These two wonderfully illustrated children’s books, Celebrate the Earth and The Story of Mary the Mother of God, are a welcome and needed addition to the growing collection of Orthodox children’s literature written in English. With themes taken from the Bible and Orthodox Tradition, the stories are retold and illustrated by Dorrie Papademetriou, a graphic designer and mother of two young boys. Recently released by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, the color and richness of these books will captivate children and adults alike.
Celebrate the Earth is a retelling of several verses of the 104th Psalm (10-25), with full color illustrations. Inspiration for the first book came while the author worked as a counselor at Ionian Village, a Greek Orthodox archdiocesan spiritual and cultural camp for children located on the western coast of Greece, and encouragement came from her two sons. “I wanted them to know the source of the beauty they saw around them so they would give thanks to the Creator for everything in the world. [Psalm 104] celebrates the goodness and beauty of the created world and affirms the timeless importance of stewardship and love for all that God has provided.” A poetic depiction of the first two chapters of the book of Genesis, Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise to God who has brought forth the world from His loving hand. God creates and nourishes, is Master of the seasons and Lord of the earth and sea. It is God who fulfills all human needs, whether offering “wine to make our hearts glad” or “oil to make our faces shine.”
Each page offers a verse of the psalm with a corresponding depiction of the verse on the opposite page. The illustrator, painting in acrylics, works with a pallet of vibrant blues, greens, oranges, and yellows, which fully manifest the colors of the sky, sea, and earth. The characterizations of animals and plants are very appealing and bring a smile to the face of the reader. The last few pages offer a variety of biblical and patristic quotations on the creation. Both a joy to read and a feast for the eyes, Celebrate the Earth is bound to charm young and old alike.
After the submission of the first manuscript to St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, the publishers commissioned a second book. The Story of Mary the Mother of God is based on the Apocryphal Gospel of St. James (Protoevangelium) and the mosaic icon cycle of her life depicted in the narthex of the fourteenth century Byzantine church at the Monastery of Chora (Kariye Djami) in Istanbul, Turkey. This book focuses on the early life of Mary, who was chosen by God to be a “bridge between heaven and earth.” During a 1998 stay in Turkey with her husband and their sons, Mrs. Papademetriou was struck by the Byzantine mosaics, having never heard the stories of Mary while growing up, and wanted to record the stories of the mosaics for children.
The story helps to describe the life of Mary, who comes to the attention of most Christians through the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel that she will bear the Christ (found in the Gospel of Luke 1:26–38). The author tells of the miraculous conception of the Theotokos, and the difficulties her parents, Joachim and Anna, endured. The reader follows the early life of Mary from being presented in the Temple at the age of three, through her growth into a young woman and her betrothal to Joseph. The Annunciation completes the book, with a final word on her great faith and devotion to God.
As with the previous book, each section of text is accompanied by its depiction in acrylics on the opposite page. Again, Mrs. Papademetriou paints with rich, deep hues. Drawn in a somewhat different style than Celebrate the Earth, this book is most likely suitable for a slightly older children’s audience. The story and illustrations warm the heart, and the reader will be sorry to see the book come to an end. Along with plans for her third book already in the works—drawn from the early life of her grandmother—perhaps the author will consider writing a continuation of Mary’s life, drawing from the Gospels of the New Testament.
Celebrate the Earth and The Story of Mary Mother of God may be ordered from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Bookstore, 575 Scarsdale Road, Crestwood, NY, 10707, or by phone, 1-800-204-2665. List price is $13.95 for each.