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Looking in at the stable door

23 November 2011

A selection of books that tell children the Christmas and other Bible stories


Baby’s First Christmas
Christina Goodings
Stephen Baxter (illustrator)
Lion £3.99 (£3.60)

Christine Miles, parent: Technically, it’s Olivia’s second Christmas. But as she was only two months old last year, this will be the first time she’ll notice something unusual going on. Baby’s First Christmas is the perfect introduction to what all the fuss is about.

This 12-page board book intro­duces the key characters in the Christ­mas story: Mary, Joseph, donkey, Bethlehem, innkeeper, stable, shep­herds, angel, Wise Men, and the star. The penultimate page features the shepherds again, inviting us to “Come and see” the baby Jesus on the last page.

Stephen Baxter’s beautiful illus­trations have a crayon-like naïve style to them, and Olivia loved them. I’ll be buying this book for all her friends to start introducing them, too, to the real meaning of Christmas.

My Very Little Christmas Story
Lois Rock
Alex Ayliffe (illustrator)

Lion £2.99 (£2.70)

Christine Miles, parent: This title will be the Christmas story book of choice for next year. At the moment, the words are lost on one-year-old Olivia: “A crowded inn, a stable room: an ox makes room for them,” for example.

And, because the book is a little bigger than palm size, Alex Ay­liffe’s detailed collage-style illus­trations wash over her a bit, too. But all was not entirely lost. With plenty of animals in the stable, we could at least point out the meowing cat, the moo­ing cow, the baaing sheep, and the eeyoring donkey. We didn’t get much further this year, and, because the pages were a lot thinner than those in other board books, Olivia struggled to turn the pages.

If you have a two-year-old in mind, I think this book would be a page-turner for all the right reasons, adding more depth to the story of Christmas.

Lift the Flap: Christmas Stable
Juliet David

Candle Books £6.99 (£6.30)

Sue Chisholm, grandparent: This is a straightforward telling of the Christ­mas story, with a cartoon-like Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. It is a board book, cut out to the shape of the stable. I read it to Raphael (aged three) and April (aged one) at the same time: Raphael liked the simple story, and April enjoyed lifting the flaps to see the mice, ladybirds, and bees in the stable.

Raphael: I like the spiders. Where’s the T-Rex?

The Shepherd Girl of Bethlehem: A nativity story
Carey Morning
Alan Marks (illustrator)

Lion £5.99 (£5.40)

Allison Blyghton, parent: The Christ­mas story, told from the viewpoint of a shepherd’s daughter, explores the loving relationship between the girl and her father, the trepidation of the child’s journey in the light of the Christmas star, and her encounter with Jesus.

Laura (7): I liked it when Jesus’s light went into the shepherd girl.

Juliette (5): I liked it when the shep­herd girl was running to find her daddy.

The Animals’ Christmas
Elena Pasquali
Giuliano Ferri (illustrator)

Lion £5.99 (£5.40)

Allison Blyghton, parent: This book has beautiful illustrations, and is written in curiously understated language that only underlines the amazement of all those involved in the Christmas story. It is inspired by the passage in Isaiah: “Where animals both wild and tame would live to­gether”.

Laura: I liked the picture of baby Jesus in the corner. There are lots of animals in it, too.

Juliette: I liked the picture of the lion roaring.

The Story of Christmas
Juliet David

Candle Books £3.99 (£3.60)

Sue Chisholm, grandparent: This board book begins, unusually for a children’s Christmas story, with the annunciation, and with Mary’s singing “a song of thanks to God”. I read it to Raphael, aged three, who became fidgety quite quickly. I think, perhaps, it is aimed more at the younger age-group. It is illustrated with doll-like characters, and ends with a picture of two modern-day children and the explanation: “We give each other presents — just as the wise men brought gifts for Jesus,” which I thought was useful. (When the Wise Men arrive, Jesus is portrayed as a toddler, which can involve some extra explanation.)

