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.

Search for the Hidden Garden; A Discovery with Saint Therese

Author: Sherry Weaver Smith

Illustrated: Rebecca Thornburgh

Published: Pauline Books

Age Range: 7 – 12

 

Quite simply – I LOVED THIS BOOK.  What a delightfully written and crafted story.  This is one of two books in the Pauline series “Friends of the Saints”.  In this book, Saint Therese of Lisieux is fifteen years old and about to enter the Carmelite order of nuns.  She is friends with our main character, Charlotte, who is ten years old.

Do you want to read beautiful descriptions of nature, and regard the world around with childlike delight?  Then read this book.  The main setting is a French spring countryside in 1888.  The language used brings this romantically beautiful garden setting to life. For example, our heroine Charlotte begins her adventure by searching for flowers “the colour of dawn” and sets off while “pale yellow blossoms on tress looked down like eyes at her.” With such glorious language I was swept away into Charlotte’s enchanted and enchanting world.

The story is driven by an unravelling mystery but also the increasingly high stakes at hand for each of the characters.  Along the way the children become the protectors of the hidden garden.  Their journey throughout the book allows them to find faith and courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming opposition. Truly this is such a nicely crafted book that eventually reaches a satisfying conclusion for all.

With the help of a young Saint Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower) Charlotte searches the flowers and watches the animals for her clues. Charlotte learns that a garden needs all types of flowers to be colourful. Saint Therese’s lessons are subtly placed throughout the story, allowing Charlotte and her friends to find them along the way.

It is Spring in France, 1888, and girl readers will enjoy how Charlotte and her friends are concerned with their long dresses snagging in the garden or finding bird feathers to decorate their bonnets. The girls are reminded to be more ‘ladylike’ in a world, of rigid class divisions – of impressive wealth and impossible poverty. The story is brought to life with references to carriages and horses, lords of the land, servants and maids.

The main theme in the book is about how the children discover the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Symbolically, each fruit tree they find provides a lesson – about gentleness, joy, love and patience. Under the spiritual guidance of a young St Therese of Lisieux, the children must find their own way, and work through the challenges presented to them.

Right now, this is a book that is sorely needed, sewing messages of gentleness and joy in our sometimes harsh and cheerless world. The book itself is beautifully presented with Illustrations of flowers at the commencement of each chapter; and with sketches throughout that are charming and contribute to the overall graceful ‘feel’ of the book. The story will appeal to girls, although boys will relate to Olivier who is energetic, acrobatic and fearless. If you are looking for a more traditional book – a gentle book with an interesting and engaging mystery, then buy this one. It is a must for the romantically minded and for lovers of nature.  In a technology free world follow the children as they discover and save their own place in the garden.

This book will find plenty of readers if you put it in your classroom library or pop it on your family bookshelf.  Catholic in its orientation and setting, you cannot go wrong with Search for the Hidden Garden.  And why not also buy Sherry Weaver Smith’s other book in the series The Wolf and The Shield,  whose fearless young character introduces children to the story of Saint Patrick.

Availabale from Amazon here or from Pauline Press here. 

Homeschool/Teacher’s Notes

Teachers and Homeschool parents will love the fact that there are discussion ideas included at the back of this book.  There are also historical notes about Saint Therese of Lisieux included.  To make this little gem of a book even more useful, there is a glossary and explanation of French words and pronunciation at the beginning.  Honestly, all the hard work is done!

But here are some more ideas and extensions for you to use:

Hands on activity/ Life Learning:

  • Take a walk in a field or garden and find as many different flowers as you can.  Draw them or take photographs. 
  • Make a class/family collage.
  • Which is your favourite flower and why? 
  • Can you find the botanical name of your favourite flower?
  • Discuss how it takes all different sorts of flowers to make a garden.  It also takes all sorts of children to make up a classroom of children/family.

Religion/writing/English:

The Four Virtues in this book:

  • When do you feel joyful?
  • When do you feel loving?
  • When do I need to be patient?
  • When do I need to be gentle?

Discuss in small groups and write down your answers.

Write a letter to Saint Therese of Lisieux when she was 15 years old and preparing to become a nun.  How can you encourage and support her as she leaves her family and friends?  Write a prayer for her.  Ask her to pray for you.

Craft/ Art

I quite like these folding sticks for older kids.  You can have all of the fruits of the holy spirit or just the four in the book: gentleness, joy, love and patience.

http://www.daniellesplace.com/html/bible_themes-fruit.html

The Chime Travelers: The Secret of the Shamrock

Author: Lisa M. Hendey

Illustrator: Jenn Bower

Age Range: 6 – 10

Publisher: Servant (an imprint of Franciscan Media)

What a fun and engaging way to learn all about Saint Patrick. The Chime Travelers is a series of five books in which the two main characters travel back in time to meet our most beloved Saints.  Lisa Hendey has done a great job of producing these books for school aged children which introduce the Saints in a way that children will love and understand.

In the first book, The Secret of the Shamrock, we meet the main characters Patrick and Katie Brady and learn a little about their family and parish community.  Then something truly amazing happens in the confessional (where Patrick is catching a quick snooze!). The bells of St Anne’s chime and send Patrick way back in time where he meets a young Saint Patrick in Ireland.

Children will love Patrick and Katie.  Patrick isn’t perfect and by book’s end he’s had to face up to some mean things he’s said and done. Lisa Hendey has cleverly nuanced her characters to make them more believable and easier for children to relate to. The illustrations are simple and will help children to understand what is happening.

Without being obvious, Lisa Hendey is teaching children about various parts of the church: the baptismal font, the pews, the confessional are all weaved seamlessly into the story.  Saint Patrick is portrayed as a devout and humble young man who gives thanks for his blessings – while Patrick (our boy) struggles with being cold, wet, frightened and hungry.   By book’s end, our main character Patrick returns home full of renewed appreciation for family, the Church and God.

I highly recommend these books, particularly this first one.  It is an easy read aloud book, or a relatively easy read for children.  I would love to see this series of books on the library shelves of every Catholic school in Australia.  Why not?  They’re simply a brilliant and entertaining way for Catholic children to learn about our favourite Saints.

And now you can watch Lisa Hendey reading The Secret of the Shamrock.  Thank you so much, Lisa.  Here is part one; just follow the links for the whole story!

For homeschoolers and teachers:

Lisa Hendey has included several chapters at the end of the book:  All about the real Saint Patrick, Saint Patrick’s traditional prayer, and a list of discussion questions for parents or teachers to use with young readers. Thank you, Lisa!

Activities I would do as a homeschool mom/mum would include:

  • Dress up like Saint Patrick (which would involve a little research to see what he might have worn). Don’t forget his shepherd’s crook.
  • Making or drawing a shamrock and reciting the meaning of the Blessed Trinity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7IJda-4kY8   You might try reading page 94 of the book again if you have trouble simplifying the meaning of the Holy Trinity.
  • If you have a group of children who like imaginative play, you could encourage them to act out the story – maybe they could film themselves.
  • For other children, rewriting this story with themselves meeting Saint Patrick would be fun. It all depends on your child or children.

Check out the wonderful resources that Lisa Hendey has provided on  https://chimetravelerkids.com/