Easter Surprise by Catherine Stock (Bradbury, 1991). This is a sweet story that follows a brother and sister with their mother on Easter. I always love Stock's watercolor illustrations and her style works perfectly for the story.
For more Easter children's books, visit my Pinterest here.
This is Ireland by Miroslav Sasek (Universe, 2005).
With St. Patrick's Day coming up, I thought it would be fun to take a look at this book. This is a reprint of Sasek's original book in the 1960s. The vintage drawings are fun, but what's interesting is how current the images are in many ways. I did an Irish study abroad program in college back in summer 2007 so it was fun seeing a lot of the landmarks I saw then. Below are the famous Cliffs of Moher, both the illustration and a photo I took.
If you look at a collection of children’s Easter books, you
can’t help but wonder: How did Easter become associated with bunnies and
baskets and eggs?
Let’s start with the bunnies. We know that Easter baskets
and Easter eggs are very, very old. The Easter bunny is a much newer tradition.
It seems to have appeared in the early years of the Protestant Reformation.
During times of anti-Catholic fervor, traditions and stories that were
associated with the older, Catholic celebrations were suppressed. If a
tradition was to be kept, a new story had to be created.
And that’s just what happened. The Easter hare first showed
up among Lutherans in Germany in the sixteenth century. The hare decided which
children had been naughty and which had been nice, and the nice children received
fancy colored eggs on Easter morning.
From there, the Easter hare traveled west to America with
German immigrants. Once it arrived, it changed to a rabbit, because the
cottontail rabbit was common in America, and hares were not.
The story didn’t travel east to countries that weren’t
affected by the Reformation. Those countries kept the old traditions and the
So, if the story about Easter bunnies bringing eggs is a new
story, what were the old stories?
My favorite of the old stories tells about Mary Magdalene’s
trip to Rome, shortly after the very first Easter morning. While in Rome, she
arranged an audience with the Emperor Tiberius. She told the Emperor about
Jesus, about his death and resurrection. As she spoke, she picked up an egg
from the table. Perhaps she used it to illustrate the stone that had sealed the
tomb. Perhaps she was just fidgeting.
Whatever the reason, Tiberius grew tired of her story, and
shouted, “A man can’t come back from the dead any more than that egg in your
hand can turn blood-red!” As he spoke these words, the egg in Mary’s hand
changed from white to red. Mary, astonished, held the egg up for all to see,
saying, “Christ is risen from the dead!”
And so, in honor of Mary Magdalene, and in honor of the
Resurrection, Christians have dyed eggs red at Easter ever since.
Of course, throughout America, you’re more likely to see
eggs dyed in pastels, or with stripes or polka dots, than red eggs. But if you
go to an Orthodox Church on Pascha (which is the name that Orthodox Christians
use for Easter), you’ll likely see baskets full of red eggs.
What do those baskets full of red eggs have to do with
baskets of eggs and candy and toys that we give children on Easter morning?
Among the early Christians, it was customary to take baskets
of food to church on the most important feast days. The baskets would be
blessed, and the food shared. On the feast of the Transfiguration in August,
for example, people brought baskets of fruit. At Pascha (which is what the
early Christians called Easter), people brought baskets loaded with meat and
cheese and eggs. These were the foods that they had fasted from for all of
The custom of bringing baskets of food to church on Pascha was
mostly lost in Greece during the four centuries of Turkish rule. The practice
survived only in a few villages in northern Greece and in the Peloponnesus
In England and America, the custom was lost in the
seventeenth century, when the celebration of Easter and other holy days was
banned. But, as in Greece, the custom did not disappear entirely. When the holy
days were restored, Easter baskets returned. But as the hare had changed to a
bunny, the big baskets full of meat and cheese changed to small baskets filled
with sweets for children.
The ancient practice lived on in Slavic countries. In
Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and at many Orthodox churches in America, wicker
baskets are loaded with rich foods and meats, decorated with bows and flowers,
and covered with embroidered cloths. These baskets are brought to church before
the midnight service of Easter begins, and they’re blessed at the end of the
Things to Read and Things to Do
It’s easy and fun to make red
Easter eggs. The natural red dye is made from the papery brown skins of yellow
Catherine’s Pascha with your
children. The story follows a sleepy young girl as she attends the Orthodox
Easter service in
the middle of the night. Can she stay awake all night? Will her parents let
her play with burning candles? Will she catch someone’s hair on fire? Who will
win the egg-banging contest?