Review of “The First Christmas”

Advent is almost here, and I’m preparing by getting our 2019 Christmas books wrapped and organized for our book-a-day Christmas countdown! This year, one of the new books we’ll be unwrapping is Thomas William’s recently published book The First Christmas. Williams’ charming poem is accompanied by vibrant, unique illustrations by Frank Fraser. Together, poem and illustrations make this a perfect addition to any Catholic family’s Christmas collection!

Affiliate Links Included.

Illustrations that tell a story

My children were captivated by the illustrator’s fascinating juxtaposition of different styles to emphasize the story. On the one hand, there are the exaggerated, almost cartoonlike, depictions of the bored townsfolk and wealthy men who don’t notice, or don’t care, that the Messiah is born. On the other, there are the serenely beautiful and luminous pictures of the Holy Family, angels, shepherds, kings, and little children who recognize their Savior. This contrast in artistic style really forces the reader to reflect on Jesus being born into a world which largely didn’t recognize Him.

Biblical References

The Theology major in me loved the Biblical references interwoven into the poem. Williams explains how the coming of the Messiah is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in Isaiah and Hosea. There are also New Testament quotes and paraphrasing from Luke.

Little Children Leading the Way

Throughout the book, if you look closely you’ll notice that it is the children who recognize and welcome Jesus most readily. Young readers will love imagining themselves as the girl who cheerfully waved to Mary as she traveled to Bethlehem, or the shepherd boy who smiles at the angel as the older shepherds stare in fear and awe. The First Christmas really does a stellar job trying to draw young readers into the story of Jesus’ coming.

A Wonderful Explanation of the True Meaning of Christmas

Overall, this is a beautiful book that does a noteworthy job of explaining the true meaning of Christmas. With its lyrical verses, this poem is a great alternative Christmas poem to replace or complement the secular poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. With its focus on the true Christmas story, this picture book is really a great gift or addition to any Christmas collection.

Want to get a glimpse inside the book? Check out this great preview of The First Christmas from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press!

Looking for more picture books about Advent and Christmas? Check out my Christmas book list!

I received a copy of “The First Christmas” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Other Great Book Lists for Catholic Kids!

Need more book suggestions than you can find here? Here are some other great blogs, lists, and books about books which focus on appropriate reading for Catholic children and teens.


Michael O’Brien’s A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind has been integral in forming my views on literature. In the first half, O’Brien discusses the importance of books in forming a child’s imagination and soul. The second half is O’Brien’s lengthy list of recommended reading for Catholic children and teenagers.

 

 

 


Catholic Mosaic: Living the Liturgical Year With Children by Cay Gibson is a fantastic resource about Catholic picture books for all feasts and seasons. She also has a Christmas edition, Christmas Mosaic, An Illustrated Book Study for Advent and Christmas, which has over 200 book suggestions and even study guides for featured picture books.

 

 

Jessica at Shower of Roses Blog is a Catholic blogger who suggests Catholic books for nearly every feast day imaginable! She has her lists divided by month so it’s easy to look for books for upcoming feast days.

I agree with most of the book choices on the Mater Amabilis book lists. Mater Amabilis is a Catholic version of Charlotte Mason, an independent learning program. Both programs value self-paced learning with lots of reading, so have lengthy lists of great book suggestions.

I also like the book suggestions used for each grade of  Mother of Divine Grace homeschool’s curriculum. These tend to have more suggestions for history and social studies.

Seton Home Study school has even more extensive lists by grade, though these are hard to find on their website. Your best off searching them online by grade: for example “Seton Fifth Grade Reading List” to find the list for fifth grade.

Good Christmas Books for Catholic Kids

This post contains affiliate links. Please see footer for full disclosure.

Advent is nearly upon us!  As we turn our thoughts to preparing for this blessed season, here is a merry miscellany of Christmas books to encourage the true spirit of Christmas in your home.  I hope you enjoy reading these beautifully illustrated versions of the Christmas story, stories about popular saints, Advent-calendar style Christmas collections, and stories about the origins of various Christmas symbols and traditions.  With a story here for everyone from the very young to those only young at heart, these books are also great to give as gifts!

Board books for the very young:

Who is Coming to Our House? has a gentle, rhythmic text which details the animals preparing their barn for Christ’s coming.

The Story of Christmas is a simple retelling of the Christmas story which I particularly like because of its emphasis on Jesus’ birthday as the reason for Christmas and a short explanation of why we give gifts at Christmas: “to show our love.”

Christmas in the Manger is a very simple rhyming version of the Christmas story.

Picture books for young and old:
The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale is a whimsical story about a baker who learns that sometimes a dozen is really 13, thanks to St. Nicholas’ intervention. This book is perfect for reading on St. Nicholas’ Day prior to decorating gingerbread St. Nicholas cookies!

Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins is my favorite version of the true story of St. Nicholas. This book’s iconography is a fitting visual companion to the story’s focus on Nicholas’ desire to be an icon of Christ, imitating his Lord in word and deed.

The Cobweb Curtain: A Christmas Story is a unique Christmas story about a tiny spider who helps save the Christ Child from Herod’s soldiers. The theme of the littlest helping and a fun connection to tinsel make this one worth buying.

The Legend of the Candy Cane: The Inspirational Story of Our Favorite Christmas Candy is another fun explanation of a favorite Christmas tradition: candy canes. Very young children can understand this simple story with its explanation of the Christian symbolism of candy canes.

The Legend of the Poinsettia is another story to explain a Christmas symbol. This legend offers one explanation of the pointsettia: how little Lucida’s selfless, humble gift of weeds to the Christ Child is miraculously transformed to bright red star flowers.

