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Young Mary of Nazareth Hardcover – September, 1998
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From Publishers Weekly
Citing sources from the Gospels, the Apocrypha and early saints/mystics' writings, Mayer (The Unicorn and the Lake) fills in the details before the virgin birth. Mayer includes the well-known tales of when Mary heals a bird and a sick girl as well as the renown she gains from her good works at the temple. Aside from these additions to the biblical account of Mary's life, the author creates an interesting perspective of Mary and the girl/woman she might have been. Mayer opens this interpretation with Mary's plea to God for a child from her barren mother, Anna; when the promised child arrives, Anna and Joachim's lives are forever changed and blessed. Young Mary's kindness and wisdom impress all who meet her, astounding even the most learned of temple teachers with her insights. Her eventual betrothal to the elderly widower Joseph foreshadows her part in conceiving and bringing forth the Messiah Jesus. The account of Mary's early life reads fluidly and evenly, and the artistic reproductions from masters such as Rosetti, Giotto, Titian and Barocci contribute to a well-rounded portrayal of this essential personage in Christianity. All ages.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 6-Happily for readers, if unhappily for struggling artists, several recent picture books on myths and religious figures utilize fine-art paintings as illustrations. This very personal vision of the early life of the Virgin is the latest example. Mayer draws on apocryphal material and her own psychological insights as well as Scripture for her account of Mary's conception, birth, education, betrothal, and, finally, the birth of her son. Some touches of the miraculous gild the narrative, but for the most part the author focuses on Mary's qualities of character-in particular, her courage. A note at the end gives sources, but there is no way to sort canonical from noncanonical bits in the story. The illustrations are equally personal choices. From Mark Lancelot Symons's angelic chorus of very realistic 1920's faces featured on the book jacket onward, well-known artists (Lippi, Giotto, Titian, La Tour) accompany those who are lesser known (Salimbeni, Barocci, Ligozzi). Mayer chooses many Baroque, Pre-Raphaelite, and pre-Raphael works over the predictable High Renaissance icons. This is a book for devout, and chiefly Catholic, readers, though others may appreciate its model of a strong young woman, or its lovely reproductions.
Patricia Lothrop-Green, St. George's School, Newport, RI
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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However, I was disappointed by the account of Mary and Joseph's arrival at Bethlehem. The text says that Mary was "pale and in pain" as it was time to deliver her baby. This is a heretical assertion which contradicts the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Pain in childbirth is, according to the Bible, the fruits of Adam and Eve's disobedience, Original Sin (see Genesis 3:16). Mary was conceived without the stain of Original Sin, the only human to be so since Adam and Eve. Therefore, she was not subject to pain or any other discomfort of bearing a child. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) states it thus:
"...that the supernatural influence of the Holy Ghost extended to the birth of Jesus Christ, not merely preserving Mary's integrity, but also causing Christ's birth or external generation to reflect his eternal birth from the Father in this, that "the Light from Light" proceeded from his mother's womb as a light shed on the world; that the "power of the Most High" passed through the barriers of nature without injuring them; that "the body of the Word" formed by the Holy Ghost penetrated another body after the manner of spirits."
I would not completely discount this book based on the error above. The artwork, as I mentioned, is lovely. When reading to a small child, you can easily skip the phrase in question, or substitute some other more appropriate words. This can be an occasion for an older child to look at the statement in light of the Bible and the teaching in his catechism. "The author said this, but the Bible says...An the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception says what? Could Mary have suffered pain? Did the author make a mistake?"
An good alternative, but without the masterpieces, is Mary the Mother of Jesus by Tomie de Paola.