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Christmas books for children: The Christmas story

02 November 2006


‘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

Merry Christmas
Various authors
(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
Jan Pienkowski
(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
Bob Hartman
(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 services.

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?
(Barnabas/BRF, £5.99;
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
Marcus Pfister
(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, too.

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 at night.
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 are lovely.


"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



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