When my sons were small, holiday celebrations were a big deal in our house. As the boys got older, though, one time-worn ritual after another was abandoned to age and sophistication (I use that term very loosely).
The tradition with the greatest staying power was, oddly, one of the simplest — Easter baskets. Imagine, middle-school-age boys wanting, actually wheedling, for them!
Before you think that our baskets must have been repositories of Oscar Night levels of swag, let me assure you, this was not the case. From year one, each kid got the same ratty basket filled with recycled paper grass, a large solid-chocolate bunny, unfancy jelly beans and Peeps (whose frequently careless misplacement prompted multiple cases of marshmallow-butt syndrome).
What made the baskets special were annual alternate-basket appearances of Flip the Bunny, a kitten-sized back-flipping wind-up toy, and soft-stuffed, life-sized Chickie Peep-Peep, as well as an Easter-themed picture book lurking under the grass in each basket.
Picture books morphed into “Goosebumps” and “Harry Potter” over the years, of course; but I like to think that those early little surprises, more than Flip’s acrobatics, helped keep my boys reading and the Easter Bunny alive in our hearts for a few extra years.
Here are some of our favorite Easter classics.
Written and illustrated by William Joyce
Ages 3 and up
Bently is a dapper artist and frog-about-town who reluctantly agrees to egg-sit during a Duck family 911. Bored, he beautifies the egg, which is promptly snatched by a Boy who thinks it’s for Easter. Bently makes multiple daring rescues and comes to love his charge dearly. Our all-time favorite; the pictures are charming and hilarious.
Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Ages 4 to 8
Babushka, a gifted Easter-egg painter, rescues Rechenka, an injured wild goose, who accidentally breaks the old woman’s delicate work. But days before the egg competition, a miracle begins to unfold. Glorious, gorgeous artwork.
Written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Ages 3 to 5
A giant candy hen mesmerizes the world’s most adorable toddler rabbit. Sister Ruby says he must win the Easter egg hunt to have it. Max has other ideas. Laugh-aloud funny.
Written by Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by Helen Craig
Ages 4 to 7
A lonely rabbit wanders through the seasons looking for companions in a place called Easter. A new interpretation of the 1959 original by the artist.
Written by DuBose Heyward
Illustrated by Marjorie Flack
Ages 4 to 7
Skeptics abound, but Little Cottontail dreams of being an Easter Bunny. Does marriage and family dull her dream? No way. Her charm, persistence and mad organizational skills teamed with 21 helpful, well-raised bunnies win the day.
Written and illustrated by Katherine Milhous
Ages 5 to 9
This 1951 Caldecott winner is still very enjoyable today. Kids searching Grandmom’s attic for Easter eggs find antique painted ones instead. Grandmom, who made them as a child, teaches the children how to make and display their own on an egg tree, a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.