When I’m reviewing a picture book, I usually start with the story. But for Piccolina and the Easter Bells, I want to start with the art.
Piccolina and the Easter Bells is an old book, almost as old as I am. When it was first published, color printing was far more expensive than it is now. So the book doesn’t have the kind of rich, lavish illustrations that it would have if it were published today.
The illustrator, Rita Fava, created the art in pencil, with spots of blue and yellow added to the pages during printing. The blue and yellow were combined here and there to make green, as on the cover. Some of the illustrations are in black and white, with no color. And some pages have no illustrations at all.
It’s the way picture books were done, fifty years ago and more. It was the only way to make them affordable.
So if you decide to find a copy of Piccolina and the Easter Bells for your library or your little one, keep that in mind. It looks more like Make Way for Ducklings than like Catherine’s Pascha or any other recent book.
And that’s not a flaw! Fava’s illustrations are charming. They have a lightness about them that works really well with the story.
The story of Piccolina and the Easter Bells is based on a folk tradition from Sicily, where author Pauline Priolo lived as a young child. The bells in the village churches were silenced on Holy Thursday. They didn’t ring again until midday on Holy Saturday. (If your children are Orthodox, you can tell them that this tradition is related to our tradition of changing out the dark vestments in the church to white at the Divine Liturgy on Holy Saturday.)
In some villages in Sicily, when the bells rang on Holy Saturday, people would lift small children high into the air so that they would be blessed to grow tall in the coming year. And Piccolina is anxious for her father to take her to church and lift her high, so she will be tall. She is small. So small that no one ever calls her by her name. She’s always Piccolina, the Little One.
Piccolina is determined to grow tall like her friends. She just needs her father to lift her high when the bells ring. But Piccolina’s father drives a carriage, and because it’s Holy Saturday, he has more passengers than usual. Piccolina’s mother warns her that her father might not be home in time for church.
And as Piccolina watches and waits for her father, everyone seems to torment her for her smallness. Everyone except a Traveller boy who sends her to the last person in the village that she’d have asked for help.
And Piccolina learns that people aren’t always what they seem.
A Modern Concern
In the story, Piccolina meets a Traveler boy, whom she refers to as a gypsy. Although the word would have been considered acceptable to most people in 1962, when the book was written, many people today consider the word offensive. It’s something you might want to talk about with your children when you read the story with them.
Sawdust Carpets by Amelia Lau Carling: A Chinese family in Guatemala goes to Antigua for Easter (and a baby’s baptism). There, the children help create intricate sawdust carpets for Holy Friday processions.
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.