One-Minute Book Reviews

March 30, 2010

John Updike’s ‘Seven Stanzas at Easter’ Answers the Question, How Should Christians Talk About the Resurrection?

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:52 pm
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A novelist makes the case against turning the event into a parable

“Seven Stanzas at Easter.” A poem by John Updike. From Collected Poems: 1953–1993, Knopf, 387 pp., $27.50.

By Janice Harayda

As a young writer, John Updike submitted “Seven Stanzas at Easter” to a religious arts festival at the Lutheran church he attended on the North Shore of Massachusetts. He won the “Best in Show” award for the poem and returned his $100 prize to the congregation.

Fifty years later, “Seven Stanzas at Easter” has become perhaps the most famous Easter poem of the second half of the 20th century. In some ways, its popularity is surprising. The modified-envelope rhymes of the poem are subtle enough that you might miss them. The seven stanzas might invoke any of many Christian associations with the number seven — the days of Holy Week, the gifts of the spirit, the sayings of Christ on the cross — but it isn’t clear which. And all of the 35 lines in the poem deal with a question that can make Christians squeamish: How should we talk about the Resurrection?

Updike speaks directly to the reader from the first stanza onward:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit,
the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

The poem goes on to reject the idea of talking about the Resurrection in literary tropes that mask or deny the corporal realities of the Crucifixion:

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
making of the event a parable …

“Seven Stanzas at Easter” is about the body of Christ in more than one sense, and its theme appears unambiguous: In for a dime, in for a dollar; if you talk about the Resurrection, you can’t turn it into a Jungian projection of a collective unconscious. But it’s a mistake to read “Seven Stanzas at Easter” a tract. The poem doesn’t weigh the historical or theological evidence for or against the Resurrection. It less about what happened or didn’t happen at the tomb than about how to talk about it. And its message is more equivocal than Job’s “I know that my redeemer liveth.”

Updike tips his hand with the “if” in his first line: “Make no mistake: if He rose at all.” That “if” modifies all that follows and turns the poem into a variation on Pascal’s wager, the idea that although the existence of God can’t be proved, a person should live as though it could be, because that position has all the advantages. Updike tells us to avoid sanitizing the Resurrection for our own comfort or because we can’t otherwise conceive of it. To mythologize the event, he warns, is to being “awakened in one unthinkable hour” and find that “we are embarrassed / by the miracle, / and crushed by remonstrance.”

In the first quotation above, the line beginning “the amino acids” should be indented six spaces, which this template won’t allow. The full text of “Seven Stanzas at Easter” appears on the site for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, where some lines break in different places than they do in Collected Poems. The Lutheran recounts how Updike submitted to the poem to the Religious Arts Festival at Clifton Lutheran Church in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 6, 2010

Hare-Brained Books About Bunnies — Beware of Rip-Offs of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and Other Classics

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:18 am
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Bad bunny books and some recommended substitutions for the Easter basket

If you’re looking good books about bunnies, beware of the words “based on.” That phrase on a cover is usually a tip-off that you aren’t getting the original text, pictures or both. And some books omit even that red flag. Two examples are Peter Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95) and The Velveteen Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95), which have the words of Beatrix Potter and Margery Williams but pictures far inferior to those in the best-known editions of their books. Publishers can do this because The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Velveteen Rabbit are out of copyright in the U.S. (though not necessarily in all other countries). Some knock-offs of these classics cost as much as books with the original text and art.

So why not go for the real thing? Or consider any of the many other good books about rabbits. They include Pat the Bunny (Golden Books, $9.99, ages 1–3), by Dorothy Kunhardt; The Runaway Bunny (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 2–5), by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd; and Bunny Cakes and Bunny Money (Picture Puffins, $5.99 each, ages 3–5), by Rosemary Wells or other titles in Wells’s hilarious “Max and Ruby” series about a brother and sister rabbit.

For ages 6 and up, consider the chapter-books about Bunnicula the “vampire rabbit” (well, it does drain juice from vegetables), by James Howe and Deborah Howe, illustrated Alan Daniel. The titles in this comic mystery series may tell you all you need to know: Bunnicula, Bunnicula Strikes Again!, Howliday Inn, Return to Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight (Aladdin, $4.99–$5.99 each).

This post first appeared in slightly different form in 2007. You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 23, 2008

Easter at Cawdor Kirk – Quote of the Day From Liza Campbell’s ‘A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth’s Castle’

Filed under: Memoirs,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:23 pm
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Liza Campbell, daughter of the 25th Thane of Cawdor, writes of living with the ghosts of Banquo and others in her engaging memoir A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth’s Castle (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $24.95) www.thomasdunnebooks.com. In this passage she describes attending Sunday services at Cawdor Kirk, a stone church built by the 12th Thane, with her family:

“The minister’s sermon was as unedited as it was stern, typically commencing, ‘This week I was inspired to put pen to paper on the subject of babbling fools …’ followed by a pause as he glowered at us all over the top of his spectacles. A reading would follow that was most likely about Lot’s wife, or Job and his malignant ulcers. The Presbyterian God was a dour one who must have thought up the rainbows while he had a temperature and was not feeling quite himself. The songs we sang were all willfully obscure works from forgotten backwaters of the hymn book….

“In keeping with Presbyterian tradition, communion was taken once a year only, at Easter, when we could look forward to a hunk of real bread and some port. The service would finish off with the congregation stumbling through that cheery foot-tapper ‘By the Light of burrrning Martyrs, Christ thy bloody steps we trace’, with my father singing it in a basso profundo that sounded like heavy furniture being dragged across the floor. In a pew at right angles to ours, Mrs. King from the laundry at Cawdor would make no effort to sing. Ever. She would wave to us gaily while popping a succession of hard-boiled sweets into her mouth and spend the rest of her time flattening out and folding up the cellophane wrappers – as if she could never fully relax from her laundress’s habits.”

Some of my ancestors are buried in the kirkyard of Cawdor Kirk, shown in a picture that does not come from A Charmed Life. Campbell was the last person born at Cawdor Castle.

© 2008 Janice Harayda (text and church photo). All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

March 22, 2008

Tasha Tudor’s Classic Easter Story About a Young Girl’s Holiday Dream

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:17 am
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[This is a repost of a 2007 post.]

A young girl dreams of a magical journey on the back of a fawn in a picture book that’s been a holiday favorite for more than 60 years

A Tale for Easter. By Tasha Tudor. Aladdin, 32 pp., $5.99, paperback. Ages 4–8.

By Janice Harayda

This classic picture book is a kind of Easter counterpart to The Polar Express, though it has a smaller format than Chris Van Allsburg’s Christmas fable. Generations preschoolers and other young children have delighted in Tasha Tudor’s sentimental tale of a girl who, on the night before the holiday, dreams of taking a magical journey on the back of a “wee fawn” that shows her “rabbits smoothing their sleek coats,” lambs “in fields of buttercups” and other gentle creatures of the season.

A two-time Caldecott Honor artist, Tudor uses second-person narration and soft watercolors to show Easter through the eyes of girl who lived at around the time of the Civil War, to judge by her Little Women-ish dresses and bonnet. Tudor sets the tone early: “You never can tell what might happen on Easter. You’re not always sure when it is coming, even though you go to Sunday school … it is only when Good Friday comes, and you have hot cross buns for tea that you know for certain Easter will be the day after tomorrow.” And while a story this sweet won’t appeal to everybody, Tudor has following among all ages, including many adults. And A Tale for Easter is so widely available that you may be able to find in bookstores and libraries at the last minute.

Recommended if … you’re looking for a picture book that evokes the magic of a season of rebirth without getting into Christian theology. A Tale for Easter may especially appeal to a child who sees herself as a “girly-girl.”

Published: 1941 (first edition), January 2004 (Aladdin paperback reprint).

A new review of a book or books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. One-Minute Book Reviews is a noncommercial site that does not accept advertising or free books or promotional materials from publishers and provides an independent evaluation of books by an award-winning critic.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 6, 2007

Tasha Tudor’s Children’s Classic, ‘A Tale for Easter’

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:15 pm
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A young girl dreams of a magical journey on the back of a fawn in a picture book that’s been a holiday favorite for more than 60 years

A Tale for Easter. By Tasha Tudor. Aladdin, 32 pp., $5.99, paperback. Ages 4–8.

By Janice Harayda

This classic picture book is a kind of Easter counterpart to The Polar Express, though it has a smaller format than Chris Van Allsburg’s Christmas fable. Generations preschoolers and other young children have delighted in Tasha Tudor’s sentimental tale of a girl who, on the night before the holiday, dreams of taking a magical journey on the back of a “wee fawn” that shows her “rabbits smoothing their sleek coats,” lambs “in fields of buttercups” and other gentle creatures of the season.

A two-time Caldecott Honor artist, Tudor uses second-person narration and soft watercolors to show Easter through the eyes of girl who lived at around the time of the Civil War, to judge by her Little Women-ish dresses and bonnet. Tudor sets the tone early: “You never can tell what might happen on Easter. You’re not always sure when it is coming, even though you go to Sunday school … it is only when Good Friday comes, and you have hot cross buns for tea that you know for certain Easter will be the day after tomorrow.” And while a story this sweet won’t appeal to everybody, Tudor has following among all ages, including many adults. And A Tale for Easter is so widely available that you may be able to find in bookstores and libraries at the last minute.

Recommended if … you’re looking for a picture book that evokes the magic of a season of rebirth without getting into Christian theology. A Tale for Easter may especially appeal to a child who sees herself as a “girly-girl.”

Published: 1941 (first edition), January 2004 (Aladdin paperback reprint).

Furthermore: You may also want to read the post entitled “The Best Versions of the Easter Story for Children” (March 17), which deals with picture books about the Resurrection and related events. Click on the listing for the post under “Top Posts” at right. This post has ranked among the five most popular on One-Minute Book Reviews almost every day since it appeared.

A new review of a book or books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. One-Minute Book Reviews is a noncommercial site that does not accept advertising or free books or promotional materials from publishers and provides an independent evaluation of books by an award-winning critic.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 5, 2007

Robert Cording’s ‘Common Life’: Poems for Easter and Beyond

A distinguished poet explores “possible answers to unanswerable questions”

Common Life: Poems. By Robert Cording. CavanKerry, 105 pp., $16, paperback. [Note: The template for this site does not allow for the correct indentation of the lines quoted from "Pigeon Man."]

By Janice Harayda

One of the poems in the Robert Cording’s elegant Common Life tells of a man who, every Easter, would bring a truck full of caged pigeons to a town green, then release them and drive home to await the return of his flock. “The pigeon man” put on his display for residents who felt an odd mixture of spirits:

High on resurrection hymns, yet dampened by
Nagging reminders – Jim’s young wife dying of cancer

And their two boys who would be
Motherless in a month; a divorce ot two members
Loved by everyone; a suicide bombing in Jerusalem;
And soldiers occupying the church at Bethlehem.

“Pigeon Man” adds that though the release of the birds took only a moment, the townspeople looked forward

To the pigeons which must have suggested,
Whether we believed or not, and even if we knew
The movement in the opposite direction was far
More common, that grief could suddenly turn to grace.

That flash of grace amid tragedy is typical of the poems in Common Life, all rooted in the epigraph from Psalm 37:7: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” A professor of English at Holy Cross, Cording has said that he explores “possible answers to unanswerable questions.” And the 43 poems in Common Life radiate a sense of the mysteries of life that, like those of the rosary, can be joyful or sorrowful.

Some of the most memorable poems have their roots in practices you might find in Ripley’s Believe It or Not but that are transmuted in the book into something higher. Cording meditates on a petrified fetus that lived for 15 years in a Brazilian widow’s uterus, the 19th century tradition of photographing the dead and a man who wanted to kill himself when doctors restored his sight after a lifetime of blindness, an event that might have overjoyed others:

But now the most familiar objects lurch at him,
Irrationally, maddeningly.
They bear so little resemblance to his blind conception
Of them, the man actually wishes to be blind again …

Several poems besides “Pigeon Man” relate directly to Easter, including “Lenten Stanzas” and the title poem, which begins:

Like Christ on the Emmaus road concealed
From his disciples by his ordinariness,
The commonplace is sometimes hardest to see –

Yet if “the commonplace is sometimes hardest to see,” Cording evokes it with exceptional skill and mastery of form (which includes an occasional rhyme). He opens with “A Prayer to Adam,” a fine example of sprung rhythm and its strongly accented first syllables. And in “Rosary Bead, Netherlands, c. 1500” he recalls a medieval rosary in five ten-line stanzas that echo the form of the rosary itself.

