imaginable. This one featuring saints from Anne to Zita ranks among the most popular for Catholic kids. Colorful illustrations cleverly combine the letter and saint opposite a short rhyming verse. St. Francis happily perches on the lower arm of the letter “F,” much like a child might sit on a tree branch. “Saint Francis loved the animals and all of God’s creation,” the authors write. “He spread the Gospel everywhere with joy and jubilation!” A good resource for upcoming celebrations of All Saints’ Day. Ages 3 and older.


SAINT FRANCIS SINGS TO

BROTHER SUN

retold by Karen Pandell

illustrated by Bijou Le Tord

Candlewick, 2005

64 pages, $18.99

Eighteen tales of this saint’s special connection to nature are retold in this well-researched book. Drawn from medieval sources, the stories range from the familiar (“Saint Francis Preaches to the Birds”) to the lesser known (“The Bees in the Mountain Cell”), each celebrating Francis’ love for God and his creation. The author weaves throughout the text “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” written by Francis in the last two years of his life when his eyes had dimmed and pain was unrelenting. Charcoal drawings, highlighted in gold, add interest to the life of God’s holy troubadour, whom John Paul II named the patron saint of ecology in 1979. Ages 9 to 12.


THE SONG OF FRANCIS AND

THE ANIMALS

written by Pat Mora

illustrated by David Frampton

Eerdmans, 2005

32 pages, $16

Colorful woodblock illustrations of Francis and his friends — animals and people alike — in this oversize picture book are sure to capture children’s attention. The companion story, inspired by Francis’ life, offers a glimpse of the virtue and joy for which the saint is known. Young readers will especially enjoy Francis urging the villagers to “make the manger.” Francis knew that in offering simple gifts from the heart, whatever they may be, we please God. (“The ox and donkey stood still as statues for hours. … They warmed the sleepy baby with their steamy breaths.”) Ages 4 to 8.


JOSEPH AND CHICO:

THE LIFE OF POPE BENEDICT XVI

AS TOLD BY A CAT

written by Jeanne Perego

illustrated by Donata Dal Molin Casagrande

Ignatius, 2007

40 pages, $17.95

Much has been written about Pope Benedict, but this book has a special twist. The Pope’s life is told from the perspective of Chico, a real-life tabby who befriended the Holy Father prior to his election. From this cat’s-eye view, Chico tells stories of Joseph Ratzinger’s early life, family and the vocation that would eventually lead to St. Peter’s chair. Chico’s tale, along with the soft, lively illustrations, presents a warm and insightful look at the Pope — who, like St. Francis, has a true fondness for God’s creatures. Ages 9 and up.

The Crawford sisters write

from Pittsburgh.