That Easter Sunday

Author: Nadishka Aloysius

Illustrator: Iaz Abdul Cader

Publisher: Self Published

Ages 8 – 11. Parental or Teacher Guidance Recommended. 

This review is published on Easter Sunday, 2021, two years after the bombing of three Christian churches and two motels in Sri Lanka. Two hundred and ninety-five people lost their lives.  This story for children is an account of those events as told by a little church mouse who witnesses firsthand the destruction and mayhem that follows one of the church bombings.

The story is not graphic in the sense of retelling in detail the gory and deadly aftermath of the bombing.  The story explores the feelings of shock, fear and grief that little Vibhu experiences.  Vibhu and his friends tentatively search for their lost friend Seha amongst the rubble and destruction.  Vibhu eventually realizes he must accept the loss of his friend Seha, and he is supported and comforted by his friends and family.

The story opens with: “I love my home. On sunny days the light pours in through painted glass. It’s like living inside a rainbow. It feels like heaven.” Beautiful prose is used to describe the humans’ funeral as “a river of brown flowing in a land of white”, making reference to the Sri Lankan custom of carrying the coffins with everyone dressed in white.

This story is very much about death and grief.  There are not enough children’s stories that address the issue of death and the loss of someone close to you.  But this story does a very good job of giving hope in the event of a terrible tragedy. Be warned the story is sad – obviously given the subject matter.  Vibhu, his friends and family gather Sehu’s shiny, pretty possessions and put them in a box and bury them in the ground, copying what the humans have done.  Vibhu is comforted to know he can visit this place anytime he wants to and remember his very best friend.

There are Catholic references to the customs of Ash Wednesday, the statues around the Church and waving palms on Palm Sunday. The Church is described as having stained glass windows, flowers and candles.  Although the humans work hard to repair their Church and replace everything that was destroyed, they leave one statue of Jesus spattered in blood and embedded with stained glass just as it is.  The church mice wonder why the humans leave the damaged statue in place – it’s a great discussion point to have with children as you read this story together.

I bought the kindle version of this book so I’m unable to comment on how the actual book design works.  The front cover is coloured, but the inside sketches are black and white.  There are many full pages of text which will be a challenge for some younger readers.  The sketches work well to help children understand the story.  I would love to see a colourful, glossy version of this book as the story and prose lend themselves to beautiful illustrations and design. For the time being this version appears to be adequate.  I would suggest that given the subject matter, this story should be read aloud by a parent or teacher, with pauses and conversation along the way.

The story is an Easter story because it commences on Easter Sunday in a Catholic church. But there are other reasons that make this an appropriate story book for Easter.  The themes of shock, searching, waiting and finally regaining hope mirror the triduum experience.  From Holy Thursday through to new hope found on Easter Sunday, we experience the same human emotions as the main characters in this story.

Author: Nadishka Aloysius

I thoroughly recommend this book to use throughout the whole year, but it is particularly poignant to read during Holy Week. Finally, please purchase this book or kindle edition as proceeds from sales go to assist victims of the Sri Lankan tragedy on Easter Sunday 2019.  A review of the story on YouTube HERE. The book is available from Amazon HERE

Teacher and Homeschool Ideas

There are questions at the end of the book which will help children to talk about and process their responses to the story.  There are also many places in the book that I would pause and ask questions of children.  For example, Vibhu sits on top of a statue for days and watches the humans cleaning up – despite his friends and family encouraging him to come home, he stays there.  This could open a helpful discussion about the process of grief, how different people grieve differently, and what we can do to support people when they are mourning the loss of a loved one.

I would probably ask children to write and recite a prayer for the souls of those who died in the bombings.  It would be helpful to support children in this exercise by talking to them about:

  • What do you want to say to God about the souls of all of these people
  • What do you think their families would like you to say to God
  • What do you think the people who died would like you to say to God.

Making a small ‘altar’ with candles lit and flowers and holy pictures or statue when you recite the prayers will help children to appreciate ritual and the importance of Catholic symbols.  You could ask children to talk about what the symbols mean and why we use them (the cross and sacred symbols to help us think about God, the candles and flowers as decoration and to help us focus and appreciate the reverence of the moment etc.)

Funerals and rituals can be explored too – what colour do we wear when we go to a funeral.  Why do you think people in Sri Lanka wear white?  Some internet research could be helpful here.

