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Mysteries of the Human Heart: Chesterton’s Father Brown

Have you checked out the teen fiction or “young adult” sections of the bookstore lately? They're full of books about psychic dating, vampires in love, and paranormal romance. Good for a big bonfire, in my view. So what good books can you give your kids instead, for those long drives to visit the grandparents?

I'm glad you asked. You couldn't do much better than give them copies of new adaptations of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown detective stories, written especially for kids.

Chesterton was one of the most influential Christian writers of his day. He wrote his first Father Brown mystery 100 years ago, in part, to reveal the rationality of Christianity. Modern young readers would probably find the original stories heavy going. Just as with the Bible, the meaning of certain words and phrases change over time, and the names of places may also be unfamiliar to young American readers.

And that's why a homeschooling Catholic mother named Nancy Carpentier Brown has created The Father Brown Readers especially for 9- to 12-year-olds.

The kids will meet a rotund, bumbling man of the cloth who has the uncanny ability to solve even the most puzzling crimes. Why? Because his faith gives him insight into the human heart — and its capacity for evil.

For instance, in a story titled “The Secret of Father Brown,” the priest explains that the reason he is able to identify sinners is because he himself a sinner. “I try to get inside the murderer...think his thoughts, wrestle with his passion,” Father Brown explains. And he adds: “When I am quite sure that I feel exactly like the murderer myself, [then] I know who he is.”

The secular world sometimes dismisses Christians as naïve. But as Chesterton's Father Brown shows us, Christians ought to understand evil better than anyone. We never romanticize evil as just a product of a disordered environment. Why? Because we know intimately the depths of our own sin.

On the other hand, Christians are also profoundly optimistic. We know that even the worst evil has a remedy — in the Cross. And so Father Brown never treats his criminals as less than human. He always confronts them with the opportunity for repentance — treats them as people still capable of responding to divine grace.

As my colleague Kim Moreland writes at “Youth Reads,” our new feature at BreakPoint.org, the Father Brown Readers will appeal to young readers because "[they] resonate with their innate knowledge of the disordered side of human nature.” Like adults, children “desire order and justice.”

That's why I encourage you to pass up those books about lovesick vampires and werewolf romances and order copies of The Father Brown Reader and the Father Brown Reader II.

And after your kids have read them, discuss the meaning of the stories together. They will give your whole family a greater understanding of a Christian worldview. And you'll all enjoy the stories about an absent-minded priest who figures out “whodunit” through the knowledge of his own sinful nature.

And for more good book recommendations for your kids, be sure to visit “Youth Reads” at BreakPoint.org.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: August 25, 2011.

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