‘Christmas can bring out the worst in grown-ups — all those really
beautiful books of the nativity with no proper story. This was what George,
aged six, expected to find in the pile I set before him. The best books are
beautiful and tell the whole truth, Herod and all; these are always appreciated
and read over and over again’ — Terence Handley MacMath
(CYP Harlow, £1.99; 1-85781-668-4 — with CD)
Terence Handley MacMath, parent: The stories are jolly and
nicely read; so I thought it was a pity that the CD and book have
bargain-basement cartoon illustrations, and the songs and carols are the
synthetic sort with relentless tempi guaranteed to anaesthetise the soul.
Trinity was forgiving (or more patronising).
Trinity Handley, nine: It is very sutible [sic] for young
children to listen to with their parents. Age one to six; seven probably not
very interesting for them.
The First Noel
(Walker Books, £9.99;
Terence Handley MacMath, parent: If you love and treasure
Jan Pienkowski’s Christmas, you will instantly recognise these silhouettes,
although here they are presented as white cut-outs against a plain scarlet
ground. With just five scenes, each with a simple caption beneath, this is not
so much a book as a decoration (a “Christmas carousel”) that you tie open and
hang up to contemplate. I’m afraid the exquisite subtlety was lost on George —
but then he expects a book to be a book.
The Noisy Stable
(Lion, £3.99; 0-7459-4824-3)
Terence Handley MacMath, parent: Bob Hartman is a
storyteller par excellence, so this little paperback gives a very faithful
retelling of the Bible narratives, but it’s also a gift for preaching and
teaching. All the good tricks of the trade are there, with scope for pulling
faces, getting the children listening to join in counting, acting, gesture,
varying the pace and emotions. We all liked the simple, funny illustrations by
Brett Hudson. This is one I’m keeping up my sleeve for those looming crib
One Night In A Stable
Guido Visconti, Alessandra Cimatoribus
(Eerdmans, £9.95; 0-8028-5279-3)
Terence Handley MacMath, parent: This is the sort of
beautiful book that probably appeals to adults rather than children, as the
soft-focus, monumental animals shimmer luminously, enchantingly, in dark, earth
tones — but nothing very exciting happens. The Holy Family arrives in this
stable rather by chance, one feels. Hospitality is the theme of this take on
the nativity, but we aren’t ever told what the connection is to the birth of
Jesus. George was unconvinced. Still, it is beautiful . . .
A Gift for the Christ Child
Tina Jahnert, Alessandra Roberti
(North-South Books, £9.99; 0-7358-1957-2)
Sally Asher, parent: This tale is written from the
perspective of the innkeeper’s young daughter, Miriam. It appeals to little
ones who aspire to do big things like their older siblings. Miriam is
ultimately given the responsibility of leading Mary and Joseph to the stable,
where she later presents Jesus with her own red blanket.
Kathryn Macleod, five: I like the warm colours and the way
she drags her blanket everywhere.
The Christmas Mouse
Stephanie Jeffs, Jenny Thorne
(CWR, £4.99; 1-85345-315-3)
Kathryn Macleod, five: Daaaaad, this book is too long.
Asher Macleod, eight: Much too long.
Jay MacLeod, parent: Complicated, cluttered, far-fetched,
banal. “The two mice watched as the man gently put his arm around the woman.
‘Isn’t he beautiful, Joseph?’ the woman said, rocking the baby in her arms. The
man smiled and nodded. ‘Yes, Mary,’ he said. ‘He’s beautiful.”’ A mouse burrows
into a book about the nativity and finds himself at the scene. Sadly, the
reader is never drawn into this one.
Knock, Knock! Who’s There?
Sarah Doyle, parent: You really can’t go wrong with young
children and lift-the-flap formats. The story tells the tale of the Innkeeper
at Bethlehem, who keeps trying to retire, but is constantly disturbed by
visitors, both animal and human, wanting a bed for the night in his stable.
Once it had been read to her, Hope, aged five, enjoyed turning the pages and
lifting the flaps herself, putting her own words in. The indestructible
easy-wipe board format is a plus point, making this book great value.
The Christmas Star
(North-South Books, £5.99;
Sarah Doyle, parent: And here we have another graduate
from the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it school of children’s book design.
Almost every kid in the land has read Rainbow Fish, with its silver hologram
foil fish; so the author Marcus Pfister has used this winning formula in The
Christmas Star. This time, the star gets the foil treatment. And jolly
successful it is, too. This straightforward re-telling of the nativity has
beautiful traditional illustrations, enlivened by the shiny stars, which Hope
loved to touch. If you get only one of these books for a child under seven, get
this one: it does the lot.
The Holy Night
Selma Lagerlof, Ilon Wikland
(Floris Books, £8.99; 0-86315-467-0)
Camilla Macnab, parent: Selma Lagerlöf was the first woman
to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. This atmospheric book characteristically
carries the Christian story on the current of a Swedish folk-tale tradition. A
surly shepherd is sought out in the night by a stranger who asks for fire to
warm his wife and new baby, finally relents and helps the family, and is
surrounded by the angels that have come to greet the child.
Elinor (nine) and Catriona (seven) were captivated, and
loved the pictures, which use light and dark to give a powerful emotional
dimension to the simply told narrative. We see the narrator as a child being
told the story by her beloved grandmother, and are told that the grandmother
has since died. The picture of the little girl by the sofa, with the corner
empty and the knitting and the Bible waiting, is followed by a departing wagon
in a twilit birch forest. This is a thoroughly grown-up book, and will appeal
to children of any age.
An Angel Came to Nazareth
Anthony Knott, Maggie Kneen
(Templar, £7.99; 1-84011-454-1, cased)
Rachel Boulding, parent: This was rather difficult for a child to
follow: it’s more of a meditation on the Christmas story; so you’d need to be
familiar with all the details of it. It’s also a bit worthy. The pictures,
though, are beautiful, using textured paper.
Thomas Brooke, five: I liked feeling the paper. The Roman soldier was nice,
Room for a Little One
Martin Waddell, Jason Cockcroft
(Orchard Books, £10.99; 1-84362-013-8, cased)
Rachel Boulding, parent: The illustrations, in a rich,
painterly style, are stunning. There are a couple of sentences on each
double-page spread, telling a simple tale of the animals in the stable at
Bethlehem. The book has a warm, cosy atmosphere, just right for curling up with
Thomas Brooke, five: I liked this. All the animals were
very cuddly and kind to each other.
How Many Miles to Bethlehem?
Kevin Crossley-Holland, Peter Malone
(Orion, £9.99; 1-84255-277-5, cased)
Rachel Boulding, parent: This is a gorgeous and thoughtful
book, illustrated by rich paintings in a modern style, but showing the
influence of Piero della Francesca. It tells the Christmas story through a
range of narrators, each speaking only a sen-
tence or two (“I am the Shepherd and the Lamb,” says Jesus, see picture,
above right). But it succeeds in being meditative and even mesmeric rather than
static, partly through the entrancing quality of the illustrations. Thomas was
hooked. It’s one to treasure.Thomas Brooke, five: The pictures
"I am the Shepherd and the Lamb": one of Peter Malone: one of
Peter Malone's illustrations in How Many Miles to Bethlehem?, a
retelling of the Christmas story