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Christmas books for children

24 November 2023

Madeleine Davies looks at some possible choices

EARLIER this year, a General Synod member expressed the opinion that answering a five-year-old’s question “Is Jesus really a person, or really God?” was more difficult than preparing a sermon. The answer needed to be “clear, simple, brief, accurate, and on the spot”. It’s an observation that returned to me while reading a selection of children’s Christmas books to my children (three years and 18 months old). There is nothing like trying to explain the incarnation to a toddler to bring home its sheer strangeness. Why is this baby “special”?

Our favourite was The Christmas Swallow, which tells the Christmas story through the eyes of a bird perched high above the action. It is a nice device that, in common with other books, harnesses children’s fascination with animals (my three-year-old remains concerned about the fate of the “poor man’s” donkey in Nick Butterworth’s retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan). Here, we learn about a “rescuer”; and that “God is with us.” For older children, there is plenty of potential in the text to give rise to deeper conversations. It ends with the swallow singing “a song of Jesus, the baby born from God” — a gauntlet thrown down to parents asked to provide a melody.

© estelle corkeThe swallow is present when the shepherds arrive in Bethlehem in The Christmas Swallow

For younger children, Numbers: A nativity story provides an outline of the story in rhyme and pictures based on numbers (“Three wise men carry treats. Four old camels have hairy feet”), while I Spy Christmas invites them to spot various things in each picture — a helpful device for inveterate page-flickers.

My three-year-old loved Donkey’s First Christmas: Sticker book, which tells the story in the voice of the donkey while providing an activity on each page. Highly recommended for long family lunches where absorbing activities at the table are vital.

For older primary-school-age children, Wow! Christmas is an impressive activity book with six chapters that each begin with a Bible verse before taking the reader through six stages: pray, pause, play, create, celebrate, and communicate. It’s an excellent resource full of ideas for crafts, dramas, and simple practices that would work well with youth groups as well as at home.

Not There, Little Bear! is a retelling of the Lost Sheep parable, in which a small bear searches for a beloved missing caterpillar. Fans of Emily Gravett’s Where’s Bear? may enjoy it particularly. The connection to the Bible story requires some knowledge and initiative on the part of the parent or reader.

© Cori DoerrfeldFinn, the little boy in Beneath

A similar approach, but for older primary-school-age children, is taken by the TV presenter Gemma Hunt in See! Let’s Be Me, which contains five tales about emotions inspired by Bible stories. My quibble is that some take stories about God’s action and shift the focus to children’s behaviour — hence the story of the Lost Coin becomes a moral about the importance of persisting. Those that translate Jesus’s teaching into experiences familiar to children — arguing with a sibling for example — work really well, however.

Alongside The Christmas Swallow, the biggest hit with my children was Beneath, the tale of a sad little boy, Finn, who is persuaded to go for a walk with his grandfather, and learns about what can lie beneath appearances (seedlings beneath leaf mulch; baby animals in a hollow tree). It is a beautiful book, which takes seriously children’s emotions (there is a subtle narrative about bereavement and grief which could be drawn out if appropriate), and, while there is no explicit Christian teaching, it brought to mind Psalm 139 and the God who knows both Finn and his grandfather.

The Christmas Swallow
Ben Harris
Estelle Corke, illustrator
Lion £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.99


Numbers: A nativity story
Karen Rosario Ingerslev
Jennifer Davidson, illustrator
Lion £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.19


I Spy Christmas
Deborah Lock
Samantha Meredith, illustrator
Lion £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.09


Donkey’s First Christmas: Sticker book
Suzy Senior
Maru Vargas, illustrator
Scamp Publishing £5.99
Church Times Bookshop £5.39


Wow! Christmas: Creatively explore stories in the Bible
Martha Shrimpton
Sarah Nolloth, illustrator
Lion £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.89


Not There, Little Bear!
Suzy Senior
Dubravka Kolanovic, illustrator
Scamp Publishing £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.09


See! Let’s Be Me
Gemma Hunt
Charlotte Cooke, illustrator
Lion £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.99


Cori Doerrfeld, author and illustrator
Scallywag Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.69

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