Saint Francis

saint francisSt Francis
Brian Wildsmith
Eerdmans, 1995

It’s still Epiphany for two more weeks, and amidst this busy season of imperceptibly lengthening days, resuming schoolwork and activities, and planning for the coming year, I like to pull out books that remind us all of the light that has dawned and that we bear into our mundane, messy, daily lives. My daughter’s second grade class is reading biographies right now, and I shamelessly used her weekly homework assignment as an excuse to pass her a library copy of St. Francis, because he was one of the great light-bearers of our Christian family.

We’ve reviewed no less than three books based on Saint Francis’ Canticle of Brother Sun, so no surprise that Haley and I are attracted to his theology of radical gratitude and his intense experience of God’s rich presence in his creation. But the fact remains: the man is a medieval saint, and with that comes some territory that most Protestants shy away from — miracle stories, stigmata, and the like. This is the first picture biography of St Francis that I’ve come across that tells those episodes (the taming of the wolf of Gubbio and the reception of the stigmata) in a matter-of-fact way, of a piece with the life of a man who so identified with Christ that he is no longer at war with creation and is able to receive the scars that come as a result.

In fact, the real joy of this book is in the simplicity of its telling, accompanied by Wildsmith’s lavish, light-soaked illustrations. (Those of you who have read Exodus and Joseph know what I mean.) The sentences are short, declarative, straightforward. But the light and joy that shines through is unmistakeable. It’s the most appropriate possible telling for a man who chose simplicity, spoke and lived without elegance, and whose life still shines with holy glory.

Let Us Keep the Feast

Let Us Keep the FeastLet Us Keep the Feast
Jessica Snell, editor
Doulos Resources, 2014

Our favorite topic to write about here at Aslan’s Library, right after theological kidlit and reading with children, is celebrating the church year.  So I’m incredibly excited to share a new resource for you: Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home.  If you have any interest at all in learning about the celebrations of the church calendar and if you want to create a deeper sense of seasonal liturgy in your home, this is the book for you!

Let Us Keep the Feast, published by Doulos Resources, was actually written in four installments that were made available last year.  This newest edition contains each of those shorter books and has information about each season of the year from Advent (the first season of the Christian calendar) to Christ the King (the last Sunday in the Christian year).  The sections are well researched and written by a variety of people, but each contains similar components.  An introduction gives background about the season, both historic and theological.  Old, new, and global traditions for the season and any special days within the season are discussed.  Traditions involving food, children, crafting, and community engagement are all shared – and thankfully, the suggestions manage to be thorough without feeling burdensome.  Lastly, the resources section lists ideas for Scripture readings, songs, prayers, and other readings that correlate with the season.

I own the kindle versions of a couple of the season-specific Let Us Keep the Feast editions and if you’re short on cash or just not sure if this book is up your alley that format is a good option.  However, I think this book is one that probably presents itself better in print, so if you’re not a die hard kindle user then I’d encourage purchasing the paper copy.  Best of all, if you do buy the print copy you can actually get the kindle version for free – a nice win-win solution to my own ongoing debate about ebook vs old fashioned paper.

Advent is a time when, after a long season of Ordinary Time, many of us gear up for a long stretch of intentionally incorporating the church year into our family life.  I have a number of books that I reference in my quest to bring the Christian seasons to life in my home, but this is my new favorite.  Run out to get your own copy today and you’ll be ready for an end-of-year Christ the King celebration in a few weeks just before launching into Advent!

We Three Kings

We Three Kings
Gennady Spirin
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007

As Sarah wrote last week, Epiphany is the season between Christmas and Lent in which Christians through the ages have traditionally pondered Christ’s identity and mission.  So, while I did intend to review this particular book two weeks ago (oops), I gave myself permission to go ahead and review it today because because Epiphany does officially last for another entire month!

So as I was saying… Epiphany is a season in which we are invited to think deeply about Jesus’ identity and mission.  The story of the wise men is one of the traditional texts used as a launching pad for those themes.  And no wonder!  From the wise men, who were certainly Gentiles and probably Arabs, we learn that the good news is for all people everywhere.  From the gifts that they offered to the Christ child, we catch a glimpse of who Jesus is and what the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation is.

We Three Kings is the first true Epiphany book that we’ve shared here on the blog, and let me just say how happy I was to find one that I really like!  I am rather particular about not wanting authors to add non-Biblical details when they write about Biblical stories, and oh boy, books about Epiphany are often driven by such details.  You can imagine my delight when I came across Gennady Spirin’s take on the classic Epiphany carol.  It combines beautiful illustrations with familiar text that actually does a pretty good job of explaining, but not going beyond, the account of the wise men from Matthew 2.  The artwork is perfect for the carol’s text, and I love how the verses explain the meaning of the wise men’s gifts (gold points to Christ’s kingship, frankincense to his deity, and myrrh to his coming sacrificial death).  The last verse, displayed on the final pages of the book, is a fantastic bridge between Christmas and Easter.  There is much here to be pondered, discussed, and just plain enjoyed.

Once upon a time I didn’t like books based on hymn lyrics, but after finding several outstanding examples of them I now deeply appreciate them.  They’re fun to sing together, they give the artwork a chance to really shine, and often there is a richness of language and message that’s absent in other author-created books.  I love that this one includes the refrain after every verse instead of just once; we all know that little kids love repetition and I found that the chorus pages were my daughter’s favorites.  Yes, the angel illustrations (as usual) drive me batty, but you can’t have it all, right?  If you’re weary of Epiphany tales that focus too much on stars or camels, I encourage you to check out We Three Kings.