When I was a kid, I always celebrated Easter the same way: by reading Max's Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells and baking cross-shaped sugar cookies with my mom. Fun Easter traditions will form lasting memories for your kids, but sometimes it can be hard to come up with new ideas. Try reading these classic Easter picture books with your little ones, then enlist their help as you make foods inspired by the holiday stories. (Older children can assist you with the more complicated aspects of the recipes.) You'll enjoy this lineup of books, too: They're funny, sweet and beautifully illustrated, so if you end up reading them every year, you won't mind a bit.
By Patricia Polacco
What it's about: "Babushka lived alone in a dacha, a little house in the country, but she was known far and wide for the fine eggs that she lovingly painted." So begins this gorgeous children's book, which includes beautiful illustrations of Babushka's eggs. Author Patricia Polacco actually creates these hand-painted Ukrainian eggs herself, so it's no wonder that she perfectly reproduces them in the illustrations. Old Babushka views everything in her life as a miracle, even a visit from a herd of caribou in the snow. But she is secretly lonely. When she rescues an injured goose, she carefully nurses her back to health, giving her the best of everything — even her own warmest quilt. But one morning, it's time for the goose to leave. Will Babushka be left alone again, or will another miracle appear? You'll be enchanted by this story, which teaches us to appreciate the many small miracles in our world.
What to make: When the injured goose recovers enough to fly away, Babushka enjoys a special Easter breakfast with her: "kulich, a sweet Easter bread," which she covers with "pashka, a spread of cheese, butter and raisins." You can talk to your children about international Easter traditions, then try making your own batch of kulich. Younger kids may not be able to help you with the entire recipe, but they can definitely be part of icing the sweet bread. Once you finish the icing — made with sugar, heavy cream and almond extract — you pour it over the bread, then decorate with sugar-coated fruits.
The Golden Egg Book
By Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard
What it's about: A lonely bunny stumbles across an egg, but he has no idea what's inside. Is it a boy? An elephant? Kids will know exactly what the egg contains, and they'll chuckle with delight as the bunny makes a series of absurd guesses. The illustrations of the bunny make him inherently lovable — his big eyes and curious expression remind me of my 4-month-old puppy — and you can't help but rally behind his quest to "hatch" the egg. He exhausts himself trying to crack it open, then finally falls asleep. The chick that hatches from the egg is shocked to find a sleeping bunny beside him.
"Inside the egg ... I thought I was all alone in a small dark world. Now I find myself alone with a bunny in a big bright world," the chick tells us. Kids will enjoy the humorous repetition, as now it's the chick's turn to try to wake up the bunny. It's a more lighthearted romp than Rechenka's Eggs, but the stories have similar themes: The characters begin their journeys alone, but end up with new (and unlikely) friendships. Margaret Wise Brown, who also authored the classic Goodnight Moon, knows how to weave a story that will appeal to kids and parents.
What to make: Create your own edible bunnies and chicks with a Martha Stewart recipe for Marshmallow Easter Critters. Older kids can help you whip together the marshmallow concoction, while the younger ones can wield bunny-and-chick cookie cutters to form the critter shapes. The recipe advises you to "make separate sheets in different colors" so that you'll end up with an array of pastel Easter creatures. Basically, these are homemade Peeps, so if you enjoy those marshmallow treats, you'll love these.
Max's Chocolate Chicken
By Rosemary Wells
What it's about: Max is a young rabbit with a penchant for mischief. On Easter, a mysterious chocolate chicken appears. (The illustrations show an adult bunny, decked in magically bright clothes, sneaking the chocolate treat into Max's backyard. Readers can debate whether it's Max's dad or the Easter Bunny himself.) To win the chocolate chicken, Max and his older sister Ruby compete in an Easter egg hunt: Whoever gets the most eggs earns the prize. Big sister Ruby easily finds almost every egg. But Max, in typical baby-brother fashion, gets distracted by everything from mud puddles to ant hills. "You'd have trouble finding your own ears if they weren't attached to your head," Ruby gloats. But Max has a plan all his own — and it doesn't involve playing by the rules. This is my favorite Easter book. The mouth-watering depictions of that chocolate chicken will get you in the mood to devour every piece of Easter candy. Your kids won't notice if their chocolate bunny misses an ear, right?
What to make: In honor of Max, bake sugar cookie bunnies, which can be stored for up to a week. If your little ones don't want to help you make the dough, you can prepare it up to 3 days in advance. They'll be thrilled to help you cut out the shapes with 5-inch-tall bunny cookie cutters. The golden sugar cookies are an elegant treat for family Easter gatherings, too. When your kids see the result of their work, they'll probably say exactly what Max exclaimed when he saw that prized chocolate chicken: I love you!