Here are three favorite Easter books to read and look at with your kids by famous storytellers/illustrators Patricia Polacco, Tomie dePaola and Caryll Houselander.
Chicken Sunday (1992) is perhaps the most beautiful book Patricia Polacco has ever written and illustrated. Fiction could never produce a more amazing multi-cultural tale than this true story from the author’s own childhood. A young girl, who has lost her Russian “babushka”, finds a new grandmother in Miss Eula, Black Baptist grandmother of neighbor boys Stewart and Winston. Miss Eula sings in her church choir with a voice like “rolling thunder and sweet rain” and showers her love on the three children with fried-chicken Sunday dinners. The art of making pysanki eggs, taught to the Russian girl by her deceased babushka, makes it possible for the three children to make friends with hatmaker Mr. Kodinski, a lonely Russian Jew and concentration camp survivor. The children succeed in making enough money to fulfill Miss Eula her heart’s desire, a beautiful Easter bonnet from Mr. Kodinski’s store. Chicken Sunday is a feast for the eye. The three different cultures of the story are presented in Polacco’s detailed drawings of interiors such as Miss Eula’s dining room, the girl’s Russian Orthodox kitchen, the Jewish hat shop and the Black Baptist church. Polacco is a master of drawing character portraits. Miss Eula, Mr. Kodinski and the three children almost jump from the page with life. The completed basket of colorful Ukrainian pysanki eggs in their traditional geometric designs forms the glorious centerpiece of the book.
Pysanki eggs also feature in Rechenka’s Eggs (1988), a legendary tale from Russia. The heroine of this story is another babushka, a master pysanki artist who spends all year painting beautiful eggs, which she takes to the city of Movska for the annual Easter festival competition. She has won first prize every year until the year of this story. Living alone in her cottage, Babushka sees miracles in the good things that come to her such as a wounded goose she is nursing back to health during the winter months. When the recovering bird accidentally destroys the pysanki eggs babushka has worked on all winter, the old woman is compensated for her charity by a true miracle: Rechenka, the goose, begins to lay one beautifully colored pysanki egg every day, so that by the time the Easter festival comes around Babushka has enough eggs to win first prize again. In this book , Polacco uses two distinct but equally beautiful Ukrainian Easter egg designs, traditional patterns representing Babushka’s eggs and a different but equally intriguing pattern representing the miraculous goose eggs. Lavishly decorated Russian onion dome churches, flowery women’s clothing and beautifully decorated folk interiors make this book as visually beautiful as all of Polacco’s work.
Petook (1988) is a classic Easter book written by Caryll Houselander and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. Petook is a rooster who witnesses the Passion of Christ from his barnyard outside of Jerusalem. The story begins with the young boy Jesus paying a visit to Petook’s wife, the humble hen Martha and her chicks, and ends with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection observed from afar by the aging rooster. The quiet simplicity of dePaola’s drawings reinforces the mystical quality of Houselander’s narrative, which follows the ancient tradition of telling spiritual events in images taken from nature. The climax of the book, the Resurrection, coincides with the hatching of one of Petook’s children, a golden chick drawn large against the distant background of the empty tomb of Christ, its opening radiating light.
With Easter still a month away, you have enough time to obtain these wonderful books and to read them to your children, not only once but over and over again. You may find that young kids are not the only ones fascinated by these tales of Easter.
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