Lucia, Saint of Light
By Katherine Bolger Hyde
Illustrations by Daria Fisher
Ancient Faith Publishing. Pp. 32. $19.95
Review by Susanna Quaile Cover
One of the unexpected joys of our little domestic church has been observing our children’s name days. Raised evangelical, I once found the custom strange if not a little theologically suspect. But the December after our second daughter Lucia, was born, we discovered the riches of the Scandinavian St. Lucy’s Day, with golden saffron buns, carols, and candles in the darkness of Advent.
For the sake of fairness, big sister Elizabeth needed her own saint and sweet baked good, and I found the tale of the generous Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and her cloak filled with bread and roses. (Pro tip: giant rose-shaped cinnamon rolls satisfy the most jealous of preschoolers.) I love a picture book to flesh out a story, but for several years we had only one for St. Lucy. How pleased I was, then, to find a picture book about St. Elizabeth, and another for our third daughter, Helen.
Roses in the Snow is a life of the 11th-century Elizabeth of Hungary, as told by a little Hungarian girl and her grandmother, or nagymama. Lush watercolor illustrations detail folk clothing and Hungarian scenes. The story is well told, if suffering somewhat from the nearly universal afflictions of Christian children’s books: a superfluity of sentimentality and an absence of editorial scalpel. My daughter loves the big bright roses throughout this story of a princess (and I hastily emphasize to her the saint’s generosity to the poor).
Lucia, Saint of Light is another story within a story. Lucia, a contemporary girl with a Swedish heritage, describes her family’s observance of St. Lucia’s Day with lussekatter, coffee, and costumes, and then listens as her mother tells the story of the virgin martyr Lucia of Sicily, and the legend of her miraculous appearance to starving medieval Swedes. Realistic pencil illustrations brighten what ends up being a long text. The back of the book provides music and lyrics for the traditional Lucia hymn, prayers from the Orthodox observance, a recipe for lussekatter(saffron buns), and a long list of websites with further resources.
The Queen and the Cross: The Story of Saint Helen wins for its superior professional appearance, actually resembling quality mainstream picture books. Its winsome illustrations and thoughtful text tell of the aging queen Helen, who yearns to grow closer to Jesus by finding his long-lost cross. I especially appreciated how the author deftly tucked references to the gospel story into Helen’s adventure. Overwhelmed by the giant pile of rubble atop Calvary, Helen notices a single, small plant, and remembers that “Jesus is the King of Life.” Sure enough, this little shoot of life marks the location of the “life-giving cross.” This book does well what saints themselves always do: point steadily and brightly to our Savior.
Susanna Quaile Cover teaches Sunday school at Trinity Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.