Category: Lent, Easter (page 2 of 3)

Mission Accomplished | Scott James

Our daughters have a knack for arriving on holidays. Our first made me a mother on Mother’s Day, which made me feel a little like an impostor: when a nurse wished me “Happy Mother’s Day” as I sat there holding my hours-old infant, I must have given her a “Who, me?” look, because she laughed and said, “Yes, you.”

Our second arrived in the midst of a month of family birthdays; our third, on St. Lucia’s Day, early in the morning (though she was due the next day, on our anniversary). Our girls seem to like days already made significant by our family or the world, and we like that about them. I thought that this daughter might be the exception, until I looked at the calendar for Lent this year and realized that she’s due right in the middle of Holy Week. That gives her something like four holidays to choose from.

Having had one daughter during Advent, I can tell you: this was welcome news. Anticipating the birth of a child during a season that celebrates the birth of the Christ Child was beautiful and deeply significant. Rejoicing over the Resurrection of Christ and our new life in him while holding the newest illustration of new life in my arms sounds equally lovely.

(Of course, that assumes that I won’t go horribly overdue. But I have my hopes. And my trust in God’s timing.)

A two-week devotional for Easter: Mission Accomplished, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

And so Lent is a quiet, mildly planned event in our home this year. Today’s book is the only new Easter book I’ve discovered this year, and because it is a devotional meant to be read during Holy Week and the week after Easter, I can’t guarantee that we’ll read it all the way through as a family this year.

But I read it through and found it worth sharing, so I thought I’d kick off the Lenten season with a new book for you, then follow by republishing a few of our favorite Lent and Easter books during the following weeks.

Mission Accomplished is a collection of fourteen family devotions, meant to be started on Palm Sunday and read for the next two weeks. I don’t know what your history is with family devotions, but ours is spotty, and a two-week devotional is right up our alley. Each devotion begins with a reading from Scripture, followed by a short reading from the book. There are questions and prayers and, at the end, a hymn to sing or a project to work on as a family.

A two-week devotional for Easter: Mission Accomplished, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

I liked that last part, because the hymns were (almost) all hymns I knew, and the projects were simple projects that I’ll actually (probably) do with the girls: painted rocks or crosses made from twigs and twine—stuff that doesn’t take a lot of preparation but that does deepen the lesson learned through the reading.

Illustrated by A.E. Macha (who also illustrated The Gospel Story Bible), Mission Accomplished ties our Lenten celebrations back again and again to the Gospel. Whether we read it now, well before Holy Week, or during Holy Week (accepting the very real possibility of being interrupted by a trip to the hospital), I’m excited to share this book with our family and to remember the Reason we have for singing together, reading Scripture together, and painting rocks together.


Mission Accomplished
Scott James, AE Macha (2015)

Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven | The Pinkney Family

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That old adage isn’t really about books, I know. But at its simplest level, where it is about books, I don’t like it, because I do judge books by their cover. Every time I pick up an unknown book in the bookstore or click through to its listing on Amazon, I do it because the book’s cover caught my eye, because something about it piqued my interest enough that I wandered over to that shelf and picked up that book (and not the one next to it). From there, I can judge the book by its book reviews or blurb or even content, but if I don’t connect with the cover then I won’t make it as far as the table of contents.

The cover of Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven had that tractor-beam affect on me when I saw it at the library. I may have dropped another book rather abruptly in my compulsion to pick up this one, I don’t remember, but it seems likely. I have long admired Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations (and have already featured his book, Noah’s Arkhere on the blog), so that was part of the cover’s pull—once you’ve encountered his distinctive illustrations, it’s hard not to recognize them when they cross your path again—but I was also intrigued by the book’s byline:

Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, by Jerry Pinkney and family | Little Book, Big Story

“Gathered and Sung by Gloria Jean Pinkney * Art by Jerry Pinkney, Brian Pinkney, and Myles C. Pinkney * Prelude by Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale.” Clearly, there is more to this book than story and pictures, and the making of it was a family affair.

