Welcoming Children into the Story
Two new books help bring the Bible alive.
By: Hallie Riedel
When I was asked to review the two latest children’s books by Angela Burrin, I was excited but a bit cautious. I loved her first Jesus Speaks to Me books (one On My First Communion, the other on the Mass), and looked forward to more insightful exposition of the Catholic faith for children from this experienced teacher.
But book series sometimes suffer from their own success, and later books can end up lacking the vision or freshness of the first.
I am delighted to say that Praying the Rosary with Mary and Jesus Speaks to Me About Easter do not disappoint!
First Steps in Meditation. The rosary book is a departure from the previous two, since it is written not from the perspective of Jesus but of Mary. And what a treasure it is for families praying the rosary! It opens with an introduction that addresses the young readers in Mary’s voice, offering guidance about how to pray the Rosary. Then follows a journey through the life of Jesus as revealed in the mysteries of the Rosary, given from Mary’s perspective.
Each page covers one of the twenty mysteries, starting with the joyful mysteries and going through the luminous, sorrowful, and glorious. The vibrant artwork by Maria Cristina Lo Cascio captures each one with vivid detail that helps you imagine the setting, whether it is her visit with a pregnant Elizabeth in an outdoor courtyard or the angel greeting the women outside Jesus’ empty tomb.
Most valuable of all is the way the narrative draws you into the story of each mystery. Mary “speaks” to the reader as if she is recounting her experience, and it feels as if you are sitting with a beloved relative who is sharing important stories from her life. When you read, “It was a long hard ride for me on the donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem,” you can feel every bump in the road. And when you read, “The soldiers began making fun of Jesus. I knew he didn’t deserve to be treated this way,” you are moved to make the closing prayer your own: “Mary, pray for me that I will never tease or make fun of people.”
That conversational tone gives the book its subtle power. It doesn’t just tell the child about the events, it calls him to imagine himself in the moment as well. What better way to teach children how to reflect on the mysteries of the Rosary! Prayers at the end of each mystery provide a valuable connection between the story they have just shared and concrete action steps or goals. Whether it is asking for help to recognize daily chances to say yes to God, cultivating gratitude for Jesus in the Eucharist, or resolving to go out of their way to help a friend in need, these prayers help children see how to act on their faith.
Praying the Rosary with Mary is a wonderful devotional guide. It helps children unpack the mysteries of the rosary in ways they can understand, and it gives them practice meditating on the life of Jesus, while resolving to put their faith in action. I can’t wait to use it with my own kids, even though they are a bit beyond the seven-to-eleven age bracket given on the back cover!
Forming Young Disciples. Jesus Speaks to Me about Easter could just as easily be titled, Jesus Speaks to Me about New Life. Each chapter traces the early Church as it grows in understanding and living the new life Jesus won for us through his death and resurrection on Easter. It skillfully leads the reader through steps in developing and maturing in the new life they received from God at their baptism.
Written in the “voice” of Jesus, the book cuts right to the chase in the first chapter, asking readers what they picture when they think of Easter. It goes on to explain that eggs, baby chicks, and spring flowers are just symbols of the new life that Easter is all about! Each chapter takes an event in the life of the early Church—starting with the death of Jesus and ending with the shipwreck of St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles—and draws out the theme of new life as it relates to each event.
The prayers at the end of each section help children see that this new life is something they can receive and cultivate. Gently, young readers are led from acknowledging their sins and God’s love (The Death of Jesus), through asking Jesus into their heart (The Resurrection), to learning ways to grow closer to Jesus: for example, daily Scripture reading (On the Road to Emmaus) and a bedtime examination of conscience (The Feast of Pentecost). They’ll also discover practical ways to live out their faith, such as praying for the sick (Signs and Wonders), obedience (Philip#8217;s Ride in a Chariot), and befriending those who are different (Peter’s Amazing Dream). All of this drives home the idea that Jesus wants children to be part of the story themselves!
Both of these books would be a welcome addition to any family library. Each one speaks directly to young readers about complex topics and gives them practical ways to respond to God. What more could a loving parent, grandparent, or caregiver want?
Hallie Riedel lives in Adamstown, Maryland, with her husband and four children.
Praying the Rosary with Mary and Jesus Speaks to Me about Easter, by Angela Burrin, illustrated by Maria Cristina Lo Cascio, are available from online at bookstore.wau.org. To see excerpts, visit our website.