Search TAP
« Four Faith-based Films Opening | Main | Bill's Books: Bill Reimer gives us some of his top picks of 2017 »
Saturday
Feb102018

Easter Books for Children 

Compiled by Sue Careless

IF SO-CALLED ‘Christmas’ children’s books are full of Santas, elves, reindeer and Christmas trees with nary a mention of the Nativity, so ‘Easter’ books for children are full of springtime bunnies and chicks and eggs – a new birth of sorts. After a long winter, we certainly all crave some Spring. But Christians want to teach their children about a spiritual rebirth as well.

Finding what is age-appropriate is particularly a challenge with the Easter narrative. With the Christmas story we can easily skip over the slaughter of the innocents, the young baby boys and toddlers ordered killed by Herod in his jealous rage. It is not front and centre in the narrative, although it portrays and foreshadows the shedding of innocent blood. But the crucifixion is central to Easter. So how does one portray it visually for very young children?

Images generally speak louder than words. So one rule of thumb is that you can include more detail in the text than you might show in the art work. In The Tale of the Three Trees preschoolers see only a man bearing his cross through the streets, though they are told the man’s hands were later nailed to the cross. Afterwards we see an empty cross. 

In picture books for kindergarten and early elementary children the crucifixion might be shown from behind or at a great distance, and with little or no blood so it appears less gruesome. But even for this age group, Christ is seen wearing his crown of thorns and bearing his cross. And in all of them he is shown later dead. But for older youth the actual crucifixion scene is more graphic and needs to be. 

Similar challenges exist in the Old Testament. Noah’s Ark is a popular story for children but presents a gruesome reality.  All the people and animals not safely housed in the ark were drowned. One children’s picture book that graphically showed this in a two-page spread was left abandoned on the bookstore’s remainder table. It was not selling well. Yet in Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories he quotes the New International Version of the Bible: “Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left and those with him in the ark.” He doesn’t mince words, but his illustrations show torrential rains and high waves but no struggling beings or drowned corpses. Likewise in the crossing of the Red Sea we are told of “the Egyptians lying dead on the shore” but dePaola shows us only a chariot upturned in the waves, no drowned soldiers or horses. Arvis Stewart shows the same restraint in her illustrations for Bible Stories for Children retold by Geoffrey Horn and Arthur Cavanaugh. 

Children today see plenty of violent screen images both real and imaginary so perhaps we are overdoing the age-appropriateness test. And in some churches very young children will have seen carved wooden crucifixes every  Sunday. Certainly it is important that we don’t end the Easter story at the death or burial of Jesus but move through to his glorious resurrection and ascension.

Some parents and teachers may be uncomfortable with the ‘poetic licence’ taken by Brian Wildsmith in The Easter Story to show the biblical events through the eyes of a donkey, arguing there is no biblical account of the foal that Christ rode on Palm Sunday being present later at Gethsemane or Golgotha or at the garden tomb. Other adults could simply add the qualification: “We don’t know but if he had been present, this is what he would have seen and heard.”  A similar approach could be taken with Melody Carlson’s fine book, Benjamin’s Box. “The young boy himself is imaginary, but the events he sees and hears about are real and did truly happen.” We need to remember that young children identify with other children as well as animals, so these may be ways for little ones to enter into the wondrous reality of the Easter narrative.    

We know it is only Lent but we wanted to give you this list in enough time to purchase some of these books before Easter.

A Board Book for Preschoolers

The Tale of Three Trees A traditional folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt and illustrated by Tim Jonke about three trees that grow up to be Jesus’ manger, boat and cross. Good for Easter as well as Christmas. Board Book (2010)  Ages 2-4

 

Kindergarten & Early Elementary

The Easter Story by Brian Wildsmith (1999). The events of Holy Week – the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the Resurrection – are recounted through the eyes of the little donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is biblically accurate in all the main events but told from the little donkey’s point of view. The lovely watercolour artwork is interspersed with flecks of gold and other metallic colors. The award-winning Wildsmith is one of the most venerable figures in children’s illustration today. You can view the pages and hear the story read with soft Middle-Eastern music in the background at ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNFWv906PQo  Ages 4-7