I brought the book home, we loved it, and I later purchased a copy of our own. Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven is a richly illustrated collection of African-American spirituals, presented alongside photographs of families worshiping together and verses that relate to each song.

The book comes with a CD of Gloria Jean Pinkney singing the songs, simply and in a rich alto, so the girls love listening to the songs in car while taking turns holding the book. We recognized many of the songs as hymns sung in our own church, but there were plenty of new songs to learn and the girls jumped into them with gusto, singing “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” with hearty enthusiasm, while marching around the kitchen (or walking down the block, or sitting on the couch . . . ).

Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, by Jerry Pinkney and family | Little Book, Big Story

Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, by Jerry Pinkney and family | Little Book, Big Story

For all that, though, what I like best about Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven is the fact that it gives a clear picture of how one family uses music and art to worship the Lord together. From their involvement in the making of the book to the closing essay by Gloria Jean Pinkney about her own history with music, how she grew up with it and shared it with her children, the book is a testament to the idea that worship is something a family does together—music is a way that we can come alongside each other and rejoice in the Lord through housework or hardship. It is a way that we can rejoice in the Lord on on a daily basis—not just on Sundays—and it is a way that we celebrate holidays like this one, raising our voices together to sing his praise.

Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, by Jerry Pinkney and family | Little Book, Big Story

Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven
Gloria Jean Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, Brian Pinkney, Myles C. Pinkney, Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale (2005)


In honor of Good Friday (and because I can’t get enough of making little playlists for you), I put together a short playlist of some of our favorite Good Friday and Easter songs. The first three are songs that we sing together as a family and church body on Good Friday; the last is the one that I blast through the house every Easter morning. Enjoy!

Easter | Fiona French

I have reviewed quite a few different Easter books since starting this blog, and most of them approach the story of Christ’s death and resurrection from a fresh perspective: through the lens of history and tradition, perhaps, or by letting a typically peripheral character tell the story.

It wasn’t until I read through Fiona French’s book, Easter, that I realized that the one thing our library of Easter books lacked was a simple, straight-forward telling of the Easter story—no frills, no fresh perspective. Just the story itself.

Easter, by Fiona French | Little Book, Big Story

French centers her book around text from the RSV, and the text informs her illustrations, which are “inspired by” (and I quote the dust jacket here) “the glorious English cathedral windows of Ely, Lincoln, York and Canterbury.” They are done in the style of stained glass windows, which lends a beautiful sobriety to the narrative of the events of Christ’s life between the Triumphal Entry and the Ascension.

Easter, by Fiona French | Little Book, Big Story

As Protestants of the reformed stripe, we don’t have much experience with elaborate stained glass windows—not on a weekly basis, anyway—so I loved giving our girls the opportunity to explore them through the pages of Easter. Between the clean, direct text and the beautiful illustrations, I can already tell that this book will be a staple in our house from year to year.

Easter, by Fiona French: an ornately illustrated yet simply told version of the Easter story, from Triumphal Entry to Christ's Ascension | Little Book, Big Story


Easter
Fiona French (2004)

God Gave Us Easter | Lisa Tawn Bergren

I expected to like this series less than I do. The books are cute, after all, with talking polar bears and pastel palettes, and so I expected the content to be cute, too. But I have finally—after reading at least three of these books–realized that the content is more commendable than cute, more challenging than cuddly.

Before we go further, let me be clear: I don’t have anything against pastels or talking bears. I have nothing against Laura J. Bryant’s illustrations—in fact, I think they’re lovely. Her perspectives are unusual, her details vibrant, her use of patterns just right. But for some reason, when I first saw them I didn’t expect depth from the story: I expected sweetness. And so the depth, when I met it, was surprising.

God Gave Us Easter, by Lisa Tawn Bergen | Little Book, Big Story

Lisa Tawn Bergren uses the comforting structure of a child’s conversation with a parent to unearth deep truths—like where babies come from (in God Gave Us You) or what love is (in God Gave Us Love).

In God Gave Us Easter, her characters discuss Easter, yes, but they also discuss the gospel. And death. And prayer. The conversation dives into those deeper subjects while still meandering in the way that conversations with small children do. Somehow, Bergren hits those two notes—theology and simplicity—just right.