The First Christmas
Karen Williamson
Simon Mendez (illustrator)

Candle Books, £6.99 (£6.30)

Allison Blyghton, parent: The pictures in this book are strangely old-fashioned, but look as though they are photographs at the same time. Instead of a host of angels, there is just one, suspended within an alien glow. The language is very simple, and would be suitable for young children.

Laura, and Juliette: We liked the pop-up stable at the end.

Bible stories

My Storytime Bible
Renita Boyle

Melanie Florian (illustrator)
Barnabas for Children £9.99 (£9)

Sally Fraser, aunt: This book is a joy to read to young children. It is written by the celebrated storyteller Renita Boyle, and the internal rhythm and rhyme within her stories make the biblical tales come to life. Moses had to be patient with God’s exiled people when all they seemed to do was “mumble, mump and moan”. The story ends by saying that God is patient with us, too, even when we “grumble, grump and groan”.

Goliath is described by David as the “mightiest frightiest giant”, and an impatient Noah, waiting for the land to dry, says: “Ho, hum, sigh”. A per­fect book to read at bedtime, and an absolute must for teachers.

Rufus (5): I liked the story of Jonah, and I laughed when the big fish burped.

The Lion Bible in its Time
Lois Rock
Steve Noon (illustrator)
Lion £12.99 (£11.70)

Stanley Drew (9): I have really enjoyed reading this book. As well as the Bible stories, it has informa­tion about those times and places in history, such as Babylon and Persia, the Greek Em­pire, and the Romans. I learned a bit about the people and their lives then — it was like junior church at home. There are really good maps that go with the stories, and these show you where things actually happened, and where people like Paul travelled. In fact, my favourite part of the book was about Paul: it tells you all about him, and how hard he worked spreading the news about Jesus.

The illustrations are marvellous, the best I have seen in a book like this. Steve Noon is a brilliant illus­trator. Because this is more than a story book, it makes a good gift for older children, aged eight and over.

My Best Bedtime Bible
Sophie Piper
Claudine Gevry (illustrator)
Lion £6.99 (£6.30)

Allison Blyghton, parent: This Bible has a selection of stories that focus on Old Testament characters: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jonah, and Daniel, as well as the Christmas story, and stories from Jesus’s life — in the Temple, calming the storm, and the lost sheep. After each story, there’s a simple prayer on the theme of the story. The pictures are vibrant, and the stories are short enough to read to young children.

Laura: The prayers are good.

Juliette: The rainbow is beautiful.

The Lion Classic Bible
Andrea Skevington
Sophy Williams (illustrator)

Lion £12.99 (£11.70)

Sally Kendall, parent: I loved this. It faithfully retells the Bible narrative, and the illustrations are stunning. A lovely present for older children, 12 years and over. Great for children to see that the Bible is one narrative, and not lots of unlinked stories. I just wonder, though, why children would want to read someone’s reinterpre­tation at this age when they could read the real thing.

The Lion First Book of Bible Stories
Lois Rock
Barbara Vagnozzi (illustrator)

Lion £8.99 (£8.10)

Sally Kendall, parent: This is a really lovely children’s Bible; all the big hits are in here, accurately retold. The illustrations are super — fun, and full of character. I like the description of Adam and Eve leaving Eden: “Would they ever be friends with God again?” Later on, the wise and the foolish builders are powerfully described, too. I would have liked a bit more sub­stance in the New Testament, though; the parable of the wheat and the weeds is beautifully retold, but Jesus’s explanation of it is missed out. And the last words of the book feel am­biguous: “Tell the world my message. Tell people to love and forgive one another, and God will love and for­give them.” It is the gospel’s message of God’s unconditional love which motivates our love and forgiveness of others, not the other way round.

Isabella (7): I like this story and I like the pictures.

My Look and Point Bible
Christina Goodings
Annabel Hudson (illustrator)

Lion £9.99 (£9)

Sally Kendall, parent: This is a Bible for little ones, and the bright, fun illustrations are perfect for them. A lovely selection of all the stories that children love. Sadly, some bits are watered down, which my four-year-old was baffled by. We are told at the beginning: “God made a good world. But it got mixed up with bad things.” Surely we can say it as it is? “People did bad things, they forgot about God,” is what the Bible says. In my son’s favourite story, David is shown “scaring” the wild animals with his sling, and we are never actually told Goliath is killed. Theo, aged four, asked, “Where’s the lion he killed?” And “Where’s Goliath dead?”

