Huzzah for the third book in Ned Bustard’s series of saint biographies!1 Like the first two, Saint Valentine is a charming, rhymed, gospel-rich biography for young readers.
This book tells the story of Saint Valentine’s life while pointing readers back to Christ again and again, glorifying the Giver of Gifts rather than elevating the saint himself. Ned Bustard’s art is, as always, rich in symbols and significance, and in this case it contains some fun meditations on the four loves (be sure to read the author note in the back of the book). These layers lend a depth to Valentine’s story and to our understanding of his holiday.
In short, Saint Valentine the Kindhearted is a worthy and welcome addition to a series that gives readers a perfect way to root our Valentine’s Day celebrations in the love of Christ.
Firstly, wow. Email me, I said. I don’t know what I expected after that last post—a high five gif from a friend maybe, and one or two emails saying, “Yes, we’ve been here this whole time”? I did not expect a swell of emails, all of them thoughtful and kind and so sweetly specific. You gave me glimpses into your lives and let me see how God has used all these good books in them and, honestly, you just kind of blew my mind.
Because this is what this blog looks like from my end: I sit here at our kitchen table at 5:47 a.m. and I write these posts and then they kind of disappear. I mean, I know they’re there—but does anybody else? Your emails told me most emphatically that yes, you know they’re there. I felt like I put a seed in the dirt and went back inside, thinking, Well, I hope that works out, and God just brought me back outside and showed me a dazzling patch of sunflowers. It was moving. You guys: I needed tissues.
And now, enough about me. Let’s talk about Ned.
Ten years ago, I discovered Church History ABCs. I bought it on a whim—no one had recommended it to me; I’d never seen it reviewed. I just happened across it on Amazon and thought, That looks awesome. And while I loved everything about that book—the historical depth, the wordplay, the way it made my daughters belly-laugh—the illustrations were what really stuck with me. They were arrestingly different from the cartoons or soft watercolors I’d encountered in other Christian picture books. There was nothing soft about them: they were all crisp edges, bright colors, clean lines. They were playful and witty and I remember thinking as I studied them, Christian art can look like this? I made note of Ned Bustard then and have devotedly followed his work ever since.*
You may recognize his art from the Every Moment Holy books, or maybe you (lucky you!) have one of his linocuts hanging in your home. Maybe you know him from the Rabbit Room or The O in Hopeor you own an album or two with his work on the cover. (If his name is new to you, seek him out. You won’t regret it.) But for me, it all goes back to that book—the one I wanted to share with all my friends so badly that I started a blog to get the word out.
And so it feels fitting to celebrate this blog’s tenth anniversary with Ned Bustard’s newest book, Saint Patrick the Forgiver.
Like Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, this book introduces readers to the saint behind a holiday and tells that saint’s full story (the facts and the legends, too). This book is short and a lot of fun to read aloud, but don’t let that fool you: it deals in some deep themes. The first half of the book, for example, is a complete story: Patrick is kidnapped by pirates, saved by God, and then restored to his family (huzzah!). God could have stopped there and still given us a satisfying story about how he works out his good plan even on pirate ships or in muddy pastures. But no! The story doesn’t end there, so Bustard’s telling doesn’t either. Patrick says,
And to this day I’d still be home, but for another vision . . .
This story isn’t simply about God’s provision during difficulty (though that’s certainly in there), but about God’s call upon Patrick to forgive his captors and return to the very place he’d just escaped. So Patrick returns to Ireland and ministers to the people there. But Bustard makes it clear that this is not the product of Patrick’s general awesomeness and budding saintliness—it is the fruit of God’s work in Patrick:
They stole me from my parents! How could that be forgiven? The only way I could return was by the strength of heaven.
Bustard places God at the center of this story, just as he does in Saint Nicholas. Patrick’s faithfulness is wonderful and inspiring, but as he narrates his story, Patrick makes it clear again and again that it was God’s work in him that enabled him to return to Ireland. And so, when we reach the stories of miracles and legends, we know that this was a man acting in obedience to God and serving by God’s strength alone.
And then there are those illustrations: I suspect that there is a whole visual language at work in Bustard’s illustrations—every detail seems to carry some added meaning, from the Celtic knots to the animals to the composition of each page. The art combines with the story to give us a full, exciting picture of Patrick’s life, but I suspect that the illustrations, if you were to dig deeper into them, tell a whole story unto themselves.
