Somehow I’ve never read Petook: The Rooster Who Met Jesus by Caryll Houselander, illustrated by Tomie DePaola. It was recently republished by Ignatius and Magnificat, and it’s a wonderful book.
It’s a simple story of a rooster who has a brief encounter with the young Jesus. Jesus only appears in person on a few pages, in an apocryphal scene where he pauses on his way to Jerusalem. Hearing that “some stranger has been walking through the vineyardm” the new father Petook is alarmed, thinking a careless boy might step on his newly hatched chicks. But the young Jesus is entranced.
“It must be the first time that he has seen a hen gathering her chicks,” Petook realizes. I love this little reminder that Jesus is a real person who encountered beautiful sights for the first time with his human eyes. It’s the memory of this moment that later inspires Jesus to say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you under my wings as a hen gathers her chicks, and you would not.”
There are little symbols and portents throughout the story, but it’s done subtly and naturally.
It’s never explicitly stated, but we can assume that Petook is also the rooster whose crow made Peter weep.
The book tells the story of the Passion, death, and resurrection without telling it, with the gospel scenes appearing unobtrusively in the background for alert kids to find and identify.
DePaola, as usual, conveys a lot with color — the bright daylight colors of Petook’s joy as a new father
the lonesome, uneasy tones of night when Petook can’t sleep (and readers can see the disciples sleeping and Jesus praying while the soldiers approach with their lantern)
and listening quiet just before the sun rises and new life emerges on Easter morning.
This isn’t a tearjerker like some of DePaola’s Christian books, but it’s a quiet meditation on how the life of Christ permeates the whole life of the world, even the chickens and the blades of grass and the seeds in the earth. Just lovely. Good for ages three and up. The language may be too sophisticated for youngest readers, but the pictures will be captivating.
You can order this book direct from the publisher, where it is currently on sale for $12.74. It is a sturdy hardcover with an attractive format, and the colors are excellent.