The books we read as young kids stay with us for a lifetime, so I’m always on the lookout for books that not only have attractive and engaging illustrations, but convey powerful and lasting truths.
I’m especially careful when those books are explicitly about our Faith. Here are a few of my current favorites in that category. They not only tell my kids things I want them to know about God, but I’ve found them moving and engaging myself.
Will you come to Mass? by Susan Joy Bellavance
I’ve been meaning to tell you about this book forever. It’s by the author of The King of Shattered Glass, which I also recommend as a story to help children understand the power and beauty of confession. Don’t be fooled by the slightly stilted illustrations: This book packs a real punch and reminds us what it is we’re doing when we pack up our kids and drag ourselves to church. Kids will be drawn in as different animals find relatable excuses not to go to Mass, but the lamb is different. I gasped out loud when I reached the end.
Everything by Maïte Roche
It’s hard to pick just one book by Maïte Roche. You can start with My First Prayers with Mary if only for the lovely image of Mary sheltering toddler Jesus with her body and she helps him learn to walk – but his eyes are on the dove that leads the way. These are deceptively simple, luminous, tender little books that radiate the wholeness and goodness of life in the Faith.
The Tale of the Three Trees by Angela Elwell hunt, illustrated by Tim Jonke
Told in the style of a fairy tale, this is a simple story of three trees that grow together. One dreams of holding treasure, one wants to be a ship that carries mighty kings, and one wants to grow so tall, people will see it and think of heaven. The first becomes a feed box for animals (and holds the treasure of the Christ Child); and the second becomes a simple rowboat (who bears Jesus as he commands the waves); but the third, who wanted to point to God, is horrified to be made instead into something ugly and terrible: A cross made for crucifixion. But on Easter morning, the third tree understands what he has really become. Kids will enjoy the revelations as they realize how the trees’ wishes were fulfilled in unexpected ways, and adults will be glad of the reminder to trust and be patient with God’s power to bring our salvation out of what feels like failure.
The Saving Name of God the Son by Jean Anne Sharpe
Just spectacular. This is book two of a three-part series, Teaching the Language of the Faith; and it somehow tells you . . . everything you need to know about Jesus, with illustrations by Fra Angelico. It’s arranged as one continuous narrative (all indexed from the catechism, at the end), and the glowing artwork matched with colorful backgrounds give it a great flowing energy. Conveys so much beauty and power.
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The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola
When I was little, I was embarrassed that this book made me cry. Now that I’ve spent the last twenty years reading this book aloud to my kids, I’m grateful every time for what a gift it is. The story stands on its own, (although it might be too heavy for sensitive kids, since it follows the main character from his cheerful childhood through to his decline and death), and doesn’t give a moralistic lesson; but the final pages where the old man meets God will shake you to the core. The final pages tell you more about the mercy of God than entire theology courses I’ve taken. And of course the illustrations are an absolute feast.
Here’s a series I’m interested in: Lectio Divina for Little Ones, Divine Mercy for Little Ones, Receiving Jesus for Little Ones, and several others, by Kimberly Fries.
Good illustrations will go a long, long way with me when I’m book hunting, and these are bright and dignified (not gooey or bland like so many illustrations of religious books); but it’s hard to tell if the text is engaging and appropriate. A surprising number of kids books don’t seem to have a clear audience age in mind, and you will find Catholic books with childish pictures and advanced text, or vice versa. If anyone’s familiar with this series and can give a quick review, I’d be grateful!