Building the Way to Heaven: The Tower of Babel and Pentecost
The End of the Fiery Sword: Adam and Eve and Jesus and Mary
Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb: Jonah and Jesus
These are the first in the Old and New Series, all written by Maura Roan McKeegan and illustrated by T. Schluenderfritz. The goal is to introduce to children the principle of biblical typology, that is, how the Old Testament people, symbols, and events foreshadow those in the New Testament. I do not know of any other children’s books that approach these topics in this way. It’s a great idea and it has been executed well.
There are attractive illustrations which use some of the visual vocabulary of Christian tradition (eg halos, and a mandorla) and the two streams of narrative are placed side by side so that the parallels cannot be missed.
I would certainly recommend all of these as part of the scripture education for all children. Thank you to all involved for this project!
Reading through them it seems to me that they would work best for those children who have a prior knowledge of the biblical passages and sufficient intellectual formation to be able to understand the concept of literary symbolism. The publisher recommends 7 years old, I wonder if for most it might be a little older than that. You can order them on the publisher’s website, here. Thanks to Peter K. for bringing these books to my attention, by the way, (Peter recently featured a wonderful book that does the same for grown-ups, Jean Danielou’s From Shadows to Reality).
There are so many reasons which the study of scripture is important, but here are some that relate to the value of biblical typology in particular and which these books address:
First is that the themes in salvation history are a pattern of events that relate to each of us in our personal pilgrimage of salvation. Once we grasp the idea of the interrelatedness of all things, by understanding how particular and significant episodes in scripture are related to each other, it facilitates a mode of thinking by which we more naturally place our own story, and hence ourselves into that picture. So, for example, the crossing of the Red Sea relates to the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the descent of the Spirit and then also our own sacramental Baptism and Confirmation, by which each of us dies and rises spiritually and receives the Spirit (1 Cor 10:1-5). Our foretaste of eternal life to come, like Israel eating manna in the desert on the way to the promised land, is our reception of Holy Communion, the pledge of our own future life and resurrection (John 6:54). Each of us has a story by which we die with Christ and as Christians are raised up with him too. I am reminded that this applies to me every time I walk into a church and cross myself with the holy water - ‘Jordan water’.
Second is that this can be the basis of a formation that is, in my estimation more likely to help them retain their faith when they get older and see them through those teenage years. This goes further than simply teaching the truths of the Faith (which is of course vitally important too). Those that develop this way of thinking will then be more inclined to read the Book of Nature and those aspects of the culture including the natural hierarchies in society, allegorically, and take delight in it. For such people, all that they see points to the unseen and all that is good points to God. They will perceive a pattern in the world around them and be able to fill in the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, so to speak. Except that this piece is not missing exactly, rather, it is real and present but it is invisible. I wrote about this mode of thinking in greater depth in an earlier article, here: The Good the Better and the Sunday Best: Using St Thomas’s Fourth Way to Evangelize and Retain Faith in the Young.
The place where all of this comes to together and illuminated most powerfully for us in the liturgy. The actions of the liturgy are powerfully symbolic. These books, therefore, will help to enrich participation in the liturgy, both through the content learned and the stimulation of this mode of thought by which we start to read what is happening even relating to those aspects not directly taught in the books. I need hardly describe to readers of this website how beneficial this will be, in turn, to all aspects of human life, if realized.
In a matter relating to my own particular focus of interest, in my opinion, biblical typology is something that should be mandatory for all people who wish to paint sacred art. Danielou’s book is more likely to be appropriate for the training of the artist, but all artist should be able to create art, intended for children or adults, which reflects such a training and communicates the truth of the Faith through beautiful art. In the Roman Church we are at the early stages of re-establishing this as a living tradition, but once done (and I remain hopeful) then a book could connect the themes described even more directly to the traditional liturgical art of the church. I look forward to the day when a seven year old could walk into the Baptistry in Florence and instantly understand what he or she is seeing because it not only reflects the lessons learned in a book such as this, but also the images they see in their recently built hometown parish church!