Birth, Rebirth and Resurrection in a Perfect Picture Book for Holy Week.
Petook : An Easter Story
By Caryll Houselander; illustrated by Tomie dePaola
I recently stumbled upon this Easter book from 1988, and recognizing the author as Caryll Houselander, spiritual author, counselor, and artist, I was doubly surprised to see its illustrator was none other than renowned author/illustrator, Tomie dePaola.
It is almost one year to the day that Tomie dePaola, beloved children’s author/illustrator and friend passed.
It seems to me more than fitting that I repost this beautiful picture book that he illustrated to perfection, relating a meeting in Christ’s young life in a vineyard with a rooster and suggests His death in a way that is accessible and far from frightening to young readers.
In fact, it is as renewing as the cycle of nature, and heartening as the resurrection that it precedes.
For parents and grands looking to introduce the “new life” Christian story of the resurrection, minus some of the details that young readers may not be ready to hear, this is a book that handles it well.
Listen to Tomie’s note at the book’s rear:
We chose Petook because
of its Easter message of birth,
rebirth, and resurrection.
Petook’s joy at the emergence of
new life from the egg certainly
echoes the joy of Christ’s
emergence from the tomb.
It also breathes new life into
the age-old symbol of the Easter
egg, helping the reader become
aware that it is more than just
the tasty chocolate treat that we
associate with Easter today.
Without symbols such as this,
Christianity becomes pale.
August 15, 1987
Meet Petook, a proud and happy father of a brood of twelve newly-hatched chicks in a vineyard. New mom, Martha, is just as proud:
As for his wife Martha, the brown-
speckled hen, plain and homely soul
though she was, she had become all
grand and important.
Amid all this joy and celebration, a stranger enters the vineyard. There are the clear impressions of a child’s feet coming from the road to Jerusalem. Petook’s fatherly concerns are evident:
I am sure that they were a
boy’s footsteps and boys are
sometimes careless, even when
they’re not cruel. He might tread
on one of the chicks.
Trodden and crushed fruit in the vineyard confirms the intruder.
But, Petook need not have worried about this young visitor.
He displays gentle wonder at the sight of Martha gathering the chicks under her wings:
His hands, which were thin
and golden-colored, were
spread out like protecting
wings over Martha. His lips
were slightly parted, his eyes
shining. So rapt was he that
Petook thought, “It must be
the first time that he has seen
a hen gathering her chickens.”
Instinctively, Petook knows that someone and something amazing, visited the vineyard, and he reacts in typical rooster fashion:
Petook preened himself.
He strutted up and down,
and round and round. He
noticed every detail of the
day, just as people notice
every detail of a picture if
it is rare and lovely and one
which may not be seen again.
…Suddenly for sheer joy,
Petook lifted his head and
Years pass, and Petook is now quite old, and yet he is aware of something in the air on a particular day that is an unease, and in the distance is the hill of Calvary where …the three tall trunks always stood. Only when someone was to die were they there.
Ms. Houselander’s picture book wisely does not belabor the death of the now-grown young visitor to the vineyard from years before, as it is only seen by Petook, distantly.
His reaction is one of sadness, yet expectant hope, at the new batch of chicks that wife, Martha, is about to hatch.
New life emerges from an egg for Petook and Martha on Easter morning, just as it does from another place of resurrection, seen in the distance, simultaneous to the hatchling’s arrival:
Petook threw back his head
and crowed and crowed and
crowed. His red comb burned
in glory, the white feathers in
his plumage dazzled in the light,
the new chicken danced at his
feet. He crowed again and again.
It was Easter Morning.
For young parents attempting to emphasize the holy day aspects of the celebration of Easter, here is a thoughtful picture book allowing young readers a view of the miracle of resurrection through their faith beliefs, yet it is also mirrored and played out simultaneously in the relatable miracle of nature, providing the continuance and hope of new life.
And, this book has a greater resonance, still, for our family because of its opening locale in a vineyard, and also, much more importantly, this year, because of the passing on March 30, 2020 of its illustrator and literary picture book treasure and friend, Tomie dePaola.
For we are blessed to own a vineyard and can imagine the pages of “Petook” on Easter morning, as we walk among its vines.
But, we were doubly blessed to have found a friend in Tomie dePaola, whose gift to us of a rendering of St. Isadore, patron saint of farmers, sits in a favored niche, high in the vineyard.
Blessings, Tomie, this Holy Week.
We look forward with hope each day, as you taught us in “Petook.”
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