By contrast, children easily appreciate the joy surrounding the birth of the baby Jesus at Christmas. The fact that they see babies all around them makes the meaning more tangible. But joy over Jesus rising from the dead? For many young children, this seems weird, even spooky. At Passover as well, the focus on the idea of freedom can be a bit abstract for kids to get a handle on.
That's where a good children's book can help. Through words and pictures, author and illustrator take lofty religious ideas and transform them into concrete concepts that young children can grasp. Here's a look at some of the best recent Passover and Easter books for kids of different ages.
For the youngest readers (ages 3-5), simplicity works best. Two titles, "What Is Easter?" and "What Is Passover?" (both HarperFestival, $5.95), convey the basics with clear texts and colorful pictures. Best of all, they are "lift the flap" books, something of a cross between a book and a toy--an ingenious method for getting toddlers and preschoolers involved in the story. (Young readers can literally open the door for the prophet Elijah in the Passover book and uncover hidden eggs in the Easter title.)
"What Is Easter?", written and illustrated by Lillie James, and "What Is Passover?" by veteran children's book author Harriet Ziefert, with illustrations by Ms. James, both feature boys whose parents attempt to explain the holidays in a child-friendly way.
Understandably, the primary focus is on the activities used to celebrate the holidays as opposed to the theological underpinnings. In "What Is Easter?" Tony's mother distills the Easter story in a few sentences: "On Easter we remember that Jesus Christ died on a cross. Then his body was placed in a tomb. Three days later, two women came to visit the tomb. The tomb was empty. An angel appeared and said, `Jesus has risen and lives again.'" Tony's father adds that on Easter morning, "we go to church. and celebrate our belief in Jesus Christ." That's the "why" of Easter. The rest of the book is devoted to the "how," including traditions like the aforementioned egg hunt and a big family dinner.
For readers ages 5-8, "On Passover" (Aladdin, $5.99) is the perfect introduction to the holiday. Written by Cathy Goldberg Fishman and illustrated by Melanie W. Hall, the book's unique take is to explain the holiday through the five senses, the mode of learning most accessible to children.
The young girl narrator navigates the holiday sense by sense: She sees the Passover dishes, smells the delicious food, tastes the matzah, hears the message of the Haggadah, feels the softness of the special cushions on which Jewish families recline during the first Seder meal. Fishman's text weaves these sensations through the story in a natural way so that the book never appears preachy. Feelings are paramount. The girl's father explains, "Every year we talk about what happened when we were slaves so that we won't forget what it feels like to be mistreated...[and] so we'll remember not to mistreat others."
Hall's illustrations, reminiscent of the work of Marc Chagall, are evocative and ethereal. With their loose lines and pastel palette, the illustrations convey the emotional impact of Passover and underline its importance.
"Love One Another: The Last Days of Jesus" (Scholastic, $15.95), new in hardcover, manages to bring alive the significance of Easter for readers 5-8. "The heart of the Easter miracle is this," writes author Lauren Thompson. "[No] sorrow is so great that love cannot heal it." Thompson attempts to impart this message through her vivid retelling of the story of Jesus' last supper with his friends, his arrest and death, and his resurrection.
The account itself is a powerful one, much of it sad. Yet Jesus' story also has the ultimate happy ending, and Thompson concludes on a joyous note. She writes that the disciples finally "understood in their hearts what Jesus had taught. They knew their wrongs were forgiven and that love was greater than hate, greater even than death. In his love, Jesus lived on."
Artist Elizabeth Uyehara's oil paintings provide a dynamic visual counterpart to Thompson's text. With their blocky forms and sweeps of bold color, Uyehara's illustrations pack an emotional wallop--especially the two-page spread of the crucifixion--without being too graphic for children.