ORTHODOX KIDLIT: THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW & CATHERINE’S PASCHA reviewed by Elizabeth Hawkins

The Saint Nicholas Day SnowCharlotte Riggle (Marion IN: Phoenix Flair Press, 2017) 

Catherine’s PaschaCharlotte Riggle (Marion IN: Phoenix Flair Press, 2015)

saint-nicholas-day-snowCatherine's Pascha cover image (2)As an Orthodox mom of two young sons, I’m always eager to find new ways to engage their spiritual growth and development. I don’t know who was more excited to read The Saint Nicholas Day Snow and Catherine’s Pascha. Both are written by Charlotte Riggle and illustrated by R.J. Hughes.

Surprisingly, they were an easy addition to our bedtime routine. It’s normally the same books over and over, but these took little convincing. Maybe it was a movement of the Spirit, the colorful artwork, or my helpful 3-year old, but for reasons unknown these books have become new favorites for my sons and me. My 3-year old Elliot’s favorite parts of the books were the snowmen in The Saint Nicholas Day Snow and the celebratory feast (the part where they eat all of the food) in Catherine’s Pascha.

However, my favorite thing about The Saint Nicholas Day Snow is the inclusion of churches named after St. Nicholas, as well as popular depictions of the saint from around the world and throughout history. For example, a Byzantine icon of St. Nicholas is shown near a parish in Athens, Greece from the 9th century. A wooden church is nestled in the Norwegian forest, and a Baroque Russian cathedral sits covered in snow. Parish names are given in English as well as in the local vernacular—this seems to stress the universality of the message. 

The author is intentionally inclusive in several other regards. Characters represent a variety of cultural backgrounds and even feature a protagonist in a wheelchair. This came as a welcome change to the generally static representation of characters in children’s books.

The story is about two best friends, Elizabeth and Catherine, who spend the night at Catherine’s house on the eve of the saint’s feast day. The two girls talk about the saint and various traditions surrounding his feast.

In addition to the variety of parishes depicted, the appendix contains some basic information about St. Nicholas the historical figure and different traditions associated with him, as well as our Orthodox relationship with saints. Moreover, the author even includes the recipe for the snowball cookies which Catherine and Elizabeth make in the book! There are lots of resources listed if one wants to supplement this good introduction. While this is a bit advanced for my toddler, I enjoyed perusing these websites. This could could be helpful for an older child or perhaps a Sunday school class. 

Catherine’s Pascha is pretty much what you would expect from the title. Catherine is a young girl, maybe 7 or 8, and the book chronicles her experience of Pascha. It takes place mostly at church through the eyes of the protagonist.

This book also features a variety of parishes from around the globe. In fact, the story part of the book appears to just be nestled within the depictions of past celebrations of Pascha. To me, this seemed to give the feeling of the timelessness of the story—our individual Paschal experiences are nestled as parts of the whole Story. Whether we celebrate with “Christos Anesti!” in 4th-century Constantinople or  “Christ is Risen!” in 19th-century England, the message is the same. As Catherine participates in the foreground, we see parishioners depicted in the background illustrations as well. I didn’t even quite notice all of this the first time around; it would be good to point this out to our children as we read to or with them. Using this imaginative artistic technique, the book engages readers on a variety of levels. One can read the story at face value, as I’m sure my 3-year old did: this is a story about a girl celebrating Pascha. Additionally, we can enjoy the churches from all over the world, as I did as I read to my son. Finally, only upon further reflection did it occur to me that this was part of the message. Any of these pieces can be engaged in ways developmentally appropriate for each child.

Further, there is a short appendix which includes the Paschal greeting and response transliterated and with the phonetic spelling from five languages—Greek, Russian, Arabic, Spanish and Yup’ik. There is also a brief dictionary of important terms, as well as a section of frequently asked questions.

Generally, I would not recommend these books for someone under age 4 or 5. There is more text than my 3-year old and I are used to. The story about Elizabeth’s sick grandmother in the first book may be a bit much for younger readers/listeners. With that said, there is something for everyone. The story about the grandmother can be engaged to a varying extent, as the pictures are an addition to the pages without dialogue unto themselves. My son has spent some time in the hospital, and I work in one, so he easily picked up on the illness. It offered the opportunity to discuss, which can be tailored to fit individual children and their needs and experiences.

While The Saint Nicholas Day Snow and Catherine’s Pascha are obviously Orthodox, I love that the Orthodoxy is both in the forefront and background of the presentation, literally through the illustrations and figuratively through the storytelling. These books are about living in an Orthodox home: making cookies, talking about the different ways families may celebrate St. Nicholas Day, going to church.

These are stories about and for children, told through their eyes: we also tease our siblings, get into snowball fights, and fall asleep in the pews. I find that some books written for children want to preach to our youth or depict them in a way which is quite unlike any actual children I know.

It’s worth reiterating that I enjoyed reading these just as much as my sons. I delighted in seeing the different parishes throughout the books. I can see how these will grow with my children, and continue to be favorites for all of us. 

In short, these are lovely stories and welcome additions to our collection.

For information on where to order The Saint Nicholas Day Snow and Catherine’s Pascha see Charlotte Riggle’s listing in Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s The Marketplace.

Elizabeth Hawkins holds an MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and works as a Board Certified Chaplain in a pediatric hospital. She, her husband, and their two sons live in Memphis TN. They attend Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church where she teaches grade 9-12 church school.

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