Drawing or sketching any of the scenes from the story will help most children to process the story and themes.

I found myself wondering about the theme of ‘forgiveness’ which was not really emphasized in the story.  The mice help the injured cat who chased their friend towards the bomb when it exploded.  Although they don’t overtly ‘forgive’ the cat, they demonstrate courage and compassion by helping the cat. In human terms, it was probably too early to think about forgiveness as the story takes place over the course of about one week. People (and mice) are still shocked and mourning.  This might be a further conversation to have with children.

He’s Risen! He’s Alive and Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet

He’s Risen!  He’s Alive!

Author: Joanne E. Bader

Illustrator: Richard Heroldt

Publisher: Arch Books

Age Range: 5 – 9

 

And

 

Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet

Author: Glynes Balec

Illustrator: Unada Gliewe

Publisher: Arch Books

Age Range: 5-9

 

I eagerly anticipated these two little books from Arch Books.  They were really cheap for a start, which makes a difference here in Australia when compared to some of the exorbitant prices we pay for Catholic children’s books from overseas. So, when they arrived, I sat down to peruse them with a cheerfully hopeful heart.  Alas!  I was very disappointed.

Now people who have read these little reviews that I write will know that I very rarely say anything negative.  If I don’t particularly think a book is appropriate or good enough, I usually just don’t talk about it.  I decided to make an exception for these two little books.  I didn’t like them, and I want other people to be aware of what you are getting before you invest.

He’s Risen! He’s Alive! was published eighteen years ago.  The rhyming couplets are mediocre at best and positively terrible sometimes.  Like this:

“At break of dawn that Sunday morn,

The first day of the week,

Two women went to see the grave

To take another peek.”

To take another peek?  Seriously?

I honestly think that the story could have been more carefully crafted without rhyming couplets.  My sense of the writing is that children will have trouble understanding some of the story because the words are obviously straining to fit the rhyme. The illustrations are OK; but the overall feel of the book is simply – second rate.

 

Moving along to Jesus washes Peter’s Feet.  It was published twenty one years ago and It’s downright terrible.  I’ve never read words that strain so desperately hard to fit together and fail.  Oh my goodness!  Once again, this story could have been more simply conveyed without the attempts at rhyming.  When compared to the beauty and simplicity of Laura Alary’s words in the Easter book, “Make room: A child’s guide to Lent and Easter”… well there is no comparison.

 

The illustrations in “Jesus Washes Peterr’s Feet” were more consistent and endearing than the first book, but they don’t make up for the bad storytelling.

What these books indicate to me is that there is a desperate need for more Catholic children’s stories about Easter.  Rhyming couplets work for some stories, but I felt that the style of writing was actually detracting from the story rather than aiding in the storytelling. I don’t recommend them. At all.

I Am God’s Storyteller

Author: Lisa Hendey

Illustrator: Eric Carlson

Age Range: baby to about 10 -11

Publisher: Paraclete Press

My favourite story books are the ones that you can read to the whole family.  This gorgeous book by the brilliant Lisa Hendey will be enjoyed by all children regardless of their age or level of understanding. What is particularly impressive is the unique premise of the book – that we can all be God’s storytellers.  Travelling around schools to talk about her Chime Traveller Series, Lisa Hendey was struck by just how much children love to tell stories. So she created this beautiful book which tells children about the great story-tellers in the Bible.

Eric Carlson’s illustrations are clever, fun-filled and add so much to Lisa Hendey’s text. The colours and hues change from page to page, light and shadow are cleverly utilized and interesting design will entice young children to gaze at the pages while being read to. The illustrations towards the end of the book provide a riot of activity and joy that will make children smile. Paraclete Press has done an amazing job with this picture book.

After introducing children to the major prophets, Jesus and then the Apostles are presented as God’s storytellers.  This really is a clever book!  I particularly liked how Jesus’ parables are described as special stories with important messages. Finally, the book changes focus and begins to encourage children to use their unique gifts to become God’s storytellers – as playwrights, painters, film makers, dancers and singers.  Children are reminded that God gave them gifts to use for God’s glory.  It’s so refreshing to read a children’s book that is so uplifting and joyously inspiring.

During an interview about this book, Lisa Hendey stated that she has included questions and statements throughout the text that invite children to interact and engage with the content as it is being read to them.  For that reason, this would be a wonderful read aloud book for a classroom or homeschool. Highly recommended!

