St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day is October 4th — tomorrow! Here on the Homely Hours, we have a post with the story of St. Francis that we use in our Godly Play program at church. At the bottom of that post are some book recommendations and I wanted to take a moment to share one more with you.
Saint Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story
I was grateful to receive from Paraclete Press the lovely children’s book Saint Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story by Phil Gallery, illustrated by Sibyl MacKenzie. I had seen it online and thought that the illustrations were stunning, so I was excited to have the opportunity to review it.
Creative Framing of the Story
Gallery shares the story of St. Francis through the eyes of the birds. Apparently, for the birds living around Assisi, the rite of passage from nest to flight means the passing down of the story of St. Francis. I thought this was a fun and creative way to frame the story. Each young bird (Benjamin Bird, in our tale) is told “You must remember every word, because one day you must tell your children the story.”
Good for Young Children
While there are many beautiful books about St. Francis, I think this is the best one for young children (at least of the ones I own). Each page has a story heading (i.e. “Francis Meets the Birds,” “Francis and Brother Wolf Make a Deal,” etc.) so it tells many stories about St. Francis briefly. And, if your young children are getting distracted, these headings make it easy to place a bookmark and return to the story tomorrow.
Playful and Whimsical, Without Kitschy-ness
The creative framing of the story makes it playful and charming. But thankfully, it never descends into mere cuteness. At the end of the book, our Benjamin Bird meets the great saint himself, and somehow, a sense of gravity and glory comes through. Of course, much of that has to do with the gorgeous illustrations. MacKenzie’s style fits the story well. With a different illustrator, the story could have descended into cutesy/kitschy-ness. But her art — rich, earthy colors, a sense of movement and gravity — combine with the creative storyline to give us a truly lovely book about this great saint.
Other Picture Books We Recommend
Here ,I’m going to copy/paste from our St. Francis Godly Play post the book recommendations from my friend Jennifer Downey:
Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Patterson, illustrated by Pamela Dalton. This lovely book illustrates St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures” using a unique cut-paper style first introduced by 19th century Pennsylvania Dutch. Each page stands as its own intricate work of art as readers are invited to join their hearts with all creation in praise of God.
Brother Wolf of Gubbio: A Legend of Saint Francis by Colony Elliott Santangelo. This book dramatizes a single episode from the life of St. Francis, as his gentle love transforms a wolf from a feared predator into a beloved part of a small community. The tale features rich, folk art illustrations on wood panels that imbue the story with warmth. The story embodies with simplicity the core of St. Francis’ ethos.
St. Francis by Brian Wildsmith. This stunning book captures the entire sweep of St. Francis’ life and ministry. With images that evoke the gemlike hues of stained glass, this account seems particularly to capture the heavenly light shining through the life of the colorful man of Assisi. Birds and beasts, men and angels whirl about the pages in a sort of joyful tumble that well illustrates the saint’s vison of a creation united in praise of God.
What about you? Do you have other favorite books about St. Francis? Do you have any family traditions for this saint’s day?