Pray and Play

No matter if we are big or small, there is a longing in our hearts to shorten the distance between God and us.

“Teach us to pray,” the disciples implored Jesus.

“Teach your children to pray,” the Church, in turn, tells parents. The Catechism makes clear that the family is the primary school of spiritual education.

And, in his 1994 “Letter to Children,” Pope John Paul II exhorted: “Jesus and his mother often choose children and give them important tasks for the life of the Church and of humanity. … The Redeemer of humanity seems to share with them his concern for others: for parents, for other boys and girls. He eagerly awaits their prayers. What enormous power the prayer of children has! This becomes a model for grownups themselves: praying with simple and complete trust means praying as children pray.”

It “is to your prayers that I want to entrust the problems of your own families and of all the families in the world,” the Holy Father continued. “And not only this: I also have other intentions to ask you to pray for. The Pope counts very much on your prayers. We must pray together, and pray hard, that humanity, made up of billions of human beings, may become more and more the family of God and able to live in peace.”

That's a tall order, so here are some reading suggestions to help the children you love find the road to a world-changing walk with Jesus.

WHEN SHOULD I PRAY? written by Nancy Elizabeth Pharr illustrated by Heidi Rose Pauline, 2003 40 pages, $8.95 To order: (800) 836-9723 or www.pauline.org/store

Picture books of old often showed children praying in repose — eyes closed, hands folded, heads bowed — with nary a glance at the world around them. While there is definitely a need for quiet time alone with God, this book encourages children to pray anytime, anywhere: “Pray in your yard or pray in your house / Pray out loud or be quiet as a mouse.” The colors are bold, the settings are real (playing, biking, doing chores). And the reasons for prayer, such as needing a friend or feeling sorry for doing wrong, will ring true with kids. Ages 3 to 8.

THE HAIL MARY/THE LORD'S PRAYER: ILLUSTRATED FOR CHILDREN illustrated by Vicki Pastore Paulist, 2002 32 pages, $7.95 To order: (800) 218-1903 or www.paulistpress.com

Two beloved prayers spring to life in this vibrant reverse-format text. Like two books in one, the first half of the text is dedicated to a line-by-line presentation of the Hail Mary. Upon “Amen,” readers flip the book over to find a separate, parallel section dedicated to the Our Father. The traditional Catholic wording is maintained, and each line is illustrated with a colorful collage graphic. An excellent tool for introducing these prayers to very young children and for helping slightly older kids to understand their meaning better. Ages 3 to 8.

MY BOOK OF THANKS written by B.G. Hennessy illustrated by Hiroe Nakata Candlewick, 2002 32 pages, $12 Available in bookstores

Thanks and petition are two important components of prayer. This book combines both in a way just right for little ones. The text begins with the words “Dear God …” and ends with “Thank you for Everything!” In between, each double-page spread presents a statement of thanks and a corresponding petition. (“Thank you for time to play. Help me to remember those who are working today.”) Upbeat watercolor and ink illustrations reflect each theme. A great book to help readers recognize blessings of every stripe. Ages 3 to 8.

A CHILD'S BOOK OF PRAYER IN ART written by Sister Wendy Beckett Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1995 32 pages, $14.99 Available in bookstores

What at first glance looks like a coffee-table art book for kids is so much more. Sister Wendy Beckett, host of the popular BBC art series, invites children to examine each of 12 classical paintings with distinctive themes such as “understanding,” “love” and “selflessness.” She explains each painting. “Stay quietly before it,” she coaches, “giving God space to enter our hearts and change them, to make them good and fill them with happiness.” A special prayer accompanies each of the paintings. Age 9 and older.

THE CIRCLE OF DAYS written by Reeve Lindbergh illustrated by Cathie Felstead Candlewick, 2002 32 pages, $5.99 Available in bookstores

Saint Francis of Assisi wrote “The Canticle of the Sun” nearly 800 years ago. Reeve Lindbergh captures in rhyme a part of the beloved saint's hymn of praise in this oversized picture book. For young readers, it is both exciting (“For fire, our brother, strong and bright / Whose joy illuminates the night”) and sensitive (“For brother sleep, and sister death, / Who tend the borders of our breath”). Outstanding watercolor and collage illustrations reveal everyday wonders from starry skies to dragonflies as the hours and seasons change. Ages 5 to 12.

ON MORNING WINGS adapted from Psalm 139 by Reeve Lindbergh illustrated by Holly Meade Candlewick, 2002 28 pages, $15.99 Available in bookstores

A celebration of God's knowledge and love for each person, Psalm 139 is translated into kid-friendly language and a series of rhyming couplets: “Lord, you look at me and know me, / Every step I take you show me. / When I rise, and when I rest, / You will always know me best.” Soothing words and inviting collage illustrations provide a reassuring reminder that God knows us intimately and is with us at every moment, all day long. Ages 3 to 8.

SPEAK, LORD, I AM LISTENING: A ROSARY BOOK written by Christine Haapala illustrated by Gus Muller Suffering Servant Scriptorium, 2004 64 pages, $12 To order: (888) 652-9494 or sufferingservant.com

The prayers, mysteries and scriptural underpinnings of the rosary are presented with beauty and simplicity in this exquisite resource. It's divided into four sections, each one focusing on a different set of mysteries. Scriptural references and the full text of traditional rosary prayers are included on each page for easy reference. Striking water-color illustrations will help readers to visualize (and pray) each of the mysteries with deeper understanding. Although written with children in mind, this beautiful text is appropriate for all ages. An excellent resource for students, teachers and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults participants, this book will be treasured by all who desire a deeper understanding of this important devotion. Ages 8 to adult.

Patricia A. Crawford writes from Winter Park, Florida.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy