Saint Joseph Picture Books,
Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier
Saint Joseph Picture Books turn up everywhere; in church cupboards, religious bookstores and gift packages from your grandmother. Small books with brightly coloured cardboard covers, they seem so simple and so, so, childish that they are easy to overlook or dismiss as just another kid's book.
Take a closer look though. The unassuming appearance of these child-sized books conceal a real treasure. Each book has a single well defined subject, such as; 'The Seven Sacraments', 'I Believe in God: The Apostles Creed', or 'Mary, My Mother'. Each one is clear, concise, honest and complete. This is the hidden treasure, that nothing is left out and nothing is simplified into meaninglessness. The authors, Father G. Lovasik and Father J. Winkler speak to the child's heart and soul, knowing that the soul can see things that the mind cannot.
One of my favorites is 'The Sacramentals of the Church'. As a convert, I had certainly noticed all the things that Catholics 'did', but didn't know what they were or what they were for, until I discovered this little book. I found what I had been looking for on the very first page:
"Sacramentals are holy things or actions which the Church uses to obtain for us from God, through her prayers, favors for our body and soul. Sacramentals are like Sacraments. but there is a difference: A Sacrament is.....instituted by Christ.....The Sacramentals were instituted by the Church."
After a single page broad definition, the next 30 illustrated pages expand on this definition. Never assuming that the child cannot understand, Father Lovasik tells first how sacramentals can help us, the different kinds of sacramentals and how each kind is used.
With the help of this book I have been able to explain to our children ( and to myself ) why I kneel at the Breaking of the Bread when no one else does, and why I light a candle on our family altar some days. Sacramentals are often seen as acts of superstition. 'The Sacramentals of the Church' firmly dismisses this idea, teaching instead that they are acts of faith and hope intended to help us serve God better.
Our daughters' favorite in the series is 'Our Lady of Lourdes'. The story of Bernadette instructs and inspires them with the confidence that even an obscure child can and did contribute to the greater glory of God. The book describes Bernadette's childhood and her family's poverty, how she received very little education and had to work hard to help her family. She was very like any small girl, except for her piety. Her life, even before her visions, is an example to other children.
'Our Lady of Lourdes' goes on to tell the story of Bernadette's eighteen visions of Our Lady, the events of the rest of Bernadette's life and how the Lourdes has become one of the most popular Christian shrines. All is told in a direct and factual tone, encouraging the reader to take the story to heart and learn from it. The simple and humble way in which Bernadette lived her life is presented as the means by which Bernadette became a saint, rather than the fact that she saw the Virgin Mary.
Saints are the Church's heroes, models for everyone, and the authors of the series have written about many saints, presenting numerous examples of how to grow closer to God. There are several single book biographies of saints, such as 'Saint Martin de Porres' and 'Saint Peter'. There is also a six book series, each book giving a short profile of 16 saints. A single page about Saint Lucy or Saint Benedict or Saint Robert Bellarmine is just enough to create curiousity and a desire to discover more about the saint.
It is difficult to pick just one more example; there are so many books in the series that I admire and that have given something special to our children. 'The Angels: God's Messengers and Our Helpers' is one that we have used many times in family conversations about angels and about the history of the church. Guardian angels have a strong appeal for our sons, partly I think because the intervention of guardian angels is so obviously the only thing that has kept them from broken bones all these years.
The other reason our boys are captivated by stories of angels is the nature of their service to God. Angels appear with flaming swords, or warn of danger, or help Saint Peter escape from prison, which is all very exciting and romantic stuff to young boys who love to play hero and rescuer themselves. 'The Angels: God's Messengers and Our Helpers' first describes the nature of angels; that they have spirit but no body, that they have a mind and a will to know and love God. The book then tells of the many times that angels have done God's work.
Angels in heaven serving and praising God, complementing our calling to serve and praise the Lord here on earth, is an inspiring concept for any child to discover. A guardian angel who as a powerful friend who has been given to each of us to guide and protect us makes angels even more inspiring and real. This book is an excellent way to give your child that inspiration.
The illustrations in the Saint Joseph Picture Book series are not as consistent in quality as the writing. Many of the pictures remind me of my old 'Dick and Jane' readers, which I find nostalgic but dated. (This means I would love to dress my children like that but they won't let me.)
There seem to have been at least four illustrators contributing to the series, though no credit is given to the illustrators. I don't think the sometimes dramatic and sentimental quality of the illustrations is a good reason to avoid these books, as some parents have suggested. For one thing, children are not as critical of sentimentality as we adults sometimes are; they love things that are 'cute'. They like pictures they can identify with, that supply their imaginations with images that are valid to them. Haloes, doves, flowers, thunderclouds, and tears all have clear meaning to a child.
Artistic sensibilities aside, there is a better argument in favour of the series' illustrations. Children's books need illustrations; to support the text, to keep the child's attention, and to interest the pre-reader. The illustrations of the Saint Joseph Picture book series always complement the text's subject, and tell the story with recognizable images and symbols. The value of these books is not in their artwork, but in the combination of the style of language and the style of illustration which will best reach children.
Reaching children to teach them the basics of the Catholic Faith is what the series sets out to do, and it succeeds admirably. The Saint Joseph Picture Book series would be an excellent supplement to a catechism program, either the school's or your own. There are currently 58 titles in the series, enough to complement any course of study or Sunday dinner discussion.
Cathechism books are often very structured, built to fit a lesson plan with questions and answers to be learned. The Picture Books are looser and more entertaining, they make good naptime and car trip reading. Our kids sleep with them, which I suppose can be seen as a measure of affection.
A catolog of Saint Joseph Picture Books.
Catholic Book Publishing Company
77 West End Rd.
Totowa, NJ 07512
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