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The Books of Spring

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The Books of Spring

By Denise Trull 

It’s a mysterious thing, spring. You learn patience as you anxiously await its coming because you never know quite when that will be. March days are filled with storms, windy and wet. Snow is not out of the question. It is sometimes a trudging slog through gray days. March can sometimes get a bad reputation. But even on its grayest days, something hangs in the air of March that was not there before: this nameless promise of future beauty rumored in the smell of wet and pungent mud as you walk.

If you don’t mind kneeling in the grass, you are rewarded sometimes with the intrepid green spears of crocuses pushing up through the death of last autumn’s leaves and whispering, “soon now.” You feel the thrill of that promise pass through your heart once again. No matter how many years you have lived, spring seeps into your heart making it new, tender, believing once more in the beautiful, and giving you a renewed taste of the “dearest freshness deep down things.”

The sun slants in a most beautiful way in March and if you catch it in the late afternoon you have found treasure indeed. It lights the world -- bare as it is -- with silver filigree. As the days wander on, you find yourself on the front steps one morning with your shoes and socks in a jumble next to your wiggling toes, which revel in the first warm puffs of spring. Then you hear the bright red cardinal up in the top of a swaying pine tree flirting shamelessly with his lady love up there in her sycamore. And together they sing down to you that in case you haven’t noticed, spring has sprung. Just like that.  

Spring is the season of poets, writers, artists and lovers. Those who notice every little thing and tell us about it in words or pictures that seem to capture the fleeting beauty and put it in a box for us to open and enjoy over and over again between the covers of a book. We have had many such books in our family piles during March, April, and May. These books have come outside with us as we sit reading in the sun. They have come into chapels with us as we feel the breeze from an opened stained glass window. They are read aloud just for the pleasure of the spoken word. We sing-song the poetry we have memorized through the years and smile at each other, remembering. Some books were added over the years. Some stayed with us since the beginning of things. All of them are treasures. They are my Books of Spring. I share them with you here.

Some you will be very familiar with and others might be a new land for you to discover. As March travels slowly into Eastertide, I wish you happy reading and adventure, sweet prayer and rejoicing that once again the Lord has risen indeed and has given us the beauty of Spring in which to praise His love and mercy dwelling in the things He has made. Let us thank him for books, for art, for the ability to capture His beauty in the loveliness of words. 


The Tale of Three Trees - Angela Elwell Hunt


Perhaps it is my love of trees that endears this book to me. I love to watch trees grow, bud, get all deep-rooted and gnarly. They are ancient and fascinating. The trees in my favorite walking places have become a great joy to me. They tell the time with the seasons. They anchor the soul to the rhythm of the liturgical year as well. I think that is why I have always loved this book. It has been around for a long time, and is well known by many a mom. 

Three trees with plans of their own: one wanting to hold treasure as a treasure box, the second to sail the oceans deep, and the last just wanting to stay on the top of the highest mountain so all can see him pointing to the heavens. Soon, they each are cut down and find life puzzling after that. They unhappily do see their dreams fulfilled in not quite the way they were expecting, but they each get something far better. If you haven’t read the book before, I don’t want to tell the whole story, but the illustrations by Tim Jonke are magical and lovely and only add to the beauty of the tale.

I still read this book during Holy Week even though I don’t have any littles left in the house. For a children’s book, it stands up in its meaning for us adults as well, who sometimes find life disappointing and then discover that it was all a great mercy after all.


Sister Wendy’s Book of Saints

If you have never encountered Sister Wendy Beckett, you are in for a treat. She is a winsome, quirky little English nun who haunts art museums and tells us all about what she sees in the paintings there. Sister Wendy is a member of the Notre Dame sisters, a teaching order of nuns. She studied for her degree at Oxford and traveled to South Africa to teach for some years. She returned to England in 1970 and decided to take up the life of contemplative prayer. Being an art lover all her life, she shares her prayerful gleanings with us through the medium of art. Her thoughts are always beautiful, charming, and fresh. One of my sons, who has a penchant for the quirky and winsome, became her fast friend through these books. Her Book of Saints is especially lovely for artistic children to peruse.

She first explains the creation of illuminated manuscripts, when and how they were made, and how they convey the meanings of our faith. The drawings are all exquisite and her descriptions are prayers in themselves. It is what I call a ‘delicious’ book -- both in words and in jeweled colors. There are the familiar saints like Peter, Thomas, Matthew and Benedict who come alive in a different way under her descriptions. And there are also some surprises like St Paula, St Giles, Margaret of Antioch, and Apollonia. This is a book that needs to be read up in a tree surrounded by the magic of spring green leaves and a view of the sky beyond. I think Sister Wendy would concur.

Treasure and Tradition - St Augustine Academy Press

This is a gorgeous children’s book describing the Mass in detail. It shows pictures of all the things used on the altar, delves into the meaning of the prayers, and why the priest wears each of the pieces he puts on before Mass. I encountered this book as an adult and was mesmerized for about a week just poring over the pictures. It is the best book I have ever read on the Mass and its meanings.

Children will love it as there are countless illustrations and descriptions. The pictures are gorgeous with color and an intelligent and thoughtful layout that invites the eye and the heart to sit and delve. It is a good book for Eastertide and a beautiful study of our faith, for it is during Holy Week that we see the Mass first enacted in the Person of Jesus Christ. His institution of the Holy Eucharist all the way through His passion, death, and resurrection. It is all here in the Mass.

The book explains symbols of the Old Testament prophesies of Jesus and how He fulfilled them as the Mass unfolds. It speaks of the works of angels, saints, and the presence of the Eternal. Children will not see all of it at once, but it is a book to return to over and over again. It uses the Tridentine Mass as its model, but even if you do not attend the Tridentine Mass, your understanding of the Mass will still be enriched and your prayer life blessed.

The Book of Books, The Book of Life, The Golden Legend of Young Saints - Henri Daniel-Rops

These are books written by a talented French writer who lived in the first half of the 20th century. I found him everywhere on my father’s bookshelves when I was younger. He wrote the Story of the Church in several volumes which is a beautiful masterpiece dripping with prayerfulness and wisdom. When I first encountered his book Jesus and His Times I began to see Jesus come into focus as a real person, rooted in the history of the times He lived in. Through details and explanations of the countryside and its natural wonders, and the customs of daily life in Palestine, I grew closer to Jesus and the real wonder of His incarnation and what it meant to say that he "dwelled among us."

Much later as a mom, when I discovered these three volumes at a Catholic Conference, I was delighted. They tell the stories of the Old and New Testament for children in the same way I had encountered them in his longer works for adults. They are beautifully written with an evident love. His little book of saints is the same. He has compiled some of the most beautiful stories of child saints in this volume. His aim is to impress upon young Catholics of our time that children play a great and vital  role in the Church. They are asked to do hard things by Christ, who trusts in their love. These are books that can be read quietly before evening prayers are said. They are calm, serious, and restful things to read at the closing of a busy day. 

The First Christians: The Acts of the Apostles for Children - Marigold Hunt

This is a great book to read from Easter Monday onward during the Easter season. It is the retelling of the story of the apostles after Jesus rose from the dead. It describes for children the adventures, setbacks, triumphs, and travels of the new Christians trying to spread and live out the Gospel. It is best read out loud a little each day. The Acts of the Apostles is one of the most instructive books for us to read. How is the Gospel spread? What is the cost? What are the joys? What are the people like who were chosen for such a task? What can we learn from these, our earliest brothers and sisters in Christ? These are good questions for us all to ask and to learn from. They are answered in a wonderful way through reading this book to your children. 


Miss Rumphius - Story and Pictures by Barbara Cooney

This little book pops into my head every spring. I used to read it to my children all the time. It is a magical tale written and illustrated by the wonderful Barbara Cooney -- a master storyteller both in word and paint. This is the story of Alice, a little girl who listened to her Grandfather’s tales of his life with rapt attention. She longed for adventures like his, and to live by the sea, and to make the world a better place. So, when she grew up, an idea popped into her head to plant Lupine flowers all over the woods and hills where she lived, which of course ended up by the ocean. She discovers that the wind carries the seeds far and wide and she then decided to travel far and wide planting them herself.

It makes you wonder how many decisions are made, how much joy is passed on, and how a vocation might be found just by children listening to stories. Good stories told to them by those who love them: simple things like what their parents did when they were little, or descriptions of places. My own father was an amazing storyteller. He made his boyhood come alive for me. And it was always interesting to see what he remembered best and how he passed that interest on to me. We shouldn’t forget the things that made us laugh out loud, made us cry in joy or sorrow or gratitude. It is such a beautiful mystery, memory.

I recall reading this book to two little boys and a curly-haired girl sitting on either side of me on the arms of an old green sofa by a window where the breeze blew in. It is a book that makes me grateful for words and the storytellers among us like my dad or Barbara Cooney. They take us somewhere quite other -- somewhere beautiful and magical, but in the end we discover to our surprise, that is all just the real world we live in.

The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, Illustrated by Michael Hague

This is a match made in Heaven: Oscar Wilde and Michael Hague. If you have laughed over the tart little plays of Oscar Wilde or read some of his hilariously outrageous quips and quotes, you might be utterly surprised when you read this book. It is soft, beautiful, thoughtful and wistful. The tales are about the regret of a selfish life. Through stories like The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince we are reminded that selfishness is cold, unhappy, and leaves us sad, wanting and very much alone in the end. Once, after he finished telling the story of The Selfish Giant to his own two little boys, one of his sons asked Oscar Wilde why he cried each time he read it to them. And he replied gently: “Really beautiful things always make me cry.”

Later in life, after having passed through many sufferings and trials, he would say to us all: “You came to me to learn the pleasure of life, the pleasure of art. Perhaps I am chosen to teach you something much more wonderful -- the meaning of sorrow and it’s beauty.”