Gift Books

How Do You Feel?
Anthony Browne

Walker Books £9.99 (£9)

Sue Chisholm, grandparent: I was amazed by the success of this book.

It was more popular than any of the pop-up, flap-lifting, Christmas books, and I was asked to read it again and again. It looks so simple: it has large pages, and features a monkey who is doing different things. It explores feelings: “Some­times I feel happy/sad/confident/angry.” Raphael, aged three, couldn’t wait to turn to the next page. “And some­times I feel guilty” (the monkey had drawn on the wall) led to an inter­esting discussion about what is naughty and what is not. There are few books that address children’s feelings in such a direct way, and it was a real hit.

One Christmas Night
M. Christina Butler
Little Tiger Press £6.99 (£6.20)

Sue Chisholm, grand­parent: Although this is not a religious Christ­mas story, it has a Christmas theme, and its pages are covered with festive sparkle, which April (aged one) loved. Little Hedge­hog is preparing for Christmas Day by making mince pies and Christ­mas cake. But, he says, “My house isn’t Christ­massy.” He is given holly and pine cones, and he sticks glitter on them “until nuts and acorns twinkled like stars”. Then Badger, Rabbit, and the mice walk in. “That’s what was miss­ing — all of my friends!” he real­ises. “Happy Christmas, everyone!” Raphael and April both learnt that you don’t have to spend a great deal of money to enjoy Christmas.

Christmas at the Toy Museum
David Lucas

Walker Books £11.99 (£10.80)

Christmas at the Toy Museum
David Lucas

Walker Books £11.99 (£10.80)

Allison Blyghton, parent: This is not a spiritual book, but it encapsulates the spirit of Christmas generosity and sharing. The toys in the museum don’t have any Christmas presents, but they wrap each other up; so every­one has something on Christmas morning.

Laura (7): I liked it because it was sad when Bunting didn’t have a present, but happy because he got a wish in the end.

Juliette (5): I liked Punch and Judy, the monkey and the dogs.

Activity Books

Christmas Jigsaw Book
Juliet David
Sarah Pitt

Candle Books £6.99 (£6.30)

Faith Buck, parent: This book tells the nativity concisely with a nine-piece jigsaw to complete on each page. Tynan, aged five, said it was “cute”, but he found the pieces hard to snap into place compared with the (more com­plex) jigsaws he regularly enjoys. The jigsaw pictures are printed again beneath the pieces; so they are simple enough for a toddler, and yet require the manual dexterity of a grown-up to complete.

Baby Jesus is Born: Sticker Book Karen Williamson
Amanda Enright (illustrator)
Candle Books £2.99 (£2.70)

Faith Buck, parent: Tynan described this book as “nice”. He enjoyed looking for the correct places to put the stickers to complete the pictures. The nativity story is told in clear and simple language, suitable for children just learning to read. The illustrations are modern and cheery.

Wipe Clean Christmas Story
Juliet David
Marie Allen (illustrator)

Candle Books £2.99 (£2.70)

Faith Buck, parent: This doesn’t come with any pens, but normal felt-tips work, and wipe off easily. There is a nice variety, including dot-to-dot, spot the difference, and mazes. Tynan loved the idea of a wipe-clean colour­ing page, allowing him to change his mind or correct “mistakes”, but was frustrated that the pens we used did not really “take” to the glossy page. Overall, a fun book for pre-schoolers to pass some time.

My Carry-along Christmas: Activity book with stickers
Jocelyn Miller
Lion £5.99 (£5.40)

Faith Buck, parent: This is packed with a variety of Christmas-themed activities. I would recommend this for the lead-up to Christmas, as there is an “Advent tree” with stickers to be added daily, plus gift, card, and decoration ideas. There are a number of craft projects which will require additional materials and adult supervision, including Tynan’s favourite: a recipe for gingerbread-tree biscuits.

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