You can purchase a copy of I am God’s Storyteller from Amazon HERE, or Paraclete Press HERE.

Check out my review of Lisa Hendey’s Chime Travellers series HERE

For Homeschool or Teachers:

  • A page at the back of the book gives some hints and tips for teachers or home schoolers about how to make the most of this book.
  • There is just so much scope to use this story book as a springboard for the most creative and imaginative activities – children will be jumping at the opportunity to create their own board games, or sing their own songs or make a film about God or the Bible or the Saints.
  • Ask children to write or just tell a story about meeting one of the many Bible characters mentioned in this book
  • Prompt children to use their imaginations by starting a story for them, “This is the story about the day I hung out with John the Baptist…”
  • Here’s a recent Youtube reading of the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmGWV3sCq14 (there are two other parts that follow, just follow the links).
  • Here’s a podcast of Lisa Hendey talking about the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OM65U3WR9Tg

The Boy Who Knew

Title:  The Boy Who Knew

Author: Corinna Turner

Publisher: Zephyr Publishing

Age Range: 10 and up.

This is an impressive book about a modern-day saint.  Well, actually at the time of writing, Blessed Carlo Acutis is not yet a saint, but he has recently been beatified. Corinna Turner has written this book from the point of view of fourteen-year-old Daniel, who has just received a diagnosis of leukemia. The story then cleverly intertwines the experiences of Daniel with that of Blessed Carlo Acutis– an Italian boy who died of leukemia in 2006, aged only 15 years old.

Daniel is well drawn as a quiet boy trying to come to terms with an impossible diagnosis. While his parents succumb to anger and despair, Daniel seeks out support from his parish priest – who points Daniel in the direction of Blessed Carlo Acutis.  Daniel must wait ten agonizing days for a prognosis – will his illness be fatal or not?  He has just enough time to complete a novena to Blessed Carlo.

The novena to Blessed Carlo is a clever device that drives the story forward.  Daniel learns something new about Carlo every day as he works his way through the novena. By meditating on Carlo and his life, Daniel begins to discover more about himself.  Through a process of reflection and prayer, Daniel grows in spiritual awareness.  As his physical health deteriorates, the spiritual stakes rise – it becomes increasingly imperative for Daniel to strengthen his faith and find spiritual comfort.

A quick journey to Assisi to witness the beatification of Carlo Acutis is a delightful twist in the story.  The voice of Daniel within the story starts to change – as if Daniel and Carlo are becoming ‘one’. I really did enjoy this clever little book, which held my attention and kept me turning the pages until the end.  And believe me, the ending is perfect.

I imagine that this book would be ideally suited as a class set for young people aged about 13 – 15.  There is so much to discuss as a class – the ultimate meaning of life, how do we deal with/manage death in our society, what really matters in the end?  There is also a great deal to learn from the example of Carlo Acutis, who devoted his last days to promoting miracles of the Eucharist.

I highly recommend this timely book which is available on Amazon here:  as a book or ebook.  Author, Corinna Turner is a British writer who has published books for the Catholic teen and young adult market.  Corinna has been writing fiction since she was fourteen years old. She was raised in the Methodist tradition and later became a Catholic Christian. She is a Lay Dominican and works in the field of disabilities. Please support Corinna Turner and connect with her online:

Amazon

Website I Am Margaret

Facebook

Homeschool/Teacher Ideas.

  • As mentioned above there is such scope to facilitate group/class discussions about “the big questions” – what the meaning of life is etc. I would probably use questions such as:
    • Imagine someone has just months to live – what do you think they would do in those months?
    • Write down a list of things you would want to do if you only had months to live
    • Write a letter to Daniel. What do you think you need to write to him?  What would he like to read in a letter?
  • Think about the way Daniel’s parents behave in the book: why do you think they react to Daniel’s diagnosis like this?
  • Can you think of any stories or quotes from the Bible that might give Daniel comfort?
  • It would be interesting to revisit the story of Daniel in the Bible: what characteristics does Daniel in the Bible have? Is Daniel in this story like Daniel from the Bible: in what ways?
  • Ask students to research Carlo on the internet:

Where did he live?

How old was he when he died?

What have you learnt about his family, his personality, his likes/dislikes, his interests?

What is “beatification”?

Research some of the Eucharistic miracles that Carlo Acutis documented.