Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stories about angels and saints for the holidays

Here are some books that tell the stories of saints and angels, as well as the animals that are associated with them. As Christmas draws closer these books may remind readers about Christ's birth in a manger, and that the history of many religious figures (like Saint Francis) have been associated with specific animals. You can find copies of these stories using the search boxes here on BookBag.

Saints Among the Animals, by Cynthia Zarin, illustrated by Leonid Gore (Atheneum) Zarin retells ten stories that chronicle the interactions of holy men and women with an eclectic menagerie of wild creatures. Saint Canice befriends a patient stag that allows him to use its antlers as a bookstand, Saint Jerome champions a misunderstood lion, and Saint Brendan is rescued at sea by a great whale. Two women are represented: Saint Hilda saves her fellow sisters from an influx of snakes, and Saint Werburge prevents a flock of greedy geese from gobbling up all of the seeds planted in farmland. The majority of the tales are set in ancient England or Ireland. Written in the conversational style of a storyteller, the selections contain lovely descriptions of the natural settings in which the saints and the animals coexist, and each legend is accompanied by a somber charcoal illustration depicting the saint and the featured animal.

The Day the Animals Came: A Story of Saint Francis Day, by Frances Ward Meller (Philomel) The blessing of the animals ceremony held at St. John the Divine's church in New York is the basis for this story about Ria, who misses her Caribbean home and the animals she left behind. Her baby-sitter, Mrs. Blum, takes her to the ceremony, and Ria initially feels bad because she doesn't have her own pet. But after she rescues a disagreeable duck, one of the church members invites her to bring Groucho, as he's named, for his blessing. The experience of becoming one with the community and their creatures makes Ria feel as if she's finally home. Weller's story of St. Francis Day, with its animals crowding into a church, may seem unlikely to some readers, but the author's note offers confirmation and clarification.

Special Friends: Tales of Saints and Animals, by Arlene Graston (Bantam Books) From the introduction: "There was a time when man was especially aware of the world around him and spoke a silent language with the living things that make up our planet. This was a silent language of love and respect and it made all living things equal in the story of Life. Some of the people who could do this were called Saints, a title that means they shared a deep love for God and for the Beauty of the Universe and found in their animal friends companionship, understanding and love. This silent language is not a secret one - nor do only saints know how to speak it. Silent means inside ourselves, within our thoughts and emotions, and because everyone has an inside and has thoughts and emotions, we can all speak it. All we have to do is listen and learn from our animal friends and the growing things around us."

Saints and Angels, by Claire Llewellyn (Kingfisher) Nonfiction. Beautifully illustrated with reproductions of artistic masterpieces, this is an easy-to-understand introduction to Christian saints and angels. Beginning by answering the question "What is a Saint?," Saints and Angels goes on to tell the stories of saints both familiar and unfamiliar--from the apostles to Joan of Arc to the very first American-born saint--as well as those of the angels and archangels of the Bible. Information on each saint's emblem, feast days, and patronage is also included.

Brother Wolf, Sister Sparrow: Stories about Saints and Animals, by Eric A. Kimmel; illustrated by John Winch (Holiday House) Nonfiction. If tidbits about Catholic saints in novels like Frank Cottrell Boyce's Millions make you want to learn more about the beatified, check out these fascinating legends of different saints' interactions with animals. From St. Brigid, who fed the poor with milk and butter from her cow, to St. Ambrose, whose mouth was swarmed by bees when he was a baby, to St. Francis of Assisi, who struck a bargain between a hungry wolf and the town it was terrorizing, 12 saints are profiled in these stories.

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