Picture books that use the King James Version to tell the Easter story
[The following review has been expanded since the original post. The added material appears in square brackets like those of this note. It includes an Easter book for ages 1-to-3 with African-American characters. I have also added comments on Elizabeth Winthrop’s He Is Risen in the “Furthermore” section at the end. The review below deals only with books that explain the religious meaning of Easter to children. You can also find good, brief versions of the Easter story that are suitable for young children in many general Bible story books that have stories from both the Old and New Testaments. You may also want to read the April 1, 2007, post on this site about books about rabbits (“Who Framed Peter Rabbit?”) often given as Easter gifts www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/01/.}
Easter: The King James Version – With Pictures. By Jan Pienkowski. Knopf, standard edition, varied prices. Ages 8 and up. Easter – Mini Edition. By Jan Pienkowski, Knopf mini edition, varied prices. Ages 4–8. [See further discussion of ages below.]
Easter. By Fiona French, editor. HarperCollins edition [Excerpts from King James Version], 32 pp., $16.95. Ages 8 and up [ages for 4 and up for reading aloud]. Ignatius Press edition of the same book [Excerpts from Revised Standard Version], 32 pp., $16.95. [Ages 8 and up, ages 4 and up for reading aloud.]
[Easter. By Miriam Nerlove. Whitman, 24 pp., $4.95, paperback. Ages 1 to 3.]
By Janice Harayda
How could perhaps the best picture book version of the Easter story have gone of print? Back in 1989, the Polish-born artist Jan Pienkowski won raves for his Easter, a Passion narrative told through excerpts from the King James Version and haunting silhouettes set against a field of vibrant color and symbols of rebirth. A reviewer for School Library Journal wrote:
“Dazzling beauty and poignant emotion suffuse these illustrations, which give an intensely personal interpretation of the King James version of the Easter gospels … Jesus’s slender, often hunched figure aches with human suffering.”
Pienkowski’s use of black silhouettes gave his pictures an advantage over the bloodier images of some other artists: They had a drama appropriate to the story but lacked the elements that could frighten children. They were also were among the best work of an illustrator who won the Kate Greenaway Medal for Haunted House and The Kingdom Under the Sea. And while it’s disheartening that both editions of Easter have gone out of print. Pienkowski is popular enough that many libraries have his books. If yours doesn’t have this one, you may be able to find it through an online bookseller or eBay.
You may also want to look for Fiona French’s Easter, shown at right, a 2002 picture book that remains in print. I haven’t seen it, but School Library Journal said: “Spectacular spreads inspired by the stained-glass windows of English cathedrals are the focal point of this abbreviated version of Jesus’s last days. Swirling scenes in incandescent jewel tones and bold black lines illustrate excerpts from the King James Version of the Bible, which are selected highlights rather than a continuous narrative.” [I’ve seen this book since the original post and agree with School Library Journal. This beautiful book is by far the best version of the Easter story for preschoolers and young school-age children that is widely available in stores and online. But the Ignatius Press edition uses excerpts from the Revised Standard Version instead of the KJV excerpts found in the earlier edition published by HarperCollins. The language of the RSV is more contemporary than that of the KJV, so it may be easier for some children to understand. And because the RSV is the the version used in most Protestant churches in the U.S., the language may also be more familiar to many children.)
Though less well-known than many American authors, French is one of England’s finest picture-book artists. She won the Kate Greenaway award for her Snow White in New York among many other honors.
[Miriam Nerlove’s Easter differs in several ways from the books of Pienkowski and French. Hers is a book for toddlers and younger preschoolers, not the older preschoolers and young school-age children for whom the other books are intended. It does not focus tightly on the last days and Resurrection of Jesus, events mentioned on only four of its 24 pages. Instead it shows a modern black family dyeing eggs, spotting a bunny, going to church, and enjoying a holiday dinner. And unlike the other two authors, Nerlove tells her story through simple — and at times strained — rhymes and muted watercolors that lack the depth the art in the other books. So her Easter is likely to appeal most to families who are more interested in encouraging very young children get excited about fun aspects of the holiday, such as the arrival of “the Easter bunny,” than in teaching them about its religious significance.]
The usual warning applies to all these books: Seasonal books may sell out before a holiday. Look into this one now want to your child to read about something other than jolly bunnies this Easter.
Age ranges. The publishers recommend the HarperCollins edition of French’s book and the Pienkowski standard edition for about ages 8 and up because of their King James texts. But because these are picture books, they may not appeal to strong chapter-book readers. Unless I knew a child’s reading level well, I might get them for ages 4–7 and help them with the text or let them grow into them. Nerlove’s book is book is for younger children, such as those who enjoy Goodnight Moon.
[Furthermore: Elizabeth Winthrop has written another KJV-based Easter story, He Is Risen: The Easter Story (Holiday House, $17.95), illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak. This book has much more text on each page than the other books in this review and illustrations that, although of high quality, are graphic. (The Easter lily on the cover is somewhat misleading about what’s inside.) The scenes of Jesus’s crucifixion may be the bloodiest in any picture book version of the Easter story. On one two-page spread, Jesus sprawls on the ground in a loincloth in obvious pain or sorrow with blood flowing from a nail the size of a railrod spike through his wrist. The crucifixion scene on the spread that follows it is no less dramatic. The illustrations on these pages are perhaps more realistic and historically accurate than those in other books. But they are so chilling and the text is so dense, this book would not suit most preschoolers and many young school-age children. He Is Risen is best for ages 9 and up, particularly those who have an understanding of what “crucifixion” means. The problem is that because this book has a picture book format, it may not appeal to 9-year-olds who prefer chapter books. So the audience is hard to define, which is why it doesn’t appear on the “best books” list.]
Links: Jan Pienkowski’s http://www.janpienkowski.com/
has information about other books but not Easter. Go to www.ignatius.com and search for “Fiona French” for more on her Easter. The Ignatius site also has information on the sequel to Easter, Bethlehem, which tells the Christmas story partly through excerpts from the Revised Standard Version and art inspired by stained glass windows in English cathedrals. To learn about Miriam Nerlove’s Easter, go to www.awhitmanco.com and click on “Holiday Books,” then search for “Easter.”
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
A new review of one or more books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these reviews. This site does not acept free books from publishers or others, and all reviews are independent evaluations by Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com, an award-winning critic and former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.