In short, Saint Patrick the Forgiver is exactly the sort of book that got me writing book reviews in the first place: one excellent in every aspect, that points readers from a good story to the Greatest Story, and that reminds readers that God is at work always, in every time and place.
______ *Very closely, in fact, as I now work for him through Square Halo Books (huzzah!).
Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it 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.
It is still winter, right? I thought it was, but my two eldest daughters are playing outside as I write, one of them in naught but a fairy dress.
We were supposed to start our home school lessons an hour ago, but they’ve been out there since breakfast, bounding around the front yard chattering like happy, fluttery birds. At present, they’re sitting side by side under the one tree in our yard—a great, overgrown Christmas tree—holding sticks in front of their knees like fishing rods, heads together, deep in confidence.
Add to that the fact that Phoebe has been sound asleep in her crib for the last hour and you have all the necessary ingredients for an important decision: school can wait.
I’ll let them continue doing whatever it is they’re harmoniously doing and instead of reading Saint Valentine to them, I’ll share it with you. In my inaugural blog post, I sang the praises of the unsung holidays, the ones that we celebrate in sheer fun but whose origins we have collectively almost forgotten. I wrote about Saint Patrick’s Day then, but Valentine’s Day also fits the bill. For those of you dissatisfied with stale candy and heart-shaped doilies, who find yourselves hungry for a bit of history with your holiday—this book is for you!
Robert Sabuda’s telling of the life of Saint Valentine is tender and compelling. It gives children a glimpse of life as a Christian under persecution without overwhelming the sensitive souls (of which I have—and am—one), while telling the beautiful story of Saint Valentine and a little blind girl who came to him for healing.
I’ll warn you: this story doesn’t end happily, but it ends with hope, the sort of stinging hope that makes your throat feel funny. And Sabuda’s illustrations are breathtaking in their complexity: each illustration is a mosaic of (what I’m guessing is) paper, but with such simple tools he conveys rich emotion and movement.
Now, I’ve timed this post perfectly! The little fairy just traipsed in, pink in the cheeks and breathless with cold. That means it’s time to herd my little troop onto the couch and start reading.
Genocide. Execution. Arranged marriage. With themes like these, I can understand why there are few children’s version of the story of Esther on the market. And yet, it features a girl rich in courage and true beauty, a man whose life is a perfect illustration of the proverb “Pride comes before a fall,” and a God who, though unnamed in the story, orchestrates his people’s salvation in a lovely, symmetrical way. By dodging the darker themes, we sometimes miss the pulsing light running right through the heart of the story.
Eric Kimmel’s telling handles both aspects of the story gracefully. He manages to provide a thorough version that is (in the most important parts) faithful to the Bible, without burdening the story with unnecessary detail. There is a sense of motion to the narrative, perhaps due to Jill Weber’s illustrations: the characters are so expressive and animated that the story whisks along at the clip maintained by the Biblical book.
The characters are among my favorite in the Bible: Esther, the reluctant queen; Mordecai, a man faithful and full of integrity; Artaxerxes, a volatile king often portrayed as foolish, and perhaps rightfully so; and Haman, the perfect villain with a fitting end. I am so drawn to this story that I read any version I can get my hands on, and I can safely say that Kimmel’s is my favorite.
Pop quiz: in twenty words or less, why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
If your answer is full of elipses and mumbled words like “leprecans,” “Ireland” or “some dude named Patrick,” then you’re sitting in the same boat I was before I came across Patrick: the Patron Saint of Ireland.
A few months back, it occurred to me that a number of our holidays are based upon some fascinating figures in church history, figures with challenging and inspiring stories that have, for the most part, been overshadowed by frothy glasses of Guinness and conversation hearts. So when I gave some thought to how we would celebrate these holidays in our family, I found the answer right there on the calendar in front of me: St. Patrick. Who was that guy, anyway?
And that is where Tomie dePaola comes in.
Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland tells the story of Patrick’s life, neatly divided into biography—and one full of adventure, at that—and legend, as dePaola uses the latter pages of the book to detail the different legends surrounding the life of Patrick. It is, of course illustrated in dePaola’s unique style, and the pictures tell the story with as much punch and detail as the narrative.
This is a great book to read around St. Patrick’s Day, yes, but it makes for fascinating reading all year round, as it provides you with an opportunity to teach your little one about the saints that have gone before us.
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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