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Published March 28 2012

Thursday review: ‘Sparrows’ puts spin on classic Easter story

If you go

What: Book-signing of “The Easter Sparrows” children’s book by regional author Michael J. Larson

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, The Rainbow Shop, 4761 13th Ave. S., Fargo; 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 1, Family Christian Book Store, West Acres Shopping Mall, Fargo

Book review

“The Easter Sparrows”

By Michael J. Larson, illustrated by Janine Ringdahl Schmidt

Published by WestBow Press

28 pages; $10.95 softcover

Available locally at The Rainbow Shop and Family Christian Book Store, as well as amazon.com and westbowpress.com

FARGO – As a children’s author, I’m a little squeamish about book reviews. Not because I don’t think they have merit but because I know what it’s like to be on the other side of those reviews.

Consider that my first disclaimer.

Nevertheless, as a lifelong book lover and mother of five children – who may often lack matched socks but rarely have too few books – I may have some insight to share on the children’s book that landed on my desk this week.

“The Easter Sparrows” is written by regional author Michael J. Larson, illustrated by regional artist Janine Ringdahl Schmidt. Geared toward primary-school children, the title comes from WestBow Press, the self-publishing arm of the Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson.

Both author and illustrator have connections to Wheaton, Minn., where Larson taught biology for 34 years, and Schmidt attended high school before moving on to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she received her bachelor of fine arts degree.

There’s no doubt the title is geared toward the Christian audience, perhaps first to parents who take their faith seriously and have grown weary of the commercialization of the Christian holidays.

“Finally, a story about Easter that isn’t filled with jelly beans and egg-toting bunny rabbits!” states a news release by the publisher.

Second disclaimer: I fall among that group of parents. If you do as well, at the very least you’ll appreciate Larson’s attempts to present a fresh perspective of the real Easter story.

The book introduces readers to Chip and Chirp, two tired sparrows who’ve landed in an empty tomb and decide to rest there for the night.

Those familiar with the Biblical Easter story know what the sparrows are about to witness – Jesus’ crucified, broken body placed within the hollow tomb by his grieving friends.

To me, the perspective provides the most intriguing element of the story, both for adults and children.

The Biblical account of the tomb where Jesus’ body is placed following the crucifixion is filled with mystery. We don’t know for sure what happens once he’s placed inside and the opening sealed – only that when the stone at the entrance of the tomb is removed, the body is no longer there, and there’s no human/material explanation as to how this happened.

The entire story of Christianity rests upon the fact that Jesus the Christ is resurrected. Without the resurrection, there is no Christian faith, so it seems an important place to begin.

This story could only have been told by creatures as inconspicuous as sparrows, or mice, perhaps. Hearing the account from this vantage point, the reader is brought into this place of mystery and allowed to see what no human eye ever has.

Drama unfolds throughout as the birds wonder what sort of place they’ve flown into, and whether they’re trapped in the tomb forever.

The sparrows not only witness what happens inside the tomb, they also experience a God-to-bird encounter with the newly reawakened Jesus – the most charming moment of the book in my opinion.

After all, isn’t that what people of faith yearn for most of all in the end – that personal encounter? The story might be an important introduction, but we want to experience God for ourselves. In this book, children, in their own smallness, glimpse that possibility.

I also appreciate the fact that, through the eyes of these two small creatures, a fairly complex aspect of faith is introduced, but without it being overly heavy for the young reader.

This is Larson’s second children’s book. Aside from his book-writing, he’s also written for children through an environmental column for the St. Paul-based magazine Minnesota Out of Doors.

Though retired from full-time teaching, he continues to develop environmental learning experiences for children as director of the Bonanza Education Center along Big Stone Lake near Beardsley, Minn.

Those who’d like to visit a bit with the author and take a closer look at the book can do so this weekend in Fargo, where he’ll be stopping by two separate locations.