This post is coming much later into December than I had planned. Turns out it has been quite a task to find excellent Christmas books that are about Jesus. Hmm. I’ve been reading through stacks of offerings- my poor Bookworms, aka Guinea Pigs, have endured some real duds. I want to share with you only the highest quality books that will hold your bookworms’ attention while sharing the message of Jesus’ birth. Jesus isn’t boring or tedious… nor should books about him be! The books I’ve suggested have sustained the attention of my young preschooler (almost 3).
Listen to the Silent Night by Dandi Daley Mackall. I was reading this while Preschool Bookworm was playing, and he stopped what he was doing to come peer over my side as I read, staying till the final page. High praise! The artwork is beautiful and intricate with so many details for little eyes. The story is perfect for little ears too, as it is a rhyming text with plenty of onomatopoeia (sound words). The author tells how the nativity story was “not such a silent night” but instead was filled with sound: “flip, flap, flap” of Joseph’s sandals, “rap, tap, tap” on the inn’s door, “swish, swish, swish” of the camels’ steps across the dessert, carrying the Wise Men, and the “flut-flut-flutter” of angel wings. A thorough retelling, as well as a great read aloud experience. My top pick.
Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd Jones. This one gives me goosebumps every time! Sally Lloyd Jones is the author of our favorite Bible (see below), and now the author of our favorite Christmas book. “The world was about to change forever. And it almost went by unnoticed…” The excitement and anticipation of creation around the world builds as the animals cry out “It’s time! It’s time!… The One who made us has come to live with us!” The nativity story is not told from start to finish, but rather the enormity of God’s coming to be born amongst us is celebrated.
One Starry Night by Lauren Thompson. The artwork is gorgeous and draws you in from the start. A note on the title page versa tells us that the wild animals featured in the book could all be found in the Holy Land at the time of the traditional nativity story. I love that bit of historical accuracy, but more appealing is the simplicity of the story. Each of the animals cares for its young with tenderness and love until the crescendo of Mary & Joseph cradling their beloved newborn. The book ends with an Amen. Fitting. The entirety of the Christmas story is not told, instead providing a spotlight on Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the manger; but, it is short enough for the youngest readers.
Clopper the Christmas Donkey by Emily King. Clopper the donkey shares the story of Jesus’ birth from his perspective as the one carrying Mary to Bethlehem and sleeping beside her in the stable, waking to the sound of a baby’s cry. The illustrations are cartoonish but friendly looking. A nice touch is the inclusion of verses of scripture alongside the text of the story. Although it’s slightly awkward to pause the text to read the verses (featured in scroll images beside the illustrations), I was glad to have them side by side. With an older reader it would be even more powerful to be able to explain where the text is from and find the same words in your own Bible (verses are from the NIV). This provides a thorough retelling in a creative way.
The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie dePaola. If you’ve been following the blog, you know I’m a fan of author Tomie dePaola! His Christmas offering here is just what I would expect: a simple, child-friendly retelling beside beautiful artwork. The birds share the surprising things they’ve noticed, which bookworms will be able to identify as the parts of the Christmas story: a long line of people, a crowded inn, a man & woman led to a stable, shepherds, an angel, a newborn baby.
This Is the Star by Joyce Dunbar. After our first reading of this one, Preschool Bookworm declared, “That’s a good book. I want to keep it in my room. I can’t wait to show daddy.” This is told as a cumulative tale (building phrase upon phrase, like “The House That Jack Built” or “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”) and also in rhyming couplets. The story builds line by line as each character and part of the nativity story is introduced, leading to Jesus’ birth. (A heads up, for poetic reasons or otherwise, the donkey is called an ass throughout.)
Another logical place to look for the story of Jesus’ birthday is in a children’s Bible. We have several that are fantastic!
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones. This is our favorite children’s Bible version ever. As an adult, I have been moved to tears many times while reading this. We’ve read it cover to cover at least 3 times since before Preschool Bookworm could comprehend the text (he still can’t always follow every story at age 3). The subtitle is “Every Story Whispers His Name,” and it weaves Jesus into every story including the old testament, painting the picture of the overarching story of God’s rescue plan for humanity. The sections concerning the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew cover three chapters and are retold in story form (though making note of the specific chapters they’re based on). The writing is beautiful and expresses the anticipation and excitement:
“Everything was ready. The moment God had been waiting for was here at last! God was coming to help his people, just as he promised in the beginning. But how would he come? What would he be like? What would he do? Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking, in the darkness, he came.”
My First Hands On Bible from Group Publishing. The Christmas (and Easter) stories have been published in stand alone board book versions with the same text as the larger Bible. A nice option to make the Christmas story stand out on your bookshelf! The Christmas version (or the chapters covering Christmas in the larger Bible) include three short (2-3 page) stories which are direct quotes from the New Living Translation: Jesus is Born (Luke 2:1-7), Shepherds Hear About Baby Jesus (Luke 2:8-17), and Wise Men Visit Jesus (Matthew 2:1-11). The “hands on” aspect of the stories is that there are actions suggested to make the reading interactive: for example, “Turn on all the lights and say at different volumes, ‘Good news! Jesus has been born!'” and “Walk around the room with me in different fun ways. We’ll pretend we’re Mary and Joseph [as they’re traveling to Bethlehem].” The end of each story also includes discussion questions, an action rhyme, song or activity, and a suggested prayer. This is solid preschool material! It’s recommended for ages 3-6. (There is a version for older bookworms, Hands-On Bible, which I haven’t actually had my hands on, but is recommended for ages 6-12.)
The Beginner’s Bible from ZonderKidz. For a simple, straightforward offering, this Bible uses simple sentences, bright cartoonish illustrations, and minimal text per page. If you have a beginning reader or a bookworm with a very short attention span, this is your Bible! The text is broken into 6 stories from the angel appearing to Mary through King Herod’s death.
Longer Picture Books
If you have an older bookworm who can handle a bit more text, the picture books below have more detail and include more of Jesus’ life beyond his birth (including King Herod, a bit of what is known of his early childhood, and the second includes his baptism):
The Christmas Story by Carol Heyer. (Out of print but should be available used for a penny plus shipping.)
The Christmas Story for Children by Max Lucado, Randy Frazee, and Karen Davis Hill.
The books mentioned above should be available at your local library, or at the Amazon affiliate links provided. Be sure to check your library’s nonfiction section as well for nativity story books: 232.92 is the Dewey section. (But don’t say I didn’t warn you that there are quite a few duds out there.)
Merry Christmas! Keep Reading!