Like stain glass windows, good picture books are beautiful and instructive.
Tomie DePaola has produced over 200 books, and his offerings with Christian themes are especially appealing.
In his Book of Bible Stories, children are treated to an image of Mary and the Angel Gabriel, reminiscent of Fra Angelico, but with DePaola’s folk-like simplicity. A visual representation of the dream of St. Joseph is even less common. In his book Mary, The Mother of Jesus, he provides images of both of Joseph’s angelic visits. In this way, children are provided with a unique synthesis of two distinct Gospel narratives (Matthew and Luke).
These picture books are based solidly on Scripture. In Bible Stories, his artwork is accompanied with text from the Bible. In Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to good effect, he paraphrases the Bible and antiphons from the Benedictine Breviary. It is refreshing to find books about Jesus which do not resort to cliché or somehow try to “spin” the story.
It is also uplifting to discover an alternative to cartoon-like Christian characters, which often lack nobility. There are no visible halos in DePaola’s work, but there is something decidedly reverent about the way he depicts Mary, St. Joseph, and the Christ Child.
His images are uncrowded and easy to understand. The bold colors and simple lines have a unique appeal to young children. Older children can appreciate the classical, respectful visages of the holy people depicted.
This Christmas, and throughout the year ahead, the imagery of these two books can help keep our gaze on Heaven.
(Featured image from DePaola’s Las Posadas.)