Back on January 27th it was Multicultural Children’s Book Day. As one who has been making an effort to diversify my classroom library and promote diverse books more widely for a number of years now, I was quite excited about this day. And then. Then I totally dropped the ball.
Folks interested in participating in the day were able to commit to reviewing a book and one would be sent to them. I signed up immediately! I got a book back in December and was even more excited about it all. Then life got super busy and this totally fell by the side. Which is completely unfair because the book is wonderful.
Catherine’s Pascha by Charlotte Riggle and illustrated by R. J. Hughes is a beautiful book in a number of different ways. The most obvious can be seen from the cover. The book is visually gorgeous. The colors Hughes uses and the use of light are simply beautiful on every page.
Inside the main story is of a young girl and her family attending Pascha (Easter service in the Orthodox Church). The service begins in the middle of the night so the beginning of the story focuses on her plans to stay awake for it all. She’s our narrator as well, telling the story of the service through the eyes of one who has never seen it before (as she has always, like her younger brother, slept through it in the past). As I was unfamiliar with this celebration in the Orthodox Church, I loved seeing it as she saw it and experiencing it with her for the first time.
If that were the entire book, it would be a lovely book. But that story only scratches the surface. The illustrations for the main story are set in the center of every two-page spread, bordered by words. At the beginning and end those words are dialogue happening around our narrator. Throughout the Pascha service, those words are Biblical and liturgical. They likely are also words she is hearing but they are a part of the service.
Finally, surrounding those center illustrations are more illustrations around the edges of the pages. These are illustrations of various Orthodox churches around the world.
As to being a multicultural book, it is about a religious service that will be new to many and is full of images of churches around the world (a sign of how we are truly connected even as we see so many differences). In addition, during the service one call and response is done in several different languages, quite a surprisingly diverse set in fact. Also, Catherine’s friend, Elizabeth, uses crutches (not as if she had broken a leg, but as a part of her life). The first few times I read the book I did not notice her crutches. She is presented as Catherine’s good friend and anything else is secondary.
I don’t know that this is a book I would have picked up on my own so I am glad MCBD introduced it to me. Our oldest daughter is a Catherine (although not spelled that way) and our youngest shares a name with the author. When the book arrived it felt like it was the right one for me to review. I learned quite a bit from reading this book (not the least of which comes from information the author has included at the end) which is definitely one thing a diverse book should do.