I am discovering over time, and with the understanding of older age, a completely different Oscar under all that wickedly witty repartee and the fantastical dandy duds. Hiding under all that, for all of his life, was a man who always knew that the REAL world was beyond the wall of selfish pleasures and distractions we build around ourselves. It is the world where tears and sorrow lead us to the true, eternal beauty. We are not always what we seem to others. Sorrow, suffering, and love for others makes us real. You will find the real Oscar in these stories you read to your children. Michael Hague’s inspiring drawings are only the fantastical icing on the cake of a most beautiful storybook.

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodges Burnett


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is my magical book. You know, that book that you find as a child that makes you realize what it means to be so utterly understood by someone who looks right into your heart. That lovely and sweetly surprising realization that someone sees the world the way you do.  Everyone has their own magical book. This one will always be mine.

Set on the moors of England, it unfolds the tale of a lonely, embittered little orphan named Mary sent suddenly from India to live with her uncle at his estate. This is the story of dead things come to life again, be they hard and bitter little souls, broken hearts, or sick bodies.

One day Mary finds an old key to a secret garden on the property and discovers the wonder of planting seeds, digging up bulbs, and carefully tending small shoots. As the garden grows, her heart begins to thaw and she learns to love again. Many wonderful characters like kind Martha the maid, the mysterious and elf-like Dickon, and old Ben Weatherstaff take hold of a child’s mind and transport it to places so delightful they will have a hard time returning. It is a book filled with mystery and love and truth which begin to grow along with the beautiful garden. It is a delightful experience both for child and adult.


Backyard Books -  Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries

These books about ants, butterflies, bees and ladybugs are truly charming. They ask the child to enter the world of each insect and show them what it would be like to BE one of them. Woven within each little book, scattered here and there are scientific facts about the insects. So, the books are “instructional” without being in any way dry or drab -- the best way to introduce natural history to little children. They teach and delight at the same time. The drawings are detailed and filled with interesting little tidbits that will make your child pore over the pages quite intently. I do it myself, even now. 

Children of Summer: Henri Fabre’s insects - Margaret Anderson

This is a “living book” if I ever saw one. Written about entomologist and naturalist,  Jean Henri Fabre through the eyes of his ten-year-old son, Paul. It’s so beautifully written and richly illustrated, with descriptions that make you almost feel the summer sun on your face and smell the grass they are lying in as they observe all those fascinating insects up close. Your child will have a favorite bug once they start reading. My favorite, still, after all these years is the dung beetle.

This story makes science so appealing to the more literary among us. The descriptions by the author keep that delightfully French spirit of inquiry which is always whimsical. It gives you a child’s view of a grown up completely taken with his subject matter, which is often humorous. Through these pages, a child can get a glimpse of the determination and keen observation needed by a true scientist. It is a lovely and gentle introduction to Fabre’s later, more adult works. I unearthed it at a library sale, though for the life of me I don’t know why they wanted to part with it!  But I say God bless library sales!

This Strange Wilderness: The life and art of John James Audubon

- Nancy Plain

This is a book written for older children and gives a wonderful look at the dedication and perseverance needed to fulfill a dream. John James Audubon, who lived at the turn of the 19th century, had a dream. He was determined to draw all the birds of North America before they went extinct or were crowded out of their habitats by advancing cities and towns. His travels took him all over the United States.

Audubon was a patient observer. Sometimes he would spend hours crouching under a nest completely still, watching carefully. He had no camera. He only had his eyes, ears, and a fabulous memory. He was rewarded for his troubles because after days of observing, the birds would get used to him and let him come very near. They let him hold their eggs and even the baby birds once they were born. But this only happened after hours and days of sitting still among them.

He soon discovered that birds have differing personalities. You have to wait patiently for them to reveal themselves. He would paint them ‘in the wild’; something no one had done before. He painted them eating berries, feeding their young and performing all the bird antics that made people laugh.

He was driven to paint them all as fast as he could. He must have had a presentiment that some of them would not last with the unsettling of habitats as men started moving across the US in droves. It is quite poignant that two of the paintings in his book: the  Carolina parakeet and the Traveler Pigeon are both now extinct. Once covering the sky in a huge humming cloud and now gone. It gives you a wrench in the old stomach to realize that. And it also gives you a hankering to know what it was like to see our country untouched and pristine. To know what it was like to be Audubon, gazing on all that beauty alone in the woods. This is a good book for teens to read and ponder over. It is enjoyably written in a lovely style.

These then are only some of the Spring Books in my bookcases and baskets. I hope you will take a look and see what you think. But whatever you read in these days of birdsong, buds, breezes and barefoot joy, I wish you great and lovely discoveries in this beautiful spring world which on every side proclaims the glory of our God, risen and ever-renewing the earth!

Denise Trull is the editor in chief of Sostenuto, an online journal for writers and thinkers of every kind to share their work with each other. Her own writing is also featured regularly at Theology of Home, and has appeared in Dappled Things. She also can be found at her Substack, The Inscapist. Denise is the mother of seven grown, adventurous children and has acquired the illustrious title of grandmother. She lives with her husband Tony in St. Louis, Missouri. 

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