One of the difficulties of telling the Easter story to young readers is the fact that the main character, the Creator of the Universe, dies right in the middle. The story doesn’t end there (praise the Lord!), but that is still a dark moment. Authors might soften it by moving Jesus’ death and all the horror of it off stage, but no author can remove it entirely without crippling the story. They shouldn’t.
Agostino Traini (author of The Life of Martin Luther) handles this conundrum thoughtfully and begins Jesus is Risen three days after Jesus’ death. Rather than take readers through Jesus’ life or through the timeline of Holy Week, Traini tells the story of the Resurrection itself, from Easter morning to the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
These passages sometimes read, to me, like an epilogue at the end of the gospels (or like a preface to the book of Acts), so I love reading a book that focuses solely on Jesus resurrected. We get to see the disciples’ bewilderment and Jesus’ kindness as he answers their questions, lets them examine him, and cooks them breakfast.
Jesus is Risen would be a beautiful book to read on Easter morning. It is all joy and delight (with pop-ups!), perfect for sharing over Easter breakfast or, if you roll the way we do, early-morning cookies. (You know it’s a true feast day when it starts with cookies.)
Here is what I know about three. Two gets all the bad press, being terrible, but in our house, three has always been the hardest and sweetest year. At two, our daughters spotted boundaries and pushed against them. They used “No” to great effect. But at three, their bones seem to liquify and they drop to the floor and they cry and cry and cry. Maybe they’re cold. Or hungry. Or sad. Or in a blind rage.
We don’t know; we can only guess.
Meanwhile, they weep. One of our older girls used to have what we darkly called “the 11:00 meltdown.” Months later, we learned that after a morning spent running around barefoot, she was cold, and if we wrestled her into tights first thing in the morning—socks she can’t take off!—the meltdowns stopped. But every daughter has her different drama at three, and it’s Josie’s turn now.
So, given that emotions are a big part of our family’s life right now, an Easter-themed “emotions primer” seems like just the ticket. Danielle Hitchen, author of the already-beloved First Bible Basics and Psalms of Praise, takes readers through the events of Holy Week, but in an unusual way: she uses emotions as a scaffolding for the story, then rounds them out with passages from Scripture.
(Side note: I love that she specifies which translation she used for each quote.)
Jessica Blanchard’s illustrations use color and texture and expression to capture each emotion, making this a book whose approach, though unexpected, works.
In the beginning of this post, I said that three is “the hardest and sweetest” year. But we’ve only talked about the hard part. The sweetness is what happens the rest of the time, when Josie drapes herself over the back of the couch like a cat to wait for her friend to come over. Or when she pokes Phoebe, yells, “Not get me!” and runs—a clear invitation to play chase. Or when she drops a book in Lydia’s lap and climbs up without invitation, confident that her sister will deliver the goods. Or when she walks into a room with her shirt pulled up over her face, as though this is a perfectly normal thing that people need to do from time to time.
Three is a year of big feelings, but it’s also a year of deep connection: Josie has always been a part of our family, but now she is a walking, talking, opinion-having, joke-cracking, kitty-loving, chase-playing part of it. And that is worth every single meltdown.
Exaggerated eyebrows! Dropped jaws! I sometimes miss the depth of emotion in Scripture or the strength with which people respond to Jesus, but a good illustrated Bible story doesn’t bury those feelings. Rather, it lets us see what it looks like to respond to some of the bewildering, awe-inspiring, terrifying events of Scripture the way a human being would —with feeling.
A Very Happy Easter takes this one step further and incorporates those feelings right into the text. Where Tim Thornborough’s excellent Christmas book, A Very Noisy Christmas, invited readers to respond to the story of Jesus’ birth with sound and celebration, A Very Happy Easter invites readers into the story through expression:
In most books there is work for your eyes and ears. You look at the pictures, and listen to the words. But in this book, there is work for your face too!
Every time readers see a character react to something in the story, we get to respond by mimicking the expression of the characters. Are they astonished? Let us be astonished too! Are they confused or disbelieving? Well, then, so are we. Startled? Afraid? Amazed? Us too!
This is a great way to engage younger readers, but I have a hunch that my older girls—with some initial eye-rolling, perhaps—will get into it, too. And anything that puts our feet on the ground of the Easter story is a welcome addition to our library.
Disclosure: I did receive copies of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.
Last year, I struggled to find good Easter books to review for you and share with my family. My plight was so dire I resorted to making an “Easter” book list of books that aren’t exactly about Easter. But this year I am delighted to report that I have a handful of wonderful Easter books to share with you, many of them recent releases!
This gives me great hope for mankind.
Easter is one of Christianity’s biggest holidays. And though I know it involves betrayal, execution, and very few cute barnyard animals, it also tells the story of the key event in our faith—the one without which we have no hope of redemption at all (1 Corinthians 15:13-17). The fact that I could find only a handful of books that told that story faithfully and skillfully prompted at least one rant from me per year.
