How do you find really good Easter or Pascha books for your little one? Well, you could just order a copy of Catherine’s Pascha for them. But maybe you got that last year, and you want a different book this year, but you can’t find one you like. I’ll see if I can help you out. Every Thursday from now through the last Thursday in Great Lent, I’ll review a picture book related to Pascha or Easter.
I’ll start with Chicken Sunday, a beautiful picture book by Patricia Polacco. I love so many things about it, I hardly know where to begin.
A “Stealth” Easter Book
I suppose I should start with the fact that, while Chicken Sunday is an Easter book, there is neither bunny nor basket nor egg on the cover.
That’s unusual for an Easter book, of course. And I can imagine the conversations at the publisher’s office about that: “You must have Easter eggs on the cover! How else will someone shopping at the bookstore know it’s an Easter book?” I think Ms. Polacco’s response must have been to say that, while the story takes place in the days leading up to Easter, it’s more than an Easter story. It’s the story of how three children who love Miss Eula buy a gift for her, and about how they make amends with Mr. Kodinski for something they didn’t do. It’s about humility and grace and forgiveness and love.
Miss Eula is an African-American woman, a Baptist, and a grandmother. Mr. Kodinski, a milliner, is Jewish. Two of the children, Winston and Stewart, are Miss Eula’s grandchildren. The third child, who narrates the story, is an Orthodox Christian girl from Ukraine.
I love the characters. They are solid and substantial and so very, very real, both in the story and in the art.
Mary Engelbreit Meets Rie Muñoz
My husband didn’t care much for the art in Chicken Sunday, but I love it. I love the way the pictures include large masses of color and tiny details. I love the way that the same illustration can include elements as whimsical as a Rie Muñoz painting and as realistic as a photograph.
And I love the bright colors and patterns – the dresses and upholstery with fabrics that look like they were designed by Mary Engelbreit.
And the hats. Oh, my, how I love the hats!
What the Pictures Say
I love the fact that I see more details in the illustrations every time I read the book. And the details add depth and richness, not only to the art, but to the story.
Which is exactly what ought to happen when you look at the illustrations in a picture book. They convey part of the story. They convey things that aren’t included in the words.
The words tell us that Miss Eula and her grandsons are Baptist. About herself, the narrator says only, “They weren’t the same religion as I was.” It’s later, in the background of one of the pages, that we see the icon corner and vigil light in her living room and learn what her faith is.
We learn important things about Mr. Kodinski from the illustrations as well. Miss Eula tells the children, “That poor man has suffered so much in his life,” and that’s just the right thing for Miss Eula to say.
But my third time through the book was the first time I noticed that Mr. Kodinski had a number tattooed on his forearm. That detail tells an adult or an older child reading the story much that Miss Eula didn’t say.
The story is a delight from beginning to end. The writing is beautiful and evocative: “How we loved to hear Miss Eula sing. She had a voice like slow thunder and sweet rain.”
Miss Eula’s Hat
The story is tight, as a story in a picture book must be. We’re introduced to the conflict on the very first page: There is a hat at Mr. Kodinski’s shop that Miss Eula sighs over every Sunday.
The children want to buy the hat for her, but of course, they don’t have the money. Their plan for earning the money is disrupted when circumstances conspire to make it look like they were throwing eggs at Mr. Kodinski’s shop.
Miss Eula believes the children when they say they didn’t throw the eggs. But she tells them, “You know, he thinks you threw the eggs. You’ll have to show him that you are good people. You’ll have to change his mind somehow.”
But how? How can the three children persuade Mr. Kodinski that they are good people? And how will they ever be able to buy the hat for Miss Eula?
The answer, it turns out, is eggs. Pysanky eggs. And chutzpah.
Easter Picture Books Keep Pascha Present: You might be tempted to put the Easter picture books away during Bright Week. Don’t do it! By keeping them out, you’ll help your little one understand that Easter lasts more than a single day.
The complete list of multicultural Easter picture books: If you’re looking for picture books that show people celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll find them on this list. All of them. (Well, almost all.)
17 essential picture books for Orthodox Christian kids: If you’re looking for picture books that include stories about Orthodox Christian people and traditions, you’ll find them on this list.