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