God Gave Us Easter, by Lisa Tawn Bergen | Little Book, Big Story

God Gave Us Easter was a welcome addition to our family’s collection of Easter books—it balances out our many retellings of the events Holy Week by delving into not the “what,” but the “why” and “how” of Easter, and it does that by zooming in on what the Resurrection means for one family, one child.

God Gave Us Easter, by Lisa Tawn Bergen | Little Book, Big Story

One cautionary note: this book does present the gospel from the perspective of polar bears in such a way that it might be tempting to think that the author intended, in some literal sense, to imply that Christ’s atoning death applies to polar bears, too. Because the bears also talk and dye Easter eggs and behave in other un-bearlike ways, I didn’t take it that way, and I don’t think my children did, either. If it comes up, I figure it makes for an interesting conversation with the kids, that’s all. But it is a point worth mentioning.


God Gave Us Easter
Lisa Tawn Bergen, Laura J. Bryant (2013)

Peter’s First Easter | Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Last week, I voiced some rather strong opinions about Bible stories that put peripheral characters in starring roles, but after rereading Petook to my children and preparing to review today’s book, Peter’s First Easter, I realized that I stand rather firmly corrected.

You see, all three of my Easter 2014 reviews feature books that are fantastic examples of how well a simple shift in perspective can refresh a story: in Petook, we saw the event of the Crucifixion through the eyes of a rooster, who stood, in a way, for creation; in The Donkey Who Carried a King, we followed Davey, the donkey; and in Peter’s First Easter, we leave the farm animals behind and read about the last week of Jesus’s life through the first person account of Peter (as envisioned by the author).

Peter's First Easter | Little Book, Big Story

Let me tell you one thing up front: Peter’s First Easter is a deeply moving book. You (if you’re That Sort of Person—I am) will probably cry. You see, Wangerin puts the reader right in Peter’s shoes, describing his love for Jesus, as well as his shock at some of Jesus’s pronouncements—the ones we take for granted, as part of a well known story, but that must have sounded dissonant and strange the first time they were voiced.

This is my body. Take and eat.

Peter's First Easter | Little Book, Big Story

And what must Peter have felt after that third denial of Christ? Wangerin presents a beautiful and believable story that allows us to view the Crucifixion through the eyes of one who is painfully aware of his own brokenness and who fears that nothing will ever be strong enough to restore him—even as he watches the very event that will restore him.

Peter's First Easter | Little Book, Big Story

Despite Wangerin’s use of past tense, there is an urgency to both the language and the illustrations that brings the story near to us, the readers. Tim Ladwig respectfully avoids showing Jesus’s face and uses unusual perspectives—strong diagonal compositions, showing characters in profile or from above—to achieve a sense of inclusion: as the crowd thrust their fists in the air, screaming, “Crucify him!”, the people are depicted at such an angle that we seem to be standing among them with our own fists in the air. And he has a knack with facial expressions: the tears welling up in Peter’s eyes, his expression of wonder at Jesus’s words, the joy and laughter on the disciples’ faces as they meet Jesus, resurrected, for the first time—Ladwig captures them all perfectly.

Peter's First Easter | Little Book, Big Story

This is a lengthy picture book, divided into ten short chapters, so you can read it all at once or in stages—a chapter or two per day throughout Holy Week, perhaps. However you do it, though, don’t rush! This is a book to be savored, one to linger over and explore with little ones.


Peter’s First Easter
Walter Wangerin, Jr., Tim Ladwig (2000)

The Donkey Who Carried a King | RC Sproul

If there’s any approach to telling a Bible story that makes me immediately suspicious, it’s the one where an author frames the story within a neat moral. And if there’s any approach to telling a Bible story that means well but often gets things awfully wrong, it’s the one where an author whisks a character off the sidelines and tells the story through that character’s eyes.

And yet, if there’s any author out there who can masterfully wield both of those approaches in the same book, it’s RC Sproul, author of countless books  on theology for both children and adults.

In The Donkey Who Carried a King, the previously side-lined character is, obviously, the donkey of Palm Sunday fame. The neat moral is—well, I’ll let you read it for yourself. But it works well with the story, that’s the part I’d like to emphasize. And it’s the sort of moral we want to bring home to our kids.

The Donkey Who Carried a King | Little Book, Big Story

Sproul takes this seemingly unappreciated donkey and uses him to tell a crucial part of The Big Story, reminding us gently that it was precisely the quality that the donkey, Davey, most lamented in himself that made him most suited to carry a king. Chuck Groenick’s illustrations bring a delightful depth to the story as well, amplifying Sproul’s words with color and texture.

We—that is, I—have a penchant for buying books at the slightest provocation (I’ve written about this before), and one of the seasons that brings this penchant to the forefront is Easter, when I often buy a new Easter book or two for our Lenten enjoyment, as well as a new, theologically rich book for each child to open on Easter morning and read all year round.  The Donkey Who Carried a King met both requirements: lately, Sarah has been smitten with two of Sproul’s other books, The Prince’s Poison Cup and The Lightlings, so we picked this one for her, thinking it would make a great year-round reminder of the Cross.

The Donkey Who Carried a King | Little Book, Big Story

In case you missed it: yes, our children get books on Easter morning, plus, like, two pieces of chocolate or something. We have our priorities. And Phoebe, who can’t eat chocolate, will be getting one of these:

Etsy | TreehouseIllustrator

Etsy | TreehouseIllustrator


The Donkey Who Carried a King
R.C. Sproul, Chuck Groenink (2012)

Petook: An Easter Story | Caryll Houselander

I have good news for you, and I have bad news. I’m going to operate off the assumption that you, like me, would rather hear the worst first, so here’s the bad news: Petook: An Easter Story is out of print and going for something like $60 (minimum) on Amazon. The good news is that there are still copies out there available for less than that (I did not pay $60 for mine), and this book is worth the work of checking Amazon regularly or haunting book sales, garage sales, or Goodwill. Better yet, our library here in town has a copy, so, quick! Race to our library website and put a hold on it now! (Or read on to find out why I’m being so bossy about a book about a chicken.)

Petook | Little Book, Big Story

To say that Petook is a beautifully written book would be entirely true. But to say that without mentioning Tomie dePaola’s illustrations would be a critical omission: the best bits of this story are not written, but are embedded within the artwork, making Petook an incredibly moving book, unforgettable and lovely to look at.

To explain exactly how this works is a tricky business, because the bulk of the book’s beauty rests in the subtlety with which it tells the story of Easter, and subtlety is hard to pin down. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more tempted to skip the summary of a story entirely and simply order you to go get a copy, but we’ve already discussed the difficulty of doing exactly that (see above), so I’ll have to take a stab at it.

Petook: An Easter Story | Little Book, Big Story

Petook is a story with a foreground and a background. In the foreground is Petook (a rooster), his mate, Martha, and their chicks. Petook doesn’t do anything terribly exciting, really, but Houselander’s telling of his story stands alone so beautifully that it’s tempting miss the drama unfolding behind the rooster, where dePaola draws out the events of Holy Week so quietly that they nearly slipped past me during my first reading of Petook.

As Petook passes an uneasy night or anticipates the hatching of his newest chicks, tiny figures in the background of the paintings show Jesus and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsamene, with a line of soldiers marching toward them, or depict the tomb, shut up and under guard. As Petook stretches his wings restlessly, there on the hilltop behind him stand three crosses in silhouette. Petook responds to these events with the rest of Creation, grieving when Jesus is crucified, rejoicing when he rises again. At points, his story touches that of Christ (you’ll know them when you see them).

Petook: An Easter Story | Little Book, Big Story

Petook is a modest tale at first glance, but it deepens with each reading, thanks to dePaola’s unusual approach. It has become one of our favorite Easter stories, and tends to be the first to emerge from the attic each year and the last one to retire. If you’re able to get your hands on a copy, do! If not, keep your eyes open; be patient. Petook is a book worth hunting for.


Petook: An Easter Story
Caryll Houselander, Tomie de Paola (1988)