Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Nativity for Young Readers

When I was growing up, I was always the angel in our Sunday School Christmas Pageant. And every year I recited the same 2 lines from the Book of Luke:

And the angel said unto them: "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." (Luke 2:10-12)

I've always liked the Christmas story because of its message of peace on earth and good will to all, and even though that has never happened, every Christmas, there is always the hope that it will.

Here, then, are three books that each have an interesting way to share the Nativity story with your young readers.

The Christmas Story written and paper engineered by Robert Sabuda
Candlewick Press, 2016, 12 pages, age 5+
Beginning with the angel God sent to Mary in Nazareth to tell her she would soon give birth to a baby named Jesus, who would be the son of God, to the journey taken by Mary and her husband Joseph to Bethlehem to be taxed by Caesar Augustus, Sabuda retells the Christmas story in his own words. Accompanying his text, Sabuda has used his considerable skill as a paper engineer to bring the story of the birth of Jesus to life in a pop up book for young readers. The delicate pop-ups are elegant in their simplicity, each pop up in done in pure white, except for the gold on the angels, on the halos around the heads of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, on the crowns of the three wise men, and of course, the star the guided them to the manger. And each pop up is set against a background of different colored pages. But here, you can see for yourself just of beautiful this book really is:  

The Christmas Story is surely a book your family will treasure and return to again and again.

Refuge by Anne Booth, illustrated by Sam Usher
Nosy Crow, 2015, 32 pages, age 5+
I bought this book from England last year when £5 from every book sold was being donated to War Child, a charity that supports Syrian refugees. This year, $1.00 of every book sold will go to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). And what better story is there to demonstrate the plight of refugees everywhere. Most of us don't think much beyond the humble birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem. We forget that shortly afterward, the cruel Roman King Herod, feeling threatened upon hearing that a new King of the Jews had been born, ordered all boys under the age of 2 to be slaughtered. Booth's only mention of all this is the dream that Joseph had that they were in danger and must flee to the safety. So once again, Joseph, Mary and Jesus set off on their donkey, relying on the kindness of stranger along the way until they found refuge in Egypt. Refuge is a simply told addition to the usual Christmas story retelling and one that really highlights for young readers the plight of refugees everywhere. I loved that it was told from the point of view of the donkey that carried this family from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt. Sam Usher's grey and white washed illustrations with the occasional touch of bright yellow add to the atmosphere of love, hope and fear felt by Mary and Joseph.

The Guardian did a feature of Refuge last year and you can still access it to experience this important book.  

Sun Moon Star by Kurt Vonnegut, illustrated by Ivan Chermayeff
Seven Stories Press, 1980, 2016, 64 pages, age 5+
While I'm a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut's novels, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I discovered he had written a children's book, and one about the Nativity, no less. And it is exactly what you would expect from Vonnegut. He tells the story of that first Christmas by looking at what the Creator of the universe, who was all knowing in heaven, sees and (mis)interprets the night of Its birth as It transitions from God to human. He never uses the name Jesus, always referring to Him as the Creator, which makes sense if you read the Epigraph Vonnegut included from the Book of Matthew in the Bible: Matthew 1:23 - "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." And while this version of the incarnation sounds like a rather highbrow, overly intellectualized rendering of the Nativity story, it is actually very child friendly, told without overly simplifying or condescending to the reader. Sun Moon Star  is an oversized book, its pages made of heavy colored paper with cutouts that have both clarity and simplicity to the story being told. According to Seven Stories Press, the illustrations were done before the story was written, and Vonnegut wrote Sun Moon Star around the them. 

Each on of these is an excellent retelling of the Nativity story. What is your favorite retelling?

The two biblical quotes I used came from the King James Version of the Bible, the same Bible I received in Sunday School at age 10.

1 comment:

  1. Just reading those lines from the Book of Luke reminded me of all the nativities I’ve seen over the years. Watching first my son and then my grandsons were some of the happiest times of my life. I don’t think my little granddaughters have been in a nativity yet, but I must ask my daughter-in-law. I’m sure she would have sent photos if they had been, so I’m guessing not. Both girls are very much into ballet, and we do see lots of photographs of their concerts.

    The Nativity Play by Mick Inkpen and Nick Butterworth and A Christmas story by Brian Wildsmith are two of my favourite retellings.

    I hope you have a very Happy Christmas and a safe and happy New Year.


Imagination Designs