I love an Easter picture book that find an unexpected way into the story. But I love, too, an Easter picture book that tells the story itself, simply and beautifully, and that places readers (children and parents) alongside Jesus and the disciples as they walk through Holy Week one day at a time.
Antonia Jackson’s The Easter Story is a book of this sort: Jackson recounts the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in clear and lovely language, without much commentary, so readers are free to make our own connections, or to sit with the story for a moment and wonder at it. Giuliano Ferri’s illustrations complement this style beautifully, using light to intensify the shadows of the darker moments or to illuminate the joy of the lighter ones. Jackson’s The Easter Story is simple without being sparse, gentle enough for young readers without being too soft.
In the years I’ve spent building our family’s library of Easter books, I’ve looked hard for books like this one. They can be hard to find—there are ditches on either side that it’s all too easy to fall into (by being too cute in retelling the story, for example, or by being so dry they miss the beauty and wonder of the story). But The Easter Story does everything well: it is good, it is beautiful, and—best of all—it is true.
A few weeks ago I gave my pilea—a peppy little houseplant, with leaves that seem to float in the air like lilypads—a trim. By which I mean, I cut it down, all but an inch-high stem. (It was leggy and discolored, and this was a desperate last act to save it from the compost pile.) I watered that stump well and placed it in a sunny window, back by the washing machine, where looking at it every day wouldn’t make me sad.
And guess what? Less than a week later, I spotted a fur of green on the stump, little specks here and there. A few days later, those specks were freckles; a few days after that, they were clearly infant leaves sprung from a stump I’d almost despaired of saving.
That, dear readers, is Easter. Sometimes you have to sit with the dead stump and wonder how God could bring life out of anything so decayed. And sometimes you get to clap with delight and proclaim, “Life! Life!” It goes on whether we’re ready for it or not.
Mitali Perkins’s beautiful new Easter book shows life surviving in the unlikely, burned-out places, only to bear fruit long after new fruit seemed possible. Through the characters Bare Tree and Little Wind, Perkins tells the story of Holy Week. But she doesn’t stop at the resurrection: as Little Wind travels through Jerusalem, visiting his favorite trees and witnessing Jesus’ death and resurrection, he visits, too, with Bare Tree—a palm whose fronds, seeds, and dates have been so thoroughly harvested that all that’s left of her is a stump. But when soldiers burn the beautiful palms of Jerusalem in the years after Jesus’ resurrection, Bare Tree’s apparent barrenness becomes a hidden blessing.
Mitali Perkins (Forward Me Back to You) has swiftly become one of my favorite authors, and this book shows exactly why. It reads like a folk tale—but different. Like a traditional Easter story—but not quite. She brings a voice and perspective all her own to the story and invites us to see Jesus’ death and resurrection through the eyes of God’s creation.
And Khoa Le’s illustrations? They are gorgeous! Just as Little Wind seems to soar from one corner of the page to another, so the illustrations seem to lead one into another so that the whole book feels beautifully arranged and organically whole. Even the saddest parts of the story seem to promise life and hope. Which is true even today: our God is continually bringing life out of death and unfurling little leaves in the unlikeliest places.
This post is part of my “Hooray! We’re launching a book!” blog series, celebrating the April 19 release of Wild Things & Castles in the Sky—a book I both contributed to and, alongside Leslie & Carey Bustard, helped edit. Today’s post features an author who graced us with a powerful interview for Wild Things.
Does any holiday capture both light and darkness the way Easter does? It is a study in contrasts: the deepest depth of all human history, followed three days later by the brightest light. But I’ve noticed, in my extensive research on Easter books for children, that many Easter books tend to favor the light over the dark. The hope over the despair. And considering the audience, I think that’s appropriate.
But Good Friday has its place in the story, and rushing through it year after year can make it easy for us to forget what Jesus truly did, what he suffered, on our behalf. And so, I’m deeply smitten with Marty Machowski’s new book, Darkest Night Brightest Day, which—get this!—is really two books in one. The book’s format means that we can’t speed through the sad parts of the story to the happy ending: we have to read Darkest Night slowly, one day and a time during Holy Week. Then we pause. And then, we physically flip the book over and begin a new story—Brightest Day—that takes us from the Resurrection to Pentecost.