All for the Newborn Baby is a sweet lullaby sung by the Blessed Virgin to Jesus, describing how all of nature is rejoicing at His coming.

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger is a favorite of mine. This adorable, wee little mouse named Mortimer hears the Christmas story read and decides to give up his bed for the baby Jesus in the family nativity scene.

The Nativity combines the Nativity story from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke with beautiful, illuminated manuscript style illustrations.

Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing uses the story of a little boy who makes his own infant Jesus statue to introduce your child to an Italian tradition in which the Pope offers a special blessing on the third Sunday of advent to all the infant Jesus figures in St. Peter’s Square.

Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing

Little Star is the story of how only the humblest, small star can see past the newborn king’s humble surroundings and recognize his kingship.

The Christmas Candle is a fanciful take on what might happen if a candle gave one Christ’s eyes, and made one see each stranger as a loved family member.

The Christmas Candle

 

Mary, Did You Know?: The Story of God’s Great Plan takes a fresh look at this favorite Christmas carol, offering Scripture verses and interpretive pictures to accompany the verses.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey is a story of how a small boy and his mother’s kindness helps a “scrooge” to recover and bring about a Christmas miracle.

Jacob’s Gift is a Max Lucado story about a young carpenter’s apprentice who learns to see Christ in those he meets.

The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men is a wonderful imaginative story about three animals, a horse, an elephant, and a camel who must work together using their unique skills to bring the Wise Men to the infant Jesus.

The Three Gifts of Christmas with Audio CD is a wonderful look at how a spoiled princess is guided by her wise parents to learn lessons about selflessness, sympathy, and the joy of giving.

The Crippled Lamb is a touching story about God’s special plan for even the littlest and weakest creatures.

Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers is the Christmas story retold from an angel’s perspective with beautiful, light-filled illustrations.

The Donkey’s Dream chronicles the dreams the donkey who carried a pregnant Mary dreamed, while exploring some of Mary’s titles. Beautiful illustrations again!

Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree is a powerful story which stars Saint Boniface smiting down the oak tree the pagans worship, and explains the miraculous origins of the linking of evergreen trees with Christ’s birth.

Lucia, Saint of Light is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the legend of Saint Lucia and how her feast is celebrated in Sweden.

Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale is a simple Christmas story young children will love about the kind animals making room for smaller and smaller animals, and eventually the Christ Child.

Legend of the Christmas Stocking is a feel-good inspiration story of a young boy who chooses to use his hard-earned savings to bring joy to poor children at Christmas.

The Gift of the Christmas Cookie: Sharing the True Meaning of Jesus’ Birth is a beautifully illustrated story about young Jack learning from his gentle mother the true meaning of Christmas as they bake Christmas cookies to give to the poor.

The Last Straw is the story of Hoshmakaka the camel (kids love this story just for that name) who must learn humility to see the Christ Child.

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona is Tomie de Paola’s beloved story of a village coming together to make Christmas special for an old woman.

Who Was Born This Special Day? is a very simple story for preschoolers as the animals determine by process of elimination that it is the Christ Child who was born on Christmas day.

Christmas from Heaven: The True Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber is an inspiring true story about a World War II Pilot who dropped candy to the German children as a sign of hope and good will.

Saint Francis and the Nativity offers a possible explanation of how the tradition of Nativity scenes came to be: through the collaboration of Saint Francis of Assisi and a simple shepherd boy.

The Miracle of St. Nicholas is the story of a miraculous Christmas in war-torn Russia brought about by the faith of a small boy, the intercession of St. Nicholas, and a community coming together.

The Tiny Star: The Greatest Star the World Has Ever Seen! can be enjoyed by even very young children, who will love its message that even the littlest can have an important task.

Apple Tree Christmas is a charming story about a family who lives above a barn and practices the true spirit of Christmas.

Stations of the Nativity is a series of meditations on fourteen events leading up to the birth of Christ. Complete with reflections and prayers, this can be prayed similar to the Stations of the Cross.

The Trees Kneel at Christmas is a beautiful, humorous story of two Lebanese immigrant children who hope to see the miracle of the trees kneeling that their Grandmother told them happened in Lebanon.

Destination: Bethlehem is an advent book with twenty four chapters, one to read each evening in December, as you accompany the characters through Palestine on a journey to Bethlehem, meeting many Bible characters along the way. Perfect for a family read-aloud!

The Story Of The Other Wise Man is for an older reader. This beloved story by Henry Van Dyke is about a fourth wise man who never does get to see baby Jesus, but instead beautifully illustrates the Bible message of seeing and serving Christ in those one meets on one’s journey.

Waiting for Christmas: Stories and Activities for Advent is a specifically Catholic resource focused on various ways of celebrating Advent: stories, songs, poems, and activities.

24 Christmas Stories to Welcome Jesus is, as the name implies, a story a day until Christmas collection. The stories range from the various gospel accounts of the Nativity to Christmas stories and traditions from around the world.

Why the Chimes Rang and Other Stories are old stories from the beginning of the twentieth century which illustrate the true spirit of Christmas.

Why the Chimes Rang: A Christmas Classic

 

Kersti and Saint Nicholas is by Hilda Van Stockum, one of my very favorite children’s authors, and therefore simply a joy to read. Four-year-old Kersti knows she falls into the naughty category, but her appeal to the good bishop on behalf of all the little ones who struggle to be good is a wonderful illustration of mercy versus strict judgment.

Kersti and Saint Nicholas

 

The Gift of the Magi is a famous O. Henry short story about sacrifice, true love, and the true meaning of Christmas.