Category: Lent & Easter (page 2 of 8)

Darkest Night Brightest Day

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.

Darkest Night Brightest Day, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

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?

Darkest Night Brightest Day, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big 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 Skya 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.


Darkest Night Brightest Day: A Family Devotional for the Easter Season
Marty Machowski; Phil Schorr (2022)

6 Easter Books for Toddlers

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.

It’s likely.

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!

Jesus Rose for Me

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.

Jesus Rose For Me, by Jared Kennedy | Little Book, Big Story

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, by Jared Kennedy | Little Book, Big Story

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.


Jesus Rose for Me
Jared Kennedy; Trish Mahoney (2020)

“Grave 8-A”

I park the van at the top of Section C, and my daughter and I get out into the rain. The spongy ground slopes away from us to the road below, speckled with headstones that are, in turn, speckled with lichen. Already my daughter bends over one, wipes the drizzling rain off its surface, and reads a name aloud.

About this cemetery hangs a pleasant sense of disorder. Stones shaped like benches, pillars, or pensive children kneel in the grass, half-sunken where the ground beneath them has settled; moss laps at their edges. Certain monuments here are notorious, like the massive stone angel who has, with her attendant urban legends, nearly eclipsed the family she was meant to memorialize. Broken stones lean in pieces against cottonwood trees whose burly roots slowly shoulder the soil away.

Unlike another local cemetery, which styles itself as a “memorial park” and offers natural burial as well as farewell tributes, death is still a presence here, not an unpleasant thought to be sponged away with rebranding. I feel comfortable saying “tombstone” here, or “grave.” As in, “Look at this grave!”—which I call to my daughter when I find one carved to resemble a scroll draped over a log and slicked with real moisture, real moss. She is at my side in a moment and together we puzzle out the inscription.

It is beautiful, but it is not his.

Grave 8-a

Since I was a kid, our local cemetery has been one of my favorite places—eerie and beautiful, sodden with history and urban legends. I used to walk through it on my way to college; the girls and I go often to explore; I gravitate toward the cemetery when I want to be alone. It was the first place we met my mom for a walk during quarantine, and it was there, one snowy evening twenty years ago, that Mitch and I confessed that we had, you know, feelings for each other.

Yet one of my most bewitching trips came about a few years ago, when my eldest daughter and I went the cemetery on a quest for knowledge. I wrote an essay about that trip, and The Rabbit Room (hooray!) kindly published that essay today.

“Josie Contemplates the Urban-Legend Angel,” or “2020 in a Nutshell”

This essay took over two years (off and on) to write, partly because it took me about that long to figure out what I was trying to say, and partly because I just had so much fun researching it. I learned about churchyard lichens, and about a spree of vandalism in our cemetery years ago. I spooked myself—pretty thoroughly and deliciously—researching the origins of those urban legends I grew up hearing. I know now about “grave wax” (don’t google it!) and about how long it takes a human body to decompose—in short, I learned far more about death and our cemetery than I actually needed to put into the essay, and yet I think every bit of that knowledge (except maybe the bit about grave wax) helped the story get where it was going.

And where it was going is here. (Thank you for reading!)

Note: The cemetery featured in the photo at the top of this post is actually not our local cemetery, but my other favorite cemetery: Sleepy Hollow in Concord, Massachusetts. I would have shown you our beloved local haunt (pun intended!) but . . . I ran into issues with the photo quality. I hope you’ll forgive the substitution.

Resurrection iWitness

When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine started attending a Christian college just over the Canadian border. She came back jazzed, sparkling. “It is so exciting,” she tried to explain to me. “All of these things have answers! I’ve always believed, but now I’m starting to understand what I believe.”

I was a brand new Christian then, maybe one or two years in. I don’t know why this bothered me, but it did; I pushed back against her enthusiasm. Was I afraid that she—a friend I admired and looked up to—would outgrow me? That somehow this new knowledge would build a barrier between us? Maybe. I don’t remember what I thought or said, only that this idea raised my hackles, and that I was less kind than I should have been. I regret that.

Because now, looking back, I think I know what she meant. At the time, both she and I were part of a church that, as I remember it, didn’t emphasize doctrine, but tended to value our feelings about and experiences of God. When, in my twenties, I finally encountered for myself the idea that the things we believe have roots—old roots; roots nourished by present-day discoveries and understanding—I felt like I’d been trying to shelter a little candle and keep it burning, only to be confronted by the rising sun.

Resurrection iWitness, by Doug Powell | Little Book, Big Story

I learned then that Christianity involves our minds as well as our hearts. The whole of us is transformed by its tenets; no question sits outside its scope. I wish I had delighted with my friend in her discovery that the Christian faith isn’t disconnected from the natural world, or from the big questions we all have about existence (why are we here? Why does evil exist?), but that it is entwined throughout every aspect of our lives. That the history recorded in the Bible is largely supported by archeological findings; that Christianity meets some of life’s toughest philosophical questions with answers no other religion adequately supplies; that nature testifies to the hand of an artist at work behind it—these are revelations that eventually deepened and shaped my own faith, and that I now revel in sharing with my daughters.

And that is why, amid our beautiful and beautifully-written picture books of the Easter story, we also have Doug Powell’s Resurrection iWitness, which asks and then examines the question, “How can we know that Jesus rose from the dead?” The book is styled like a dossier full of documents, photos, and paintings, and explores the most common objections to the claims that Jesus rose from the dead. Was his body really stolen? Did the disciples substitute a body double? Perhaps Jesus never truly died, but only swooned? Powell sets these claims under the microscope and examines each one logically, asking if each claim could account for the lives the disciples lived after the crucifixion, or for the empty tomb.

Resurrection iWitness, by Doug Powell | Little Book, Big Story

This is a book aimed for older readers (I plan to let our twelve-year-old read it, but, because some of the paintings of the crucifixion are fairly graphic, I doubt I’ll put it out for the younger girls yet) who have started asking questions of their faith. Can it withstand this? Or this? What about this? We cannot base our faith on these arguments alone, because just as Christianity isn’t a purely emotional endeavor, it isn’t a purely intellectual one either. But seeing how the events of Scripture stand unmoved by the cultural mood of the moment can bolster and strengthen our faith and remind us that Jesus did not live and die in a kingdom far, far away, but here—in the world we know, at a particular time, among a particular group of people. His story may sound like the stuff of fairy tales (a prince disguises himself as a peasant in order to rescue his wayward love?), yet his story is true—and it is our story, too.


Resurrection iWitness
Doug Powell (2012)