Peter’s First Easter by Walter Wangerin, Jr., illustrated by Timothy Ladwig (2000). The story of Jesus’s last days on earth is told through the eyes of one of his disciples. Children will sense Peter’s deep love for his Lord, his shame at betraying him, his desolation at Jesus’ death, and his joy when Christ rises from the dead and again beckons him to serve his Lord. They will grasp something of the deep friendship between Peter and his Saviour. With lively, full-colour pictures, it is a companion volume to Mary’s First Christmas. Ages 4-8

He Is Alive! by Helen Haidle, illustrated by Joel Spector (2001). This volume offers a faithful retelling of the Easter story. It begins with Jesus’ raising of Lazarus, a foreshadowing of his own rising from the dead but also an act that ignites the ire and jealousy of other priests and teachers. The author then turns to the key events of Holy Week, beginning with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and his overturning of the money changers’ tables in the Temple on Monday. All of the pivotal moments appear here, from Pilate’s reluctance to crucify Christ to Christ’s resurrection. A very accessible narrative. He Is Alive! encourages children to develop a deeper understanding of the truth that Jesus is alive and can live within us.  Ages 4-8

The Week That Led to Easter by Joanne Larrison (2001) & He’s Risen! He’s Alive! By Joanne Bader (2003). The first 16-page booklet covers the events of Palm Sunday through Easter Day; the second focuses more on Christ’s resurrection. The inexpensive Arch Book series tells popular Bible stories through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. There are actually 20 titles in the Easter series alone.  Ages 4-7

Benjamin’s Box by Melody Carlson and illustrated by Jack Stockamn (2008). Like all boys and girls, Benjamin is very, very curious. When Jesus comes to Jerusalem, Benjamin decides to follow him and find out who he really is. At first, Benjamin thinks Jesus is a teacher, then an earthly king. He is saddened by Jesus’ cruel betrayal and death but overjoyed by his resurrection. (The book is a fine stand-alone story so there is no need to purchase the “Resurrection Eggs” that some buy as an additional teaching tool.) You can hear and see the fictional story of Benjamin as it opens up the true story of Jesus’ last days on earth at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qeem65Y9Ek8  Ages 4-7

 

Middle School Chapter Books

Journey to the Cross by Helen Haidle, illustrated by David and Paul Haidle (2001). Helen Haidle brings together a day-by-day recount of the last week of Jesus’ life and all of the events following his resurrection, including his ascension and the pouring out of his Spirit at Pentecost. Young readers will discover details of the culture and customs of the First Century, how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah as well as what Jesus’ sacrifice means to them today. The bold artwork of father and son team, David and Paul Haidle, portrays the drama of Jesus’ most important journey. Ages 8-12 but teens and adults could learn a lot from the many factual sidebars.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes (1950).

Lewis believed that any book worth reading at ten should be worth reading at fifty. So perhaps it is time to (re)read the first book he wrote in his Chronicles of Narnia. Hundreds of thousands of children from secular homes have read this book and gained in its pages a first taste of Christ and his sacrifice, hidden under the true ‘Lion King,’ Aslan. While some of the cover art has changed over the years, be sure Baynes’ detailed pen and ink illustrations are still inside. Some of her work has been coloured to good effect but cheap editions contain no art at all. Enjoy the 2005 film after you have read the book. Ages 9-12

The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas (1942). An Easter classic about the man who gambled for Christ’s robe and won. The holy garment gradually transforms the tough soldier from a cynic into a devout believer. In 1953 The Robe became the first feature film to be shot in Cinemascope. It stars Richard Burton as the Roman tribune who is assigned by Pontius Pilate to supervise the crucifixion of Christ. Actor Victor Mature gives an excellent portrayal of the tribune’s Christian slave. Critics found Mature’s performance to be more believable than Burton’s. The book is now available on audio CD.  Ages 12 and up   TAP

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Member Account Required
You must have a member account on this website in order to post comments. Log in to your account to enable posting.