By Andrea Perkins
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our series on children’s books and the Church calendar. See the first here. (For those wondering about the proper Anglican understanding of the Blessed Virgin Mary, check out Bp. Chad Jones’s presentation on The Sacramentalists Podcast.)
In anticipation of the Feast of the Annunciation later this month (March 25th), I want to recommend two wonderful picture books about Mary. The first is by beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola and is called Mary, The Mother of Jesus. First published in 1995 by Holiday House, a second edition by Magnificat and Ignatius Press was just published in 2020. DePaola (1934-2020) was an American writer and illustrator with wide-ranging influence and recognition but is best known for his children’s books, of which there are over 270 written and/or illustrated.
In the introduction, dePaola writes, “I was still an art student when I saw the Giotto frescoes of the life of Mary in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy, and I knew that some day, I would attempt my own visual versions of Mary’s life.” What dePaola has accomplished in this beautiful book is more than an “attempt” -- it is a true children’s book treasure. It is organized in short vignettes (a double-page spread for each: one side text, the other a large illustration) that tell the life of Mary, from her presentation at the temple as a child to her assumption and heavenly reign. Each vignette (or they could be thought of as chapters) is introduced by a beautiful antiphon drawn from the Benedictine Breviary.
The book is labelled “7 and up” but is certainly one to be enjoyed by children much younger. Anyone familiar with dePaola’s illustrations knows how beautiful his books are -- the colorful, folk-art style is warm and eye-catching. This book will bring joy to the whole family!
Another great telling of the life of Mary is Brian Wildmith’s colorfully illustrated book Mary, published jointly by Eerdman’s and Oxford University Press in 2002. Unfortunately, this book is out of print but used copies can be found through BookFinder or other used book outlets (and, thankfully, his children are working to have several of his out-of-print titles republished).
While also a writer, Wildsmith (1930-2016) was first and foremost an artist who fell in love with illustrating books for children. Faithful to his belief that picture books are paramount in cultivating a child’s appreciation of beauty, Wildsmith has brought the greatest events of Mary’s life alive through bright, intricate paintings framed in gold. The sources for the text are the four Gospels, portions of the apocryphal New Testament (in particular the Protoevangelium of James), and the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine. Wildsmith, like dePaola, begins with Anna’s encounter with the sparrows (i.e., her and Joachim’s desire for a child) and travels through Mary’s life highlighting all major events (and, subsequently, major church feast days). In the middle of the narrative Wildsmith has a lovely two-page spread that provides a glimpse into “daily life” for the Holy Family: “At home in Nazareth, Mary looked after the family. She wove cloth and sewed it to make their clothes. She drew water from the well, and cooked their meals. Mary also made sure that Jesus learned to read and write. Jesus was a kind and generous boy. He helped Joseph in his workshop, and Mary baked cakes for them…” The story ends with the assumption and crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, “the eternal mother who watches over us all.”
While not all Anglicans will be completely comfortable with this description of Mary, neither one of these stories mentions the more problematic Roman doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Most Anglo-Catholic parents are probably used to explaining why we don’t believe this doctrine, but it is still nice to find books and resources that don’t require a lot of explanation and instead generally reflect what we do believe.
Both of these books are great resources for helping our children engage the church year by identifying the rich historical context for many of our feast days. If you’re as lucky as we are you can go put these on hold at your local library!
Andrea Perkins lives in Oviedo, FL with her husband, Fr. Mark, and three children. She is a parishioner at St. Alban's Anglican Cathedral.