Sophie Piper's My Baptism Book now in its 9th printing is as imaginatively illustrated by Dubravka Kolanovic as it is written by Piper. The book came as an unexpected and delightful surprise gift for my daughter, who recently celebrated full initiation at the Easter Vigil.
The book was part of an after-Easter sample package sent to me at work and included additional books on the two other sacraments of initiation: My First Holy Communion and My Confirmation Book. The former is also written by Sophie Piper with illustrations by Angelo Ruta. The latter is a different work by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle. All three are published by Paraclete Press.
Kolanovic's cheerful chalk-like drawings and pastels depict childhood scenes and nature. They pair well with Piper's text: a collection of thoughtful poems, prayers, famous quotations, and masterfully concise biblical passages from the Old and New Testament.
Piper is adept at transliterating Psalms that allow a child to be absorbed by the power of the passage without having the text "dumbed down" by her rhyme and rhythm patterns. Similarly, her edits of Bible stories to make them clear and concise also succeed in placing the child reader in the midst of the scene making the wonder of God's immediate presence inviting without resorting to childish gimmicks and sight gags.
Much of My First Holy Communion follows the same attention to intimacy and imagination as the Baptism book. However this keepsake book assumes the reception of Communion at a later age (not to mention in an order different than at the Easter Vigil). Thus, Communion nods in the direction of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well. My Confirmation Book assumes an even much older child reader, which changes the reading level of the Biblical texts and poetry and the approach.
Rather than giving my daughter all three books after the Easter Vigil, I decided on the first. The joy for my daughter was the ability to read and experience a text that was lovingly crafted for her and her celebration of this first sacrament, while still offering a relationship to the two other sacraments of initiation.
The book was pitched just right for her age and level enabling her to not only savor the mystery and awe of that Easter Vigil, but also draw her continually into deeper relationship with the God who “first” welcomed her there. After all, this is what we told her sacraments are: encounters with the real and saving presence of God in our lives.
Unburdened by the difficulty of dealing with the "sense of sin" imbued in Reconciliation alongside the great mystery of the Eucharist or the somewhat more serious sense of Confirmation as something that comes along with more age, maturity, and deep questions for reflection, My Baptism Book presents a very solid and resounding foundation for the Good News:
You, child, are uniquely you and loved by God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit whose praiseworthiness and power is spread out across the Scriptures has come to dwell in a most memorable way in the Incarnation and Resurrection so that the close familiarity you enjoy with Christmas and Easter might enliven this (baptismal) celebration and indeed your entire Catholic sacramental life.
To quote Piper's deft simplicity:
"Christmas is the time when angels open the gates from heaven to earth:
I want to welcome heaven in to my life.
Easter is the time when angels open the gates from earth to heaven:
I want to follow Jesus into God's kingdom."
When I gave this book to my daughter, she held it like a rare treasure. Then she began to read it. Seeing that it was a chapter book, but one that contained prayers, poems, and pictures, much more than long paragraphs, she became deeply absorbed in it.
She read it twice through before I asked her, "What did you like about it?"
She answered, "The pictures."
"What do you remember or what did you like from your reading?"
Immediately she replied with a quote from Mother Teresa, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."
Thank you, Paraclete Press, for this unexpected surprise. Thank you, Sophie Piper and Dubravka Kolanovic, for a rare gift that is not simply a pretty memento or keepsake of a past event, but a fertile foundation for my child's relationship to God in a language that is full of His Word and abounding with life in this new world of the Catholic church into which she has been welcomed.
Do you have a special, memorable book that has inspired your child's spiritual life? For what age or occasion? Do you have any other authors or artists to suggest?
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Copyright 2014, Jay Cuasay
About the Author
Jay Cuasay is a freelance writer on religion, interfaith relations, and culture. A post-Vatican II Catholic father with a Jewish spouse, he is deeply influenced by Christian mysticism and Zen Buddhism. He was a regular columnist on Catholicism for examiner.com and a moderator and contributor to several groups on LinkedIn. His LTEs on film and Jewish Catholic relations have been published in America and Commonweal. Jay ministered to English and Spanish families at a Franciscan parish for 13 years. He can be reached at TribePlatypus.com.