Welcome to the inspiring world of children’s books! Recently, a friend asked me to write about children’s books.
“What books do you think should be on the bookshelf of every Catholic family?” she asked.
I am delighted to share my enthusiasm for children’s literature. As you will discover, I will not always recommend books about the bible or saints or the sacraments. Sometimes I will write about books that I consider classics from the broader world of children’s literature. Let me explain.
I believe there are objective and unchanging standards of goodness, truth, and beauty. By surrounding our children with inspiring books, young readers ultimately come to know Our Lord who is Truth. In these short reflections, I hope to help parents cultivate in their children a sense of beauty as depicted in literature. Some books give shining examples of virtue; others have villains creeping through the pages, stirring up trouble. After all, exciting books need bad guys and tons of trouble.
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Notice right away that the title provides a clue to the entire book. Jesus is not spoken of in the past tense. Jesus is alive and present to us now. That is the intent of this elegant book suitable for ages 6-12. Using maps, illustrations and intriguing facts, this book truly brings to life Jesus and his times. In one grand narrative arc, the writer puts together salvation history from Abraham to the Resurrection.
Simply told, we are lead step by step through the story of Moses, judges, kings and the prophets. Detailed maps show us key spots along the Mediterranean Sea including Mt. Taber, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. We read what people ate, where they lived and what they wore. I cannot think of any other book that describes the house where the Holy Family lived.
The houses of the period were simple square boxes with whitewashed earthen walls. There was only one room, and the only light came through a door and sometimes a window.
In this simple description, we can better imagine the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth, a village “nestled in a valley at the foot of a steep hill.” An illustration shows Mary wiping the face of her little boy. Joseph looks on, smiling as he ponders this moment of tranquility.
Indeed, all of us, young and old alike, can learn from this book. I imagine families reading it together, tying together Gospel readings with chapters in the book. One section delves into parables. We learn about rhythms of the seasons and agriculture in the Holy Land. Another chapter covers Jesus’ last days, including a description of the crown of thorns, woven from a creeping plant often used as kindling. A small photograph of the Shroud of Turin appears near the end of the book-likely to spark the curiosity of any reader.
Children will enjoy studying the delightful illustrations of fish and animals galore, including St. Peter’s fish complete with spiny dorsal fins. We learn that Jesus came to know his grandparents, who lived in Nazareth.
No other book like this exists among Catholic children’s books. It is definitely not another children’s bible, but goes beyond stories, making the life of Jesus come alive.
Published by Magnificat and Ignatius Press, 91 pages. Written by Gaelle Tertrais Illustrated by Adeline Avril
Maine is home for many famous children’s book authors. E.B White, author of Charlotte’s Web, spent childhood summers on Great Pond in Rome and later settled in Blue Hills. Barbara Cooney, winner of the prestigious Caldecott Award, resided in Damariscotta. Add Ethel Pochocki to your list of Maine authors worthy of your attention.
I will tell you a secret about Ethel -she loved to write about saints and could not stop. To her, it was like eating popcorn or peanuts. Picture her table strewn with books and papers as she researches a saint.
As I work away, I have gotten hooked on a saint who is so funny, brave , outrageous, or noble that I must include him or her in the book.