Saints for Children by Kathie Johnson

Saints for Children

Every year, as October draws to a close, I feature in my library an array of books on Halloween themes. But since the day after Halloween is All Saints Day, I also feature a display of books about saints. These books have become popular in recent years, as parents seem interested in finding books about people who offer their children different role models from the ones they usually see in their everyday world. I originally thought I could cover this topic in a single column, but once begun, I realized there was so much material on saints and other Christian heroes that two columns would be better.

I'll begin with books that are collections of stories about saints. England's Ladybird "easy reading" series has a First Book of Saints that introduces young readers to Saints George, Andrew, Patrick, and Christopher, among others. Each page of text has a facing page with a brightly colored picture.

Ethel Pochocki has put together two collections: Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints. The first book covers saints whose names begin with the letters A through H, including Alice, Ambrose, Benedict of San Fradello, Clement, Edward the Confessor, Elizabeth of Portugal, and others. Each story is about four pages long, with nice line drawings to complement the text. The second book covers saints with names from the latter part of the alphabet, including Kentigern, Martha, Melangell, Pharaildis, Servulus, and Simeon. The author says she chose lesser-known saints for this volume, because she was drawn to their stories and wants others to know about them.

Louis Savary's The Children's Book of Saints is aimed at American children. It includes 53 saints, with just one page of text, as well as a picture, on each one. Among the saints featured are Agnes, Augustine, Anthony of Padua, Bernadette, Elizabeth Seton, Francis Xavier, Jude, Peter Claver, and Vincent De Paul.

Carole Armstrong's Lives and Legends of the Saints is notable for being illustrated with reproductions of fine art paintings from some of the great art museums of the world. There are twenty saints in this volume, with a page of text and a painting provided for each one. Here you will find depictions of Saints Apollonia, Dorothy, Eustace, Joseph, Lucy, Michael, and more.

Collections for Early & Advanced Readers

The five books mentioned above are right for the "middle reader," with not too much print on a page. Even simpler is Arlene Marguerite Graston's Special Friends: Tales of Saints and Animals, which includes the stories of Jerome and the lion, Germaine and her sheep, Ciaran and the deer, and three others.

For the more advanced reader, The Treasury of Saints and Martyrs by Margaret Mulvihill is a good choice. Richly illustrated with paintings and photographs, this book covers saints from the New Testament, such as Thomas, James, and John; saints from the days of the Roman Empire, such as Bede and Benedict; and saints from the Middle Ages and Reformation, such as Hildegard, Dominic, and Ignatius Loyola.

There is also Joyce Denham's Stories of the Saints, illustrated with richly colored woodcuts. This book covers fourteen saints, including Peter, Paul, Laurence, Francis of Assisi, and Elizabeth of Portugal.

Finally, there is Carol Greene's Beggars, Beasts, and Easter Fire: Stories of the Early Saints. There are stories of twenty saints here, each starting with a lovely illustration and then several pages of text. Included are Nicholas, Patrick of Ireland, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Hedwig of Poland, Sergius of Radonezh, and Teresa of Avila.

Books on Columba

Besides these collections, there are many books about individual saints. I am fond of St. Columba, because I've spent time in a lovely retreat center near my home that bears his name. There are three children's books about him that I'm aware of.

First, Don Brown has done a delightful book filled with pastel paintings called Across a Dark and Wild Sea. He relates how Columba, whom he refers to as Columcille, was born in Ireland and became enamored of books. Living at a time when books were rare, he learned to write and copied the psalms at night. Eventually, he crossed to the isle of Iona, in Scotland, and began to spread the written word.

Second, there is a book in the Ladybird series called The Story of Saint Columba, which emphasizes the saint's work in Scotland, including his taming of the Loch Ness Monster. And third, there is Eileen Dunlop's Tales of St. Columba, a book on this saint for the more advanced reader.

Francis, Patrick & More

I won't cover the many books on St. Joan of Arc, as I reviewed a number of them in an earlier column ("Sorted by Subject," September/October 2012). But another saint about whom there are many books for children worth mentioning is St. Francis of Assisi. Margaret Hodges has written Brother Francis and the Friendly Beasts, which has glowing illustrations by Ted Lewin. This is a lovely story of the saint's early life and decisions, and it includes how he reenacted Bethlehem for the people of Greccio by bringing animals into a cave and inviting a new mother to show her child to the villagers.

Tomie de Paola's Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi features the author's distinctive stylized illustrations. This book emphasizes Francis's decision to take a vow of poverty and his receipt of the pope's blessing. St. Clare and her sister are brought into the story as well. Francis of Assisi by Chiara Lorenzini is packed with colored-in line drawings that carry the story, while Guido Visconti's Clare and Francis is richly illustrated with almost icon-like paintings. There are many more books on Francis.

Another popular saint among children's authors is Patrick. De Paola has done Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland, but unlike his Francis, which has a lot of text, this is a true picture book, with a simple story of Patrick's decision to take the gospel to Ireland and brief accounts of miracles associated with him. For the middle-level reader, Wilma Pitchford Hays's Patrick of Ireland is just right, told in almost novelistic form, with dialogue. For the more advanced reader, Elaine Gill's Saint Patrick: A Visual Celebration is gorgeously illustrated with illuminations by Courtney Davis. This book includes stories from Patrick's life, as well as prayers and poetry associated with him. And for the homeschooling family, there is Michael McHugh's Saint Patrick: Pioneer Missionary to Ireland, which includes reading-comprehension questions at the end of each chapter.

I have a scattering of books on other saints. Jean Fritz's Brendan the Navigator tells about the Irish monk who just may have discovered North America. Julia Durango has a nicely illustrated picture book on Peter Claver, Patron Saint of Slaves, with text in both English and Spanish. Gary Schmidt's Saint Ciaran: The Tale of a Saint of Ireland is a richly illustrated book about an early Irish saint. Finally, Robert Sabuda's Saint Valentine is filled with wonderful illustrations that look like mosaics.

I'm sure this only scratches the surface. If you have a favorite that is not included here, let me know, so the information can be shared. 

Kathie Johnson has always had a love for children's books. She collected many as a teacher and began sharing them with other teachers. In 1986, she opened a children's library in her home, and it has continued to expand over the years. Many home-schooled and schooled children borrow books from it, and she takes great pleasure in finding the "right" book for a child. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.