It is the children’s bookshelf season of bunnies, flowers, and sunshine, with themes of rebirth and joyful gatherings of families and friends during the spring holiday season. This year, when Good Friday and the first Seder overlap on April 15, several religion publishers are emphasizing the divine in new books on Easter and Passover.
Paraclete Press editor Lillian Miao tells PW: “Paraclete children’s books are written with a Christian audience in mind, however, interfaith or secular families could still read them with their children to help them become aware that (in the case of Lent and Easter) there is much more than candies and bunnies.” Laura Alary, author of Make Space for Jesus: Learning About Lent and Easter (Paraclete, Apr. 5, illustrated by Ann Boyajian) says she has no beef with baby rabbits and chocolate eggs, but notes “children deserve more substance" than a purely secular celebration. In her book, she tells PW, “The message of Easter is that death is not the end of the story—for Jesus or for us. The story of Jesus is a particular example of how heartache and sorrow can give way to joy, a pattern written into the natural world, where death—of stars, of trees, of creatures of all sorts—is continually giving way to new life.”
Award-winning author Mitali Perkins and illustrator Khoa Le use the natural world in Bare Tree and Little Wind: A Story for Holy Week (WaterBrook, out now) to retell the Bible from creation through Jesus’s resurrection to “capture the wonder, hope, and triumph of the Easter story,” says Laura Barker, v-p and publisher for WaterBrook and Multnomah.
Tommy Nelson’s DaySpring imprint title Really Woolly: My First Easter by Bonnie Rickner Jensen with illustrations by Julie Sawyer Phillips (out now) doesn’t skimp on lambs and ducklings, yet Jesus isn’t lost amid the flowery scenes. “The text points to Jesus rising from the grave and showing us God’s love,” says v-p and publisher Shannon Marchese. Other titles that keep the focus squarely on Jesus include The Life of Jesus (DK, Apr. 5) by Sally Grindley with illustrator Chris Molan, which offers 26 stories of major events in his life according to the Gospels, and The Real Presence by Claudia Cangilla McAdam with illustrator Gina Capaldi (Ascension, out now), which portrays two cousins in Jesus’s time who see how gifts of wheat and grapes, turned into bread and wine, become sacraments at the Last Supper.
D6 EveryDay Easter Adventure Kit: Zoom! Easter Stories Imagining Adventure, Discovering Truth (Randall House, out now) by Carol Reid and Katie Greenwood, with illustrator Andrea Young, imagines two children being transported into the Bible itself to witness Jesus’s life, crucifixion, and resurrection. The “D6” stands for Deuteronomy 6:5-7, which commands parents to teach their children about the Lord, and the book includes devotions and craft projects. Danny Conn, director of editorial and strategic projects, says their primary goal with such books is to equip parents who “may often feel uncomfortable or unprepared to provide religious instruction.”
Overcoming interfaith challenges for modern families
Religious instruction tied to a theologically significant holy day can be a challenge for families where one parent follows a different faith or none at all. According to Pew Research, 39% of people who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. Some parents deliberately keep their focus on the springtime celebration side at home and leave it to faith-committed grandparents to offer books with more distinctly Christian or Jewish or Muslim views.
Vicki Weber, a partner in Behrman House, a Jewish publisher, says they see “grandparents are a particularly strong group with a real interest in helping their grandchildren get to know something about Judaism. There are families who don’t always know the specifics and these books give them a chance to learn by looking over the shoulders of their kids." One of the four Passover titles from their children’s imprint Apples & Honey is Alone Together on Dan Street (out now) by Erica Lyons, illustrated by Jen Jamieson. It features a girl who brings her Jerusalem neighborhood together during the isolating days of the Covid-19 pandemic by reciting key portions of the Haggadah—the handbook of the Seder meal retelling the story of Exodus—from her apartment balcony.
“We are here to give families a chance to get to know the rhythm of Jewish time —the weekly and seasonal moments," Weber says. Passover, which lasts eight days, is also flexible, she adds: “You can hold your Seder on a different day, not just the first day, and visit non-Jewish Grandma to learn and enjoy her culture.”
Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman says that Passover “speaks to Jewish families as well as to interfaith families wishing to honor both Jewish and Christian.” But, she adds, “The Passover seder has a serious intent rather than a party vibe, with the commandment to tell, in every generation, the story of the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom.” Kar-Ben’s two Passover titles (out now) include Raquela’s Seder by Joel Stein with illustrator Sara Ugolotti, which is set during the Spanish Inquisition when Jews had to hide their faith, and a board book for the littlest ones at the table, Peek-A-Boo Passover by Pamela Mayer with illustrator Viviana Garofoli, explaining all the symbolic foods on the Seder table.
Kalaniot Books, an imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing, focuses “on the cultural components of Judaism rather than the theological background of a holiday,” says publisher Lili Rosenstreich. Their books come with activity guides, in accordance with their mission “to give parents the tools to explore the diverse mosaic of Jewish culture and history,” she says. One of their spring titles, A Persian Passover (out now) by Etan Basseri with illustrations by Rashin Kheiriyeh, features children preparing for Passover in Iran. Rosenstreich says it can prompt blended families “to have a meaningful discussion about the ways in which cultures can combine. In the story, we learn that some of the symbols that have found their way onto a Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern Jewish Seder table, originated from Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Cultures and religions can, and do, coexist—whether in 1950s Iran or within today’s families.”
The holy days of spring are not exclusively Christian or Jewish. This April is the month of prayer and fasting for Muslims observing Ramadan, marking when their prophet first received revelations of the Quran. Underlined, an imprint of Delacorte, offers Salaam, with Love, (out now) by Sara Sharaf Beg. The main character is a young teen girl who creates “a list of personal goals to work on during Ramadan, such as memorizing parts of the Quran. Over the course of the month, she learns not only about the ritualistic aspects of Islam on a deeper level but also how to build an intimate personal connection with Islam’s core values and incorporate them into her own life,” Beg tells PW.