But now! Authors and publishers are stepping into that gap and bringing us creative, gospel-rich new Easter books, and that brings me a great deal of joy. I cannot wait to share them with you.
Before I do, though, I decided to gather up all the Easter titles I have previously reviewed and drop them right here in a pile. I added the new titles to the list as well so you can get a jump on reading and loving them. If a link takes you not to a review but to Amazon, know that a full review is forthcoming.
When my daughters want to know why they no longer see a dear friend at church anymore, or how come their great-granddad had to die before they met him, I am profoundly grateful for the Resurrection. You will meet him one day, I say. You will see her again.
This is not fluffy-winged, angel-studded wishful thinking, but a promise: Jesus has gone first, through death and into new life (1 Corinthians 15:20). He died and rose from the dead, and he has made a way for us to follow him. Clothed in resurrected bodies, we will sit at the table with him and feast; we will fill a city with song; we will see our heavenly Father face to face.
We do not know what will happen between now and that moment, and sometimes the not knowing is bitter. But, I tell them, God knows how our stories go, and he will help us bear our burdens. He will shepherd us through those gates.
I am glad for that hope when they sigh heavily or fearfully connect the dot “she died” with “I could die, too.” In those moments, we can look back to Jesus, who died—and yet what beauty came through his death! And we can look back further still to Lazarus, whose story is both a beacon of what Jesus can do, as well as a foretelling of what he would do in himself.
Goodbye to Goodbyes, the newest installment of my absolutely favorite series Tales That Tell the Truth, shares the story of Lazarus and his sisters. Lauren Chandler’s telling is both gentle and honest—Jesus doesn’t swoop on the scene like a superhero and command Lazarus to live amid a cloud of applause and confetti. He takes his time coming to Lazarus, and Chandler lets that sink in: Mary and Martha called for him, and Jesus didn’t come right away. And while he dawdled, Lazarus died.
But when at last Jesus does come, we see why he waited. And in the meantime, we see him grieving with Mary and Martha—Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations (again, among my favorites) capture their grief in a way that feels true to life and yet isn’t overwhelming for young readers. They weep and it’s messy, and the way Jesus holds them—I feel comforted just looking at it.
(In fact, those pictures of Jesus holding tight to them in their grief might be my favorite scenes in the whole book. We cannot see him now, but that reminder that he has arms for holding the hurting and that we will one day see and feel them wrapped around us—that is beautiful. I feel a little sniffly thinking about it.)
I said in my post about The Friend Who Forgivesthat that one was my favorite of the Tales That Tell the Truth because it was the one I’d read most recently. Which means that this one must now be my favorite. And it is.
But I think it might really and truly be my favorite because of the story and the grace with which it’s handled. Giving children a book that addresses both the sorrow of grief and the hope of resurrection—that is beautiful and hard to do, and I am so grateful Lauren Chandler has done it.
Our girls say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday in church and every morning over breakfast. Those who don’t yet know the words by heart know the rhythm of it and let their voices rise and fall in time with ours, and those who do almost chant them, the words bubbling up without effort from that place where such things are stored.
They know the Lord’s Prayer. But do they hear what they’re saying?
I wonder this sometimes even as I recite with our congregation. What is it we’re saying, I wonder. Do we understand? There is a discipline to memorizing Scripture, and there is a different discipline to meditating on it and absorbing its meaning. I find sometimes that reading a well-worn passage in a new translation can help me hear what I know by rhythm if not by heart.
Loved is a fresh look at the Lord’s Prayer. Like it’s predecessor Found,Loved graduates some of the text from The Jesus Storybook Bible to its very own picture book. In this case, the text is Lloyd-Jones’ adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer and it is beautiful—just the thing for helping my littlest readers understand better what that lengthy morning recitation is about. Jago illustrates it with a group of children climbing and playing and fighting and forgiving out in nature, where everything sings with the glory of God.
Loved helps train our eyes to see and our ears to hear the beauty of our God and Father. And it helps us listen again to what we say when we pray the Lord’s Prayer:
From the author of our beloved Read-Aloud Bible Stories comes this thrift store find: The Tell-Me Stories, a collection of Jesus’ parables told with warmth and welcome for the littlest, most fidgety crowd.
I love the way Ella Lindvall finds her way into a Bible story and goes straight for the heart of it. She peels back the layers (layers I hope my kids return to and delight in discovering as they grow older) and gets to the core of the story. That is what she shares with her audience of toddlers and parents who might think they’ve heard it all.
The Tell-Me Stories shares Jesus’ parables in a simple, straightforward way. Each one ends with a lesson, a tactic I don’t always love but that Lindvall does well. Through these stories we see Jesus the way he might have appeared to a child: welcoming, willing to part the grown-ups and make a path for the children to come to him.