Have you been able to find a minute or two to be still, to close your eyes, and after pausing for a moment fill your lungs with the new life God is offering us in these days? I truly hope so. If you haven’t been able to do this yet, there is lots of opportunity ahead as we move through the upcoming celebrations of Ascension, Pentecost, and on to the longest season of all – Ordinary Time.
Laura Alary, author of numerous wonder-filled children’s books, invites us to experience these extraordinary days by breathing deeply and getting ready to grow again. Her new children’s book Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time, illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund, is set to be released on April 13, 2021. While it’s not out yet, I’m happy to say I’ve had the opportunity to read and delight in an advance copy of her work and want to share with you what I discovered.
This is the third of Laura’s children’s books that focus on the seasons of the church year. Following her offerings for Advent and Christmas, and Lent and Easter, this book opens up for children (and adults too) the stories of Jesus’ Ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then that long season of Ordinary Time, or Growing Time, that takes us from Pentecost all the way through to Advent.
In Breathe Laura has woven a silken thread of our breath through each of these days and season, masterfully tying them to each other from the moment the disciples hold their breath at Christ’s Ascension, through to their breathing in of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and on to the apostles breathing out of God’s love into a growing and changing world. By dividing her work into three distinct sections Laura allows us to experience each day and season on its own while also building a clear connection between each. In each she has provided a rich and descriptive retelling of the biblical story, a contemporary story explaining and reflecting on the time being celebrated, and play-filled suggestions for family activities and conversations to experience together.
I especially want to highlight Laura’s giftedness in storytelling. Each story Laura shares is a work of art, drawing us in with detailed descriptions and an emphasis on the feelings of the people involved. She fills every story with the tiniest of details, movements and emotional shifts while selecting every word with the greatest of care. Her stories are rich with vivid prose that transports us and gives us pause. Laura ‘gets’ children and the wonder of the story itself. Her retelling of the stories of the bible alone are worth the purchase of this book.
The compassionate and refreshing artwork of Cathrin Peterslund accompanies every page giving evidence to the winds of change as she illustrates each occasion. Together, the prose and art invite us to curl up as a family and imagine ourselves along for the journey through the days and months before us.
So, who might want this book?
First of all families with pre-school and primary-aged children. I can imagine families reading each of the sections of the book over the course of the next months; one evening before bed reading the story of the disciples confusion with Christ’s unexpected departure far too soon after he had come back to them, followed the next day with the contemporary presentation of Ascension Sunday for us to better understand and imagine how the church celebrates the day (we ought to leave an evening’s rest to just delight in the biblical story itself before unpacking it together). Then after Ascension Sunday families could hear Laura’s suggestions of possibilities for play with Ascension together. The same pattern could be followed for Pentecost and the Growing Time. By adding this work to Laura’s other books on the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, all of the church year is now complete, and the rereading of beloved portions of each book throughout the seasons of the year can become a treasured family ritual no matter our age as we continue to grow and learn together year after year.
Ministers and Christian educators will also find good reason to add this book to their shelves. The biblical stories are so well-presented, revealing the experiences and feelings of the disciples and apostles while leaving room for wonder and delight. Along with engaging artwork this book becomes a wonderful resource for children’s stories, children’s classes and events, and even provides the outline and content for seasonal intergenerational gatherings. I have already made plans for using Breathe in worship leadership and upcoming Sunday school lessons in the weeks ahead.
I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy this excellent book. It’s going on my shelf and I hope yours as well. Thank you Laura and Cathrin for giving us this gift.
Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time, by Laura Alary (Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2021)