As I child, I had the vague impression that any person with the word "Saint" prefixing their name was somewhat off-limits. I don’t mean to raise a deep discussion of various doctrines here, I just wanted to point out that it has since occurred to me that the ancient and medieval saints are just as much a part of the Protestant religious heritage as they are of the Catholic or Orthodox, and that we can read and learn from their stories just as we do from the stories of later great Christians.
Furthermore, I’ve been reading up on the Early Middle Ages and previewing materials, and it has struck me that there is not much out there for young children. Later Middle Ages, with well-developed feudalism and splendid castles, yes. But the more obscure earlier times, when order and learning were scarce, don’t provide much picture-book material, except through the one vehicle where order and learning was preserved: the church.
Picture books on the early saints, which are not hard to find, provide a glimpse of what life was really like at the time, as well as teaching church history. Often the illustrations are inspired by period art, as well. Here are some that I found to be very high-quality on all fronts, while avoiding any specific doctrinal issues. The ducklings have already enjoyed some of these, and I’m sure they’ll get much more out of them next time around. These are in roughly chronological order.
Saint Valentine, Robert Sabuda. This story of the early Christian martyr uses mosaic for illustrations.
St. Jerome and the Lion, Margaret Hodges (345-420). Although it talks about Jerome’s work translating the Bible, the focus is on the more dramatic interaction with a tamed lion. (Unfortunately it looks like this one is out of print and really expensive; as usual, we borrowed ours from the library.)
Saint Patrick, by Ann Tompert (c. 385-461) The Tomie De Paola version is also good, but this one caught Abbey’s eye and also has quotes from Patrick’s own Confession, which I liked. I also appreciated that both of the authors stuck to the facts in the main book and put the legends separately in the back.
The Holy Twins, Kathleen Norris (Benedict and Scholastica, 480-547) This one did have some miracles that were a little hard for me to swallow, but the characters are intriguing enough I’m willing to work with it.
Across a Dark and Wild Sea, Don Brown (Columcille, 521-597, Ireland and Scotland) I love this one. The simple and exciting story provides tremendous insight into the times. (A battle fought over a book?) In the back there’s instructions for writing the uncial script. Columcille is my current hero.
Caedmon’s Song, Ruth Ashby (Caedmon, about 660 AD, Yorkshire, England) This is the story of a poet, not a saint, but it’s along similar lines and very enjoyable.
I’m still trying to pick one on St. Francis of Assisi that I really like. And I’m sure I’ll come across more as I go.