Children love pilgrimages to Orthodox Christian monasteries, as any Orthodox parent who has taken their kids to one can tell you. These books help reveal why.
Maybe it’s the total simplicity, beauty and peacefulness of the surroundings, or perhaps it is because the nuns or monks themselves have a child-like quality about them which allows children to relate to them with ease. Or maybe it’s because being at a monastery is like being at church, but even more!
Whatever the reasons, children love monasteries!
I was reminded of this by a mailing I received this week from Nancy Colakovic at Ancient Faith Publishing, recommending books for children. The first title really caught my eye: In the Candle’s Glow. Writes Nancy:
The first is In the Candle’s Glow, by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson, illustrated by Amandine Wanert. Our 8-year-old granddaughter loves this book. She’s read it over and over, and even took it to church with her. I especially like that this book teaches us where the candles in church come from, the emphasis placed on the Jesus Prayer as well as the Lord’s Prayer and the prayer for family and friends, and even that it helps us remember to bless the bees, and ask God to care for them.
I immediately looked up the book, which is getting great reviews on Amazon both for its story and for the illustrations. Here is one of the more descriptive 5-star reviews:
I recently had the opportunity to read the charming children’s book “In the Candle’s Glow” – written by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson and beautifully illustrated by Amandine Wanert. As an Orthodox mother and backyard beekeeper, this book tackled two subjects near and dear to my heart. The story starts out following along with a worker bee out gathering nectar from flowers and returning to the hive to share the nectar with another bee, who turns it into beeswax. The hive turns out to be at an Orthodox monastery, where one of the nuns collects the wax (this part is explained in a manner which will make sense to children, even though the beekeeper in me knows there are more steps to the process) and turns the wax into candle tapers. At this point in the book, we meet the lovely child Felicia, whose childlike joy and faith shine through. Felicia carefully chooses the candle we just read about having been made, and lights it for the liturgy. She makes her cross and says a prayer… and then another. All of her prayers fit in the candle’s glow and the gentle breeze coming in the window (similar to the one carrying the bee aloft in the first part of the story) carry her prayers to God. At the end of the story, one finds prayers for the blessing of bees and candles as well as a bit about Orthodox saints known for their beekeeping. I loved the imagery and story-telling of this sweet book. One could look deeper at the aspect of the feminine in the circle of the worker bee to the nun to our protagonist Felicia. But that would be over-thinking a children’s book aimed at reminding our children (and us) as readers that God is present in all parts of Creation and that He is constantly bringing everything full circle for our salvation. From the breeze to the bees, to the hive and beekeeper, to the monastery and hand-dipped candles, to the liturgy and the faithful child who knows God is listening to her prayers. May the book bring joy and faith to all those who read it and enjoy the amazing illustrations throughout!
In addition to In the Candle’s Glow, Ancient Faith Publishing offers other children’s titles on monasticism which convey surprisingly deep lessons of the Christian Way with great subtlety and beauty. Here are a couple of them. If you’re like me, you’ll probably want to add these to your own library, no matter what age you are!
The Monk Who Grew Prayer
by Claire Brandenburg, featuring a ‘Word of Introduction’ from Mother Raphaela, Abbess of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in New York.
A monk prays deep in the forest. It looks like he is doing just simple, ordinary tasks, such as chopping wood and and tending to his garden. But as he works he is really growing prayer. The monk prays continually throughout the day and night, and, as the seasons pass, he becomes a holy man. This delightful, beautifully illustrated book teaches children that no matter what they are doing, or what hour of the day it is, they too can pray.
A Gift for Matthew
By Nick Muzekari, with illustrations by Masha Lobastov
Matthew is excited to visit a monastery. A monk there is teaching him to paint icons! Matthew learns about sketching images, mixing pigments, and painting all the layers of the sacred images. And when he gets home, he finds a surprise gift just for him.
Also available as an eBook.
Trailer for A Gift for Matthew: