Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Goodness (Children's Book Version)

Since most of my spiritual reading these days comes in the form of children's books read to my son before bed, I thought I'd tell you about some of my favorites. 

When my father read us books growing up, he always insisted we pick out the Christian ones, which always made us grumble. And in our defense, the Christian books we had were not always the most enticing. But now I understand--I love reading to my son about the saints, about people loving God and following Him. I am basically always moved and inspired by these stories, and hope the kid will be someday, too. 

(And I do think that there are better and worse Christian books, and there are stories of goodness that are outside of the Christian tradition.) 

Christopher, the Holy Giant

Tomie de Paola is the best children's writer that I've encountered at presenting worlds that are permeated by the supernatural. And he's also great at portraying people doing the thing that they were created to do, whether it's his autobiographical works about his own devotion to drawing, or legends of people working at their own art and skill, and doing it for God. 

The story of Christopher is my favorite of the Paolas I've read--which is not as many as I wish of his 250 plus books. Reprobus the Giant wants to serve the strongest person in the world (a noble endeavor), which sets him off on a journey that leads him to Christ. The hermit he meets tells him a profound truth--that Reprobus can't find Christ, but that Christ must find him. What shall he do in the meantime? Pray, and serve people by using his size and strength to carry them across the river.

The Clown of God

Similarly, a clown in his declining years offers his best skill--juggling--as a gift for the Christ child. What a reminder to offer our talents to the Christ child. 

Old Befana retells an old Italian legend of a woman obsessed with cleaning who sees the star in the East and seeks the Christ child. To be perfectly honest, I'm not 100 percent sure that I understand the story, but I like that it merges with the Three Kings, a favorite in our house. 

Legend of the Bluebonnet

And I think what I love best about Paola is that not all of his legends are Christian. He tells the story of a little girl who sacrifices her most beloved doll for the people who become her people. The childlike obedience is inspiring. 

The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is the story of an artist who is so devoted to his calling that he is ready when the divine intervenes. (And it reminds us that we're just supposed to do our own job, and not wish we could do the jobs of others.) 

On to non-Tomie de Paola books:

Saint George and the Dragon

Don't we all need lots of courage plus divine assistance? And aren't we all tempted to go straight for heaven and skip the difficulties of earth? 

(I'm not too comfortable with all this knights-rescuing-princesses business in general, but I really like this story.) 

Legends of the Saints

I think I mentioned before that I wasn't expecting the kid to have a long attention span for this at his age, but he especially loves Saint Blaise because there are lots of animals and a fish bone. 

The Selfish Giant

I love Oscar Wilde and was thrilled to discover that he wrote a children's story. Add in that the Christ child appears in the story and there's a conversion and it's my favorite book ever. (Although, at least in the version that I have, the picture-to-words ratio is a little off.)

Song of the Swallows

I love the missions in California. This book has beautiful illustrations, a mission, and music (not that I can figure out the tune).

(I'm a little uncomfortable with the priests-coming-to-help-the-poor-Indians-who-didn't-know-anything-about-how-to-live narrative, though. It sure as heck also shows up in that Thanksgiving book everyone reads.)

Good King Wenceslas

We sang this a million times at Christmas. What an excellent reminder to share what we have with others. 


Hopkins said...

Next time you come to Cranford, I have to show you the Leo Politi book about the missions. It's beautiful!

Tomie de Paola is THE BEST. ❤️

Emily Hale said...

Oh my gosh--next time we're there, I need to explore your whole library:)

Yes, did you know Paola did some paintings in a church in New England? I want to make a pilgrimage.

Hannah said...

We just ordered some 80+ children's books, based on recommendations, to revamp our library. We got so many de Paola books! They are lovely! I still love the one of St. Christopher...my favorite image is the one on the next page (from the picture you showed...).

Emily Hale said...

Is it the one with the angels?? (I don't have it with me.)

And oh my goodness--80! I'm super jealous! Can't wait to browse through them on our next visit:)

Hannah said...

Yes! The one with the angels and the child blessing Christopher. Stops me every time.

Yes! Browse away! :-) Mostly used books, of course, and they have been fun. We need to get rid of some old ones though...we have quite the pile of books!

Emily Hale said...


It isn't possible to have too many books--just too few bookshelves:)