Every Spring, many religion publishers release thoughtful devotions for Lent and brightly illustrated children’s books for Easter and Passover, all but one available now, that center on a fundamental truth of faith: Amid all the struggles and pain and fears in life, have hope because God has opened the pathway to freedom and joy. Christians titles look to the teachings and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and the miracle of resurrection. Books for Jews highlight families gathering at the Seder table to retell the Passover story of escaping bondage. Yet, a sampling of this season's holy day books finds that even the most serious teachings can still be accessible, even delightful.

Canterbury Press publisher Christine Smith extols the charm and wisdom of Anglican priest, literary scholar, and author Rachel Mann's Lenten devotional, A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 40 Days with Jane Austen with commentary on excerpts from Austin's six novels. "The point of Lent is to lead us to the joy of Easter, clearing space and getting distractions out of the way to make us ready for the great feast at the end," says Smith, who lives in the heart of Jane Austin's English village life, "Jane is an ideal companion for Lent. She knows all about human foibles and she points to them with pity, not with blame. We all find ourselves in Austen's world."

Among several Paraclete Press' Lenten titles, Lillian Miao, director and acquisitions editor at Paraclete Press, highlights Women Who Followed Jesus: 40 Devotions on the Journey to Easter, by Dandi Daley Mackall. Ross tells PW, it is "very relevant today to women of all races, backgrounds and status. Women like that were all part of Jesus' life and ministry and yet they have the same ideals, emotions, and confusions we have today. We are right within the pages and we can all feel the connection directly between us and our loving savior."

At Ave Maria Press, Jesus, Guide of My Life by author Joyce Rupp completes a trilogy of Lenten reflections on what Rupp calls in the book "the transformative power of the Gospel" to make believers capable of great love in their everyday lives. Zonderkidz offers ‘Twas the Season of Lent, a picture book devotional with rhyming text for families to read together. The latest in popular author Glenys Nellist's Twas... series, every story of Jesus's words and works has an accompanying prayer. "It continues her themes in all her books — conveying hope and joy," says Zonderkidz senior acquisitions editor Katherine Jacobs.

Kids' Easter Books: Playful and Profound

Zonderkidz is aiming as well at the Easter gift basket market with the newest in the storybook adventure Fiona and the Easter Egg Hunt by New York Times bestselling author/illustrator Richard Cowdrey. Fiona, a real-life Cincinnati Zoo hippo, is the cartoon star of a general market series, undergirded by Christian values, that has sold more than 500,000 copies so far. Jacobs says, "I know her fans will love the book. It's filled with images of animal babies and it shows Fiona's can-do spirit and the power of friendship. It's not a biblical story but it reflects Easter as many people celebrate it." Another Easter season release Zonderkidz markets as a gift book comes from the team of author Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrator Jago, best known for The Jesus Storybook Bible. Their new title, Strong, is an exploration of Psalm 1 using the metaphor of trees around the world to show all kinds of children "finding strength in God's love," says Jacobs.

Love and laughter mix in the fictional lives of Merle and Pearl — known to kids as the Dead Sea Squirrels who were petrified in Jesus's time and restored to modern life in 11 Tyndale Kids' Christian adventure titles. Book 12, The Dead Sea Squirrels: Babbleland Breakout, brings their tales of Jesus' life to a conclusion. The storyline here is their daring rescue of kidnapped friends from a malevolent amusement park owner. The book touches on friendship, forgiveness and sacrificial love leading to the squirrels sharing their memory of witnessing Jesus' Last Supper, death, and resurrection.

Linda Howard, Tyndale House associate publisher for kids and youth, says the "cute and funny" series, begun three years ago, has sold more than 300,000 units so far and author Mike Nawrocki's 13th title will turn to the life of Paul. Howard also mentions an upcoming book with Easter themes in preorder now for an April 9 release, Jesus vs. the Bad Guys: A Story of Love and Forgiveness, a debut book by two dads, Connor Shram and Jared Neusch, that shows the savior's true heroism while somehow mixing in fart cannons and a T-Rex, too. It is intended to launch a new series; Jesus is for Kids. "We loved the idea of bringing humor into how we tell Bible stories. We lose kids because we tell Bible stories over and over the same way. This book shows how we need to look into the hearts of others before we judge them. Jesus didn't fight back with fists and weapons, he fought back with love and forgiveness," Howard says.

