Around the Year Once Upon a Time Saints

Author(s): 
Ethel Pochocki
Illustrator(s): 
Ben Hatke
Copyright: 
2009
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
211 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

This is a lovely gem of a book, covering about thirty saints, organized according to the calendar year, by their feast day. Like her previous publications from Bethlehem Books (Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints), these stories are intended to capture the essence of holy men and women through the sometimes fantastical stories that are likely to capture the imagination of young children. Here is what the author wrote about her own stories:

Fairy tales clear the way for sanctity. They are the child's first morality play, clear-cut, no-nonsense black and white, good and evil, life and death - with a bit of fun thrown in to alleviate the pain. The lives of the saints, so filled with derring-do, gaiety, charm and courage, are all the more fantastic because the persons are real, even though they might seem right out of the pages of Hans Christian Andersen.

You will not find dates and statistics here, except where they seem necessary to explain how or why a saint got to his particular spot. And I have used the embroidery of legend because I feel that under its eye-catching trivia, there is the good homespun of fact. Sometimes it has been hard to discover which facts are the real facts. In reading six books about one saint, you may have as many versions of his or her death - he may have died on the battlefield, in the arms of a wife or son, pinned to a tree with seven arrows... or a combination of all three.

There was a little bit in the story of Juan Diego that bothered me (a little off on the Aztec story) and an aspect of the story of St. Nicholas that I thought pretty disturbing for young children. These little things make it probably better for a read-aloud with younger children (and really, it makes an excellent read-aloud!). A few spots made me furrow my brow or seemed just a little too silly, but these have been more than compensated for by some incredibly beautiful stories that are really well done.

One story that particular stood out for me was the one St. Paul Miki and St. Charles Lwanga. It has an absolutely stunning and incredibly appropriate explanation of the martyrs for children. Fabulous stuff and my children and I enjoyed the book very much.

Oh yes, and Ben Hatke's illustrations (he also illustrated Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman) are wonderful!

Review Date: 
8-4-2009
Reviewed by: 
Alicia Van Hecke