Our Godly Play trainers and Advocates have been sharing some of their favourite books to read at Christmas time. I wonder what you might add to this list?
This picture book plunges into the story of a clergy family gamely tackling parish renewal and the struggle to maintain church buildings after a move to Detroit, Michigan. Through a plaster damage mishap just before Christmas, they acquire an antique tapestry and befriend an old Jewish woman who shares her tea and raisin cookies at the snow-bound bus stop. She recognises the tapestry as her wedding Chuppah, lost along with everything, including her young husband, when she was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Later, the obliging elderly plasterer who comes to repair the church also recognises the tapestry and is joyfully and emotionally reunited with his wife. The author adapted the tale from one she heard told twice in different homilies decades apart, differing slightly in details, but told as true. It’s a heart-warming story of family endeavour, interfaith and community connections, and of loss and joy.
Beautiful, funny and poetic storytelling with rich and powerful language, full of glory and gritty realism. Mary gives birth on all fours and ‘there was a rushing sound, like water, and a cry, like life’. Angels above the stable, ‘their bodies taut on the ridge-line’ heralded ‘the beginning of something, the end of something…beginnings and endings are hinged together and folded back against each other, like shutters, like angels wings.’ Reading this feels, to me, like Godly Play.
In this legend from the life of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia (now Turkey), Nicholas is represented as a kind and loving local pastor who, after prayer, intervenes to provide dowries for three sisters who lack the means to marry. The language is slightly old-fashioned in places: ‘when ladies wanted to get married, they needed money’. The story includes a lively illustration of what appears to be a triple wedding, presided over by Bishop Nicholas dressed in red with a large white beard. The book emphasises that God’s love is the source of Nicolas’s generosity, and of all our Christmas gift-giving, including God’s greatest gift of Jesus Christ.
A gentle, pleasing picture book first published in 1952 by the author of children’s classics Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. The simple rhyming text tells the story of the Nativity, set entirely on a snow-covered New England farm. The illustrations in this edition are by the Caldecott Honor artist, Diane Goode. It’s the lulling, intimate atmosphere that the book creates which is so special, particularly in a shared bedtime reading.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline 978-0763649968
The week before Christmas in 1940s New York City, a little girl called Frances becomes curious and concerned about a homeless organ grinder and his monkey. Her busy mother won’t help, but Frances finds a way of inviting him to a church community pageant, where they all find a moment of great joy. The luminous illustrations are haunting, enclosing, and full of rich details, such as the patriotic wartime banners in the street, and a picture of Frances’s absent father in military uniform.
Three Wise Women by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Lynne Russell
In this beautiful book, three women from different lands are wakeful at night, finishing a batch of bread-making, soothing a teething child, and telling fireside bedtime stories to grandchildren. All three women see a new star and feel drawn to follow it eastwards. They meet en route on a path of starlight, and complete their journey together, watching men in fine robes on camels depart as they arrive. They find the Holy Family bathed in silver starlight and give presents of warm fresh bread, a story, and a child’s kiss. When the star-baby in the stable grew up, ‘he showed that fresh-baked loaves taste even better when they are shared. He told the most wonderful stories to anyone who would listen. And the man whose birth had been marked by a new star taught the whole world that the greatest gift of all is love.’
The Christmas Story by Robert Sabuda 978-1406369557
This is a beautiful retelling of the birth of Jesus. Robert Sabuda is an expert at creating pop-up books that capture the imagination. Our family tradition has been to share his pop-up version of Clement Clark Moore’s The Night Before Christmas before bedtime on Christmas Eve. Then in 2016, when The Christmas Story pop-up book was published, it was quickly added to our Christmas Eve book reading. This is a story that is told again and again and yet Sabuda brings a fresh connection to our shared story of Jesus’s birth. Through six exquisite pop-up scenes we go on the journey with Mary as the angel Gabriel visits, the long trip to Bethlehem, when Jesus is born, when the angels appear to the Shepherds in the fields, as the wise men follow the star, and finally we see the 3-D manger pop out of the book as all have arrived to see the baby, the Son of God who would be the saviour of all mankind. This story is timeless and Robert Sabuda’s book provides gorgeous 3-D images that draw the reader into the story in new ways. I wonder if reading this book together will become part of your family’s Christmas traditions as well.
How Cold Was It? By Jane Barclay and illustrated by Janice Donato
Though not directly a book for Christmas, this colourful picture book illustrated by Janice Donato is a staple in our home throughout December as the days get colder and colder. It follows a boy as he goