Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How To Live Lent and Easter With Kids...and Love It

Read to Your Bunny
All of us love our children more than anything in the world. In their first years we feed them so they grow. We bring them to the doctor so they are healthy. We strap them in car seats so they are safe.
    But the most important thing in the first years of life is the growth of the mind and spirit. This is when a child learns to love and trust, to speak and listen.
    After a child turns two years old, these things are very difficult to learn or teach ever again. Trusting, singing, laughing, and language are the most important things in a young child’s life.
    And so they must come first for mothers and fathers, too, because we can never have those years over again.
    Every day, make a quiet, restful place for twenty minutes. Put your child in your lap and read a book aloud. In the pages of the book you will find a tiny vacation of privacy and intense love. It costs nothing but twenty minutes and a library card.
    Reading to your little one is just like putting gold coins in the bank. It will pay you back tenfold. Your daughter will learn, and imagine, and be strong in herself. Your son will thrive, and give your love back forever.

I first came across this lovely piece of advice almost fifteen years ago, then posted it in the children’s corner of our Pauline Books & Media (PBM) Center in San Francisco. Here and there I noticed people stop to take it in. Apparently Rosemary’s nudge to get a library card didn’t deter them from buying a book. Whether you buy or borrow, your role as parents (and grandparents!) in a child’s early learning, is indispensable especially when a book about God’s love for us is included in the cuddling.

That story is easy to tell at Christmas. But during Lent? How do you get past the horror of the Crucifixion? Sometimes that will depend on what images kids have already been exposed to in their churches and homes or what movies they’ve seen, or what they’ve encountered through their older siblings. In any case, you’ll want to reassure very young children that nobody will do that to them, so that they feel safe.

How do you explain the tragedy of sin to a little person, who has no concept of it yet? Before reading, you may find it helpful to demonstrate to pre-schoolers the separation that sin causes, by coaxing them to try and jump to you from an unreachable distance. Since only the cross can span that distance, the book you’re about to read to them will tell them how Jesus used the cross to do just that. Or you can let the story say whatever it does without the prep work.

1.    Keep it simple. For infants and toddlers, once you find an appropriate book, it will be enough to look at the pictures together, reading a few words here and there to tell the basic story. Pre-schoolers will be able to understand more and will eventually want to “read” you the story in their own words. One of the best books I’ve ever seen for this purpose is PBM’s The Road to Easter Day. Pain in the illustrations is muted, and joyful colors are vibrant. Every page introduces the next part of the narrative, from Palm Sunday to Jesus’ appearance on the way to Emmaus, as another step “along the road, along the road, the road to Easter day,” conveying the sense that any sadness, while real, is not the end of the story.

2.    Combine the story with an easy activity or craft. For older kids, The Stations of the Cross coloring and activity book or My First Easter Sticker Book does the trick. The sticker book also simply and happily announces that, “Because Jesus loves us and died for our sins, heaven is open to all of us!”

One of the best activity books around, though, is The Lent-Easter Book —182 pages of stories, games, puzzles, recipes, and crafts that assist parents or teachers in passing on the season’s Catholic traditions. This spiral-bound treasury also suggests ideas on holding faith conversations with five- to nine-year-olds and with ten- to fourteen-year-olds.

3.    Allow books to teach our little ones to pray and live justly. The cross, backlit by the resurrection, casts its shadow across all of Lent. During this reflective time, even children can find in the cross their own reasons for growing in prayer, virtue, and awareness of others’ needs. Books can help them do that.

Primary-age kids are keenly sensitive to the pain of Jesus, especially when they understand how he suffered to forgive and heal them and the whole world of their sins and the sins of others. With its simple, colorful pictures, I Pray the Stations of the Cross stirs their empathy for Jesus’ redemptive suffering and connects that empathy with compassion for others. The Stations of the Cross in My Pocket is a pocket-size version of almost exactly the same text, with a more ornate art style.

Children’s Way of the Cross cleverly leads intermediate readers to imagine themselves right there with Jesus, then to listen to him by means of a passage from the Bible, then finally to respond to his love with a sentence from a Psalm. Expressive pen and water color renderings bring the Via crucis to life.

Of course, Lenten prayer would not be complete without the celebration of the sacraments. The Sacrament of Reconciliation in My Pocket is a pocket-size guide to celebrating the rite and includes an explanation of Reconciliation, a simple examen of conscience on the Ten Commandments, prayers, and a short glossary.

4. Fun historical fiction for kids, ages 6-9, weaves together time travel, biblical culture, and faith values in Discovery at Dawn, the latest in a series on the life of Jesus. Three modern-day siblings are transported back into time, meet the risen Jesus, and discover the ultimate meaning of giving up something for others.

If you need more resources go to You'll find descriptions of PBM titles for kids, book guides, interviews with authors and illustrators, plus spiritual gems for parents and educators. Take a peek, too, behind the scenes at what goes into our kids' books.

For ways to share your finds with other families, look into J-Club, the only Catholic book fair for schools and religious education programs, that couples as a fundraiser.

Looking for something different? Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions asserts, “The Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today” (n. 4). Yet blaming Jews for Jesus’ death persists among Christians. So PBM offers My Jewish Friend (on sale until Easter for $2.95. Regularly $14.95). It’s a fictional account of two boys, one Catholic and the other Jewish, who explain their beliefs and rituals to each other, and so grow in their own faith and in mutual respect. The narrative is vividly illustrated and masterfully interwoven with information about both Catholicism and Judaism.

Had we not sinned, Jesus would not have died to forgive us. Even so, we could have sinned from our first breath until our last, and still we would not have caused Christ’s death. Love did that. His love. Christ “loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). All the books we’ve talked about here say that very thing in one way or another. There could be no greater story to read to your little Easter bunny.

Photo: Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP
Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP, originally from San Francisco, has been a Pauline evangelizer since 1973 and has worked in various phases of the mission of the Daughters of St. Paul. Since attending the nine-month Charism Course in Rome in 2012-2013, she is now based in Boston, where she serves on the provincial Cooperator Team in the area of ongoing formation.

1 comment:

Maryann Toth said...

Love this post, Sr. With 4 small grandchildren, you have given me some wonderful ideas, especially how to explain Lent and our Lord's crucifixion along with beautiful resources. I will be sure to use them. God bless you during this Lenten season.