Title: Three Easter Journeys
Author: Ro Willoughby
Illustrator: David Miller
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Audience: Written for ages 9-12. This review suggests the book’s applicability to both young and mature audiences.
Summary: The Easter story is presented in three short narratives, each framed in a different emotional context. The first is the passion story, starting with the joy of Palm Sunday and ending in the tragedy of the crucifixion. The second, the two Marys’ discovery of the risen Lord, has the opposite emotional sequence, starting in tragedy and ending in joy. The final story is more emotionally complicated. Peter’s fishing trip begins late in the day on Easter Sunday and like all truly moving narratives, starts in the murky realms of confusion and fear and ends in his reunion with Jesus, which is not only joyful, but awakens Peter to his new mission in life: to preach the Good News to all the world. The three stories are presented as journeys, literally of Jesus, the two Marys and Peter, metaphors for the human journey through life in which happy things can sometimes turn sad, sad things can get better, and truly amazing things can happen when we have patience and faith.
This is an unusual book, not only as children’s literature, but as a unique perspective on the meaning of three Easter narratives in Matthew and John. The passion of Jesus is challenging for all ages and the creators of this book have taken it on with courage and imagination. Such an ambitious undertaking requires a note of caution for very young readers. The first story is frightening and should be read with sensitive adult guidance. Be ready to explain some things the book doesn’t: why a good person like Jesus has enemies, is abused and killed, and what happened to the people who cheered for him just a few days before. I would read the story to a group rather than give it to a child for independent reading.
Literary Elements: In an artful blend of Christian symbols and imagery, the authors explore the dark corners of evil, suffering, fear, and shame, and successfully bring the reader back into the light of forgiveness, hope, joy and love. The three stories weave a complex range of emotions unified in the character of Peter whose confusion and shame is absolved in Jesus’ forgiveness. Especially creative is the use of significant Christian symbolism, which has interesting potential for an adult discussion on the power of Trinitarian allegory. Three journeys, Peter’s three denials and Jesus’s three questions reinforce the principle that what seems like an either-or world of opposites has a third, all-encompassing nature that creates something new out of whatever is going on. Another Christian symbol, fishing, is the motif of the third story, an activity that takes patience and faith, especially at night, making this story appropriate for Advent as well as Easter. All ages can appreciate this story’s Christian messages of hope and God’s all-forgiving mercy, which overcomes tragedy with the triumph of love.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics: Racial and gender stereotypes are nothing more or less than what is demanded from the context and sources of these stories: first century Palestinian Jewish peasants and their Roman occupiers.
Theological Conversation Partners: Matthew 26-28, John 18 and 21
Theology: God’s love and forgivenesss, even when we are unfaithful, overcomes evil and turns tragedy into triumph.
1. Think about a time when someone let you down or disappointed you. What did it feel like to see that person again? Was it easy to forgive the person?
2. Think about a time when you were sorry about something you did that hurt someone else. What did it feel like when you saw that person again? Would you like that person to forgive you?
3. Now think about the first question again.
1. How would you explain to a child
- why Jesus went into Jerusalem against the advice of his friends?
- why Jesus had enemies and why they killed him?
2. The third story presents events in a different order than John’s narrative (while fishing on Easer night Peter recalls the events of Thursday night and his three denials). Why do you think the author chose to do this? Does it help or hinder the story and its significance.
3. Jesus says to Peter: “I have a job for you. You did something wrong. You did wrong three times. But I forgive you. Now go tell the others about me.” These four sentences and the specific order of these four sentences, say a lot about Reformed Christian doctrine. Discuss some of these, first among yourselves as adults, and then how to make them understandable to children.
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Student Susan Wills