By Andrea Perkins
Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in our series on children’s books and the Church calendar.
It’s hard to believe Easter is just around the corner. The anticipation feels a hundred-fold greater because so many of us were prevented from in-person celebrations last year!
This month I want to take a look at two books (and a third snuck in!) in honor of our upcoming celebration. The first, Easter, is a beautiful depiction of Holy Week by British author and illustrator Fiona French. The text is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of Scripture. Utilizing the story-telling character of stained glass, French decorates the pages of this book with twelve colorful tableaux inspired by the stained-glass windows of English cathedrals. During an interview last year French was asked what makes a good illustration and she replied, “a successful illustration is one that adds some extra meaning to the words. The picture and the writing should go hand-in-hand.” While we might wish for more complexity from artistic drawing, I think this standard is the right one for illustrative children’s books. And French has met her standard in this lovely book — each page is a visual feast to match the richness of the text.
The story begins with Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and moves through all the major events of Holy Week: the institution of the Holy Eucharist; Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, trial and mockery; the journey through Jerusalem to Golgotha; the crucifixion and entombment; the resurrection and Jesus’ appearance to the disciples (the “behind doors” gathering and the encounter with Thomas and then again at the Sea of Tiberias with the catch of fish and breakfast on the beach). The story concludes with a gorgeous and detailed depiction of Christ’s ascension into heaven.
First published in 2002 in Great Britain by Frances Lincoln Limited, Easter was republished in 2004 by Ignatius Press. There is also a 2004 Harper Collins edition that uses text from the King James version (the cover includes the subtitle “With Words from the King James Bible”). The copy our family has is published by Ignatius Press. We find the slightly more accessible language good for little ones! Copies of Easter can be found using Bookfinder.
Another great book is The Story of Easter by Aileen Fisher. Perhaps best known as a poet, Aileen Fisher was born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula but later moved to a ranch in rural Colorado where she lived for over 30 years (not surprisingly, many of her children’s poems are about the wonders of the natural world). Originally published in 1968, The Story of Easter was reprinted by HarperCollins in 1997 with added illustrations from Stefano Vitale. The book is fairly detailed and may not hold the attention of the youngest child. However, this book is a feast for the eyes. Vitale’s intricate and colorful folk-art style illustrations are interesting, beautiful, and fun — sure to be enjoyed by children of all ages.
The book relates not only the events of Holy Week but also how the holiday has evolved over time (truly the story of Easter). Fisher begins by telling the significance of Easter as a Christian celebration: “For Christians, Easter Sunday is the greatest holiday of the year. It is a day of joy. It celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who rose from death to new life many years ago.”
Fisher includes helpful explanatory details without being overly wordy or dry. For example, “This happened on a Friday morning, a day we now call Good Friday, or God’s Friday. For Christians, it is a day of sadness. Many churches hold a service in the afternoon with short sermons about the last words Jesus spoke from the cross.”
After she tells the story of Holy Week (which ends with the resurrection and a mention of Christ’s later admonition to “go into all the world and preach the good news”), Fisher shifts focus to consider how the Christian story of Easter intermingled with elements of the ancient spring festival: “both celebrations stood for new life. Both stood for new hope in the hearts of people. And so it is not strange that many of the customs of the old spring festival became part of our celebration of Easter.” She then describes the evolution of such customs as the Easter egg and dressing in new clothes on Easter Sunday.
In examining these customs and traditions, Fisher goes beyond the typical approach to Easter found in most religious children’s books, and she does so without compromising or muddling the true nature of the celebration. She even includes a few pages at the end with tips for decorating eggs and a recipe for hot cross buns! This is another book we’ve often seen at the library, so hopefully you can find a copy near you.
Since I highlighted one of Brian Wildsmith’s books last month I chose not to officially review his book, The Easter Story, in this post. It is, however, one of our favorites and I highly recommend it! It is unique in that it tells the Easter story through the eyes of the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The vivid and colorful illustrations match that of his book Mary. You can find out more about it here.
Wishing you a joyous Easter season!
Andrea Perkins lives in Oviedo, FL with her husband, Fr. Mark, and three children. She is a parishioner at St. Alban's Anglican Cathedral.