I love this. I cannot tell you enough how I love it.
Our old pastor once sent us home from a Good Friday service with the injunction to forget the end of the story, just for that Saturday. Think what it would have been like for the disciples, who didn’t know yet what would happen on Sunday, to bury Jesus and walk away from that tomb. To reconcile, for many of them, with the fact that they had abandoned him and now had no opportunity to seek forgiveness. Machowski’s book gives us room to stop. To close the book. To wonder, whether we mean to or not, What if that was the end of the story?
But it isn’t, and that’s the beauty of Easter. Jesus didn’t stay dead; the sun rose. The brightest day followed the darkest night, and we have hope in Christ that we will rise with him one day. What joy! And because this book takes the Easter story all the way through Pentecost, we are reminded of the hope we have through his Spirit—we are part of his continuing work. The dark night broke before the light of day.
This post is part of my “Hooray! We’re launching a book!” blog series, celebrating the upcoming release of Wild Things & Castles in the Sky—a book I both contributed to and, alongside Leslie & Carey Bustard, helped edit. Today’s post features an author whose books are warmly recommended in Wild Things.
As part of my “Hooray! We’re launching a book!” series—which celebrates the imminent release of Wild Things & Castles in the Sky—I’m pleased to invite you over to the Square Halo blog, where I got to share about some of my favorite Easter books for toddlers. Why toddlers? Because one of the chapters I wrote for Wild Things was all about toddler books. Maybe I took the assignment because my girls are all big now and I needed an excuse to break out the Sandra Boynton books again? It’s possible.
That’s exactly why I did it.
But please, join me over at Square Halo today. You’ll find that post right here. May you find some exuberant and indestructible Easter books that will bless a toddler near you!
In the decade or so since we bought our house, I have planted many things: rhubarb, periwinkle, strawberries, summer after summer of vegetables, even a few forsythia bushes. But a few weeks ago, I planted our first tree—the first living thing that may outgrow and outlive us.
I named him Pevensie, in honor of the apple orchard in Prince Caspian, and settled him into a pit in our backyard while two houses away roofers cussed theatrically over the thock, thock, thock of their hammers. It was all very romantic.
But planting a seed is always an act of hope, or at the very least of wishful thinking. We scatter wildflower seeds each year for the bees, and every fall we shake the poppy seed pods all over our flower beds (and driveway—our little ones mean well). We plant seeds in the hope that they will emerge in the spring, having bided their time and done battle with birds and rocks and frost. We plant an apple tree—which is, at this point, basically a large stick harvested from a very kind friend’s yard—and hope that it will weather not one winter but dozens. May it survive not a handful of birds but a hundred, coming year after year to bear its fruit away.
And so it is with Easter: a season of hope, in which all creation seems to participate, when the brambles and bare branches that seemed dead only a few weeks ago start running with sap and putting on buds. Outside and in, this is a time of transformation. So it is, also, with parenting: all these little conversations are like seeds sown in our children’s hearts that will, Lord willing, blossom and bear fruit years from now.
Jared Kennedy’s Jesus Rose For Me is an excellent little Easter-seed, meant for the soil of the tiniest hearts. Kennedy has slowly and quietly become one of my favorite current authors for children, as he writes in a way that explains tricky concepts so beautifully (more on his Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible in a separate post!). But this book is the Easter book I was looking for, all those Easters I spent years searching for a great book about the Resurrection for toddlers—not too graphic, you know, but not too fluffy either.
Jesus Rose For Me begins with Palm Sunday and ends with the Resurrection, and invites readers into the story of Holy Week. Trish Mahoney’s illustrations, too, are rapidly filling our bookshelves, as she brings a bright simplicity to each story and captures so beautifully some of the more abstract portions of Scripture with symbols that just make sense to toddlers. I believe this book is comprised of excepts from Kennedy’s story Bible, and each one ends with a discussion question. Those questions are, I think, where the tilling comes in: Josie loves these questions, and I love hearing her answers. As she talks, I can almost see the seedlings sprout.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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