It can be a challenge to convey Jesus' path to the cross without frightening young readers. Ross says that Paraclete author Ann Ingalls and illustrator Steliyana Doneva accomplish this with Journey with Jesus: An Easter Story. Their book "says so much about who Jesus is and the context surrounding his passion. It gives a feeling not of despair or hopelessness but conveys that this is not the end of the story."

Todd Hains, associate publisher for Lexham Press, sees a Lent and Easter tie-in with The Ten Commandments for all God's Children by Harold Senkbeil with art by Natasha Kennedy. It's part of Lexham's "Fat Cat" series of titles for children, which play on the idea that the catechism is "fat" with riches for them. "The Ten Commandments can be hard to write about for children because we have to talk about what sin is. The approach here is that each commandment offers a good gift from God. And the wonderful news of Easter is all about the good gift God has offered to you," says Hains.

Jewish Publishers Spotlight Seder stories

Passover books for children often will show kids or creatures having adventures with elements of the Seder, the ritual meal where the story of Exodus is retold with a guidebook of stories and prayers known as a Haggadah and symbolic foods, particularly matzoh. One beloved Seder tradition is that someone hides a small piece of matzoh, called the afikomen, and the Seder is not complete until a child finds it and returns it for a small reward, one that could be a fun book.

In publisher Kar-Ben's title, Aficotective, written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman, when a bear family celebrates the meal, a clever cub uses his toy elephant to sniff out all the ritual foods in a hunt for the missing matzoh. "It's the kind of book that sells well to general market bookstores and libraries," says Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman.

Two other Kar-Ben Passover titles may also have broad appeal, she says. In Tyrannosaurus Tsuris: A Passover Story, written by Susan Tarcov and illustrated by Elissambura [yes, she has only one name] an array of dinos invited to be Seder guests, have worries (tsuris) that the T-Rex might eat them/ So they decide to bring all the essential foods with them, a good deed that also shows strength in community. The power of community across history, faiths, and cultures is also shown in a non-fiction book, Everybody's Book: The Story of the Sarajevo Haggadah by author Linda Leopold Strauss and illustrator Tim Smart. It tells about how a beautifully illustrated ancient Haggadah was rescued from destruction over the centuries by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Another Jewish publisher, Kalaniot, also features an illustrated Seder guidebook for all ages featuring a contemporary family sharing the meal and asking the questions that prompt the Exodus storytelling. Why On This Night? A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration by Rahel Musleah with illustrations by Louise August, (out now) is an updated rerelease of the original edition from 2000. Publisher Lili Rosenstreich says Musleah, brings in traditions of Sephardi Jews (descended from those who fled the Spanish Inquisition) and presents "a lot of new content and an open-minded egalitarian approach."

The value of a multicultural celebration is also key to Kalaniot's title, An Invitation to Passover by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Mariia Kolker. It features a girl who invites an array of friends to her Seder and each brings something from their own culture to contribute.

The same two rabbis are also the authors of a new Haggadah with Behrman House. The Heroes Haggadah: Lead the Way to Freedom. Vicky Weber, a partner in the publishing house, says this for people "who are within the Jewish tradition but not necessarily very religious. It pulls out the modern themes in the liturgy such as sustainability, wholeness, and tolerance. then links each of these to a biblical or a modern person who exemplifies the theme. Through Passover, we look to the past to connect to the present."

Behrman House's children's imprint, Apples and Honey, offers Benjy's Messy Room, by Barbara Diamond Goldin with illustrations by Rita Tan. It zeroes in a rarely illustrated pre-Passover ritual —removing all the crumbs of any leavened food like bread or cake before the matzoh-centric only holiday. Showing his sister how to chase down the crumbs leads to a clean room at the end for Benjy. And new graphic novel by Eric Kimmel with illustrator Charlie Fowkes, Matzah Man to the Rescue stars "a superhero who flies around saving Seders from making mistakes," says Weber.

Intergalactic Afikoman, a press founded by publisher Brianna Caplan Sayres, turns to science fiction for Frankenstein’s’ Matzah by K. Marcus, features a non-binary descendent of the fictional Victor Frankenstein who, “through immigration, intermarriage, and imagination,” is a modern Jewish child trying to win the school science fair," she says.