For all their sacred imagery, the poems in Common Life never read like tracts or veiled exercises in proselytizing. They are poems first and “religious poems” second. Cording has said that he tells his students that the readers of a poem must feel that they are “making contact with a real human being, not simply with arguments and opinions.” In this collection, readers make that connection on every page.

Best line: Many. Here’s one from “Skellig Michael,” about a visit to a monastic ruin: “ … More than half / My life already over, I have come to know lately / How little I know, and how even that gets in my way, / My mind trafficking in perfectly managed confusions, / In creating comfort and security where neither truly exist.”

Worst line: “Much Laughter” is a good poem about the melancholy Samuel Johnson. But to say that Johnson entrusted Hester Thrale with “with a padlock/ And chain to restrain his fits when the time came” may be an oversimplification. Some scholars would argue that he had sexual reasons for doing this.

Published: March 2006

Furthermore: Cording’s poems have appeared in magazines that include the Nation, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, American Scholar, The New Yorker. Among those in Common Life, “Parable of the Moth” appeared in Best American Spiritual Writing 2004 (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) and “Advent Stanzas” in Best American Spiritual Writing 2005 (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

Links: www.cavankerrypress.org

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 1, 2007

Who Framed Peter Rabbit? All the Publishers Who Bring You Cheesy Knock-Offs

Bad bunny books and some recommended substitutions for the Easter basket

If you’re looking good books about bunnies, beware of the words “based on.” That phrase on a cover is usually a tip-off that you aren’t getting the original text, pictures or both. And some books omit even that red flag. Two examples are Peter Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95) and The Velveteen Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95), which have the words of Beatrix Potter and Margery Williams but pictures far inferior to those in the best-known editions of their books. Publishers can do this because The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Velveteen Rabbit are out of copyright in the U.S. (though not necessarily in all other countries). Some knock-offs of these classics cost as much as books with the original text and art.

So why not go for the real thing? Or consider any of the many other good books about rabbits. They include Pat the Bunny (Golden Books, $9.99, ages 1–3) by Dorothy Kunhardt; The Runaway Bunny (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 2–5), by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd; and Bunny Cakes and Bunny Money (Picture Puffins, $5.99 each, ages 3–5), by Rosemary Wells www.rosemarywells.com, or other titles in Wells’s hilarious “Max and Ruby” series about a brother and sister rabbit. For ages 6 and up, consider the chapter-books about Bunnicula the “vampire rabbit” (well, it does drain juice from vegetables), by James Howe and Deborah Howe, illustrated Alan Daniel. The titles in this comic mystery series may tell you all you need to know: Bunnicula, Bunnicula Strikes Again!, Howliday Inn, Return to Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight (Aladdin, $4.99–$5.99 each).

A review of the best children’s versions of the Easter story appeared on this site on March 17, 2007. You can find it archived with the March posts and under “Children’s Books” if this direct link doesn’t work: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/17/the-best-versions-of-the-easter-story-for-children/

Links: Search the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia www.wikipedia.org for the terms “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “Pat the Bunny” and “The Runaway Bunny” for more information about these books and pictures of the original illustrations. Search for “Bunnicula” to learn more about that series, which has been adapted for television.

[Update posted 4/04/04: If you are looking for pictures of rabbits that your child can color, click on the link to Rosemary Wells's Web site listed above. Her site has lively pictures of the rabbits Max and Ruby that you can download.]

“Snap” Preview is enabled on One-Minute Book Reviews. This means that if you just put your cursor on the link to Rosemary Wells’s site, you can see the cover of one of her “Max and Ruby” books. You don’t have to click on the link and go to her site. Try it with this link to see another photo of me and of the covers of my novels www.janiceharayda.com.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 17, 2007

The Best Versions of the Easter Story for Children

Filed under: Children's Books,Religion — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:37 am
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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.

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