I adore Tomie de Paola’s books. I love them almost as much as I love Patricia Polacco’s books, or Jan Brett’s. His sweet, simple stories are buttressed by tradition and infused with love and faith and trust. His art has a sort of effortless simplicity, childlike in all of the best senses of the word.
So I was delighted to discover that de Paola had written an Easter book. And not just an ordinary picture book (as if anything by de Paola could be ordinary). My First Easter is a board book, a book suitable for children who can’t yet appreciate Strega Nona or The Clown of God. And, delight upon delight, My First Easter shows a family celebrating Easter together.
With all that going for it, I should love this book. I should be buying it by the carton and giving copies to all of the little ones that I know.
But I can’t bring myself to do that. Because, as hard as it is to admit it, I really don’t like this book.
The illustrations are exactly what you expect from de Paola. They are warm and inviting, and you know, as you study them, that they are the work of a master.
But the story! I’ll grant you that this is a book for babies and toddlers, so you don’t expect a complex, multi-layered story. But the best board books have simple, straightforward stories. Just look at Sandra Boynton’s books! In a few pages, with a few words, she tells stories that delight both little children and the parents who read the books over and over and over again.
I expected no less from de Paola.
The story starts with the family coloring Easter eggs, and ends with an Easter egg hunt. For a board book, that’s a sturdy frame to build a story in. Between the beginning and the end, you see Easter lilies, and Easter bonnets, and Easter clothes to wear on Easter morning.
But also, oddly, you see the Easter bunny delivering Easter baskets.
I’ll admit again that I’m not crazy about bunny-and-egg books. But they have their place, and they can be done well. This book, though, is not a bunny-and-egg book. This is a people-celebrating-Easter book, and the bunny walking on his hind legs and carrying baskets of eggs and treats feels like an intruder.
It’s almost as if de Paola couldn’t decide which sort of Easter book he wanted to write, so he did both at once, and did justice to neither.
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.
Six Exceptional Multicultural Easter Books: If you’re looking for books that show the ways that people celebrate Easter, look here.
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.