Book Review: Introducing children to the family of the Church
Saintly Rhymes for Modern Times, written and illustrated by Meghan Bausch, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 40pp, £12.98 hardback, reviewed by Sue Butcher.
This is a delightful book, designed for young children and beautifully laid out. There are sixteen short poems covering the lives of nineteen holy men, women and children. Every poem is accompanied by a charming illustration, and the visual impact of the book is one of its strengths. Each portrait of a Saint, Blessed or Venerable has been created by a combination of drawing and collage and superimposed on a photographic background. For example, the three children of Fatima look as though their clothes have been cut out of fabric, and they are accompanied by a stylised sheep made from a woolly material. The children’s hands and faces have been drawn and painted, as has the picture of Our Lady, and the background is a photograph of fields, trees and a dry stone wall. A swirling sun has been added above the children, and the overall effect is very engaging.
A range of recent saints
Meghan Bausch has concentrated on more recent Saints. Only Fr Damien and Thérèse of Lisieux and her parents lived the whole of their lives in the nineteenth century; the others all lived out the whole or significant parts of their lives in the twentieth century. There is a great range of holy people, from Chiara Badano who died at the age of eighteen in 1990, to Lucia of Fatima who died aged 97 in 2005. The subjects of the poems include lay and religious, married and single, martyrs and lives of service.
‘Kind words for someone grouchy’
The book opens with Thérèse of Liseux on a background of roses. Her poem is a brief, child-friendly explanation of the Little Way:
Kind words for someone grouchy,
a generous helping hand,
learning to smile and not complain
when things don’t go as planned.
The next double page spread covers Louis and Zélie Martin, and I particularly like their illustration with a miniaturised version of the illustration of St Thérèse hung on the wall behind them. Reading the book with a young child, there are lots of opportunities to talk about what was special about each person. Why are Louis and Zélie looking at each other? Why has Zélie got a rosary in her hand? Who is in the picture on the wall? Why do you think there are lots of roses?
Holding children’s attention
I took the book into Playgroup to see what the three and four year olds thought about it. The children who picked it up tended to be the ones who like lots of stories anyway, but it did hold their attention. I used it for the group story on All Saints day, and what the children really liked were the pictures and the poems where the subject had the same name as themselves or someone that they knew. They were very interested in the picture of the Hawaiian mountains behind St Damien of Molokoi and the city streets and photos and drawings of immigrants behind Francis Xavier Cabrini.
Love and courage
Another strength of the book is the way that the text presents those who died heroic deaths. There is emphasis on the love and courage. For example, Fr Damien’s poem says:
He dressed the wounds of people
Whom others feared to touch;
Built schools and homes, and told them,
“Jesus loves you very much”.
The martyrdoms of Maximillian Kolbe and Miguel Pro are explained very gently without any gruesome details which might upset a sensitive younger child. The book would make a lovely Christening present and could be used as part of a bedtime routine, reading one or two of the poems before prayers with a little one.
Because the poems are designed for young children there is not a lot of information on each person. I would have found a short paragraph at the back with dates and details of each subject very useful; it would help make the book more appealing for a wider age range. By the time a child is approaching First Holy Communion more details, including the gruesome ones, become more appealing. More details would also enable the reader to understand quite how good the illustrations are. For example, Maximilian Kolbe is shown on a background of strands of barbed wire for the prison camp but also ripped up paper, printed very faintly to reflect his publishing apostolate. He is wearing his habit with his Auschwitz jacket over his shoulder showing his prisoner number, demonstrating that he was a saint before he was a martyr. When I investigated the lives of the more unfamiliar saints online I found many details that were reflected in the illustrations; for example, the tennis racket beside Chiara Badano’s bed, showing her love of sport; Miguel Pro’s portrait is based on a photograph taken at his execution.
I would happily recommend Saintly Rhymes for Modern Times for pre-school and Key Stage One children. Meghan Bausch has written a sweet and inspiring book which parents will find a great help in introducing their children to the family of the Church.
Sue Butcher is a Catholic married mother of six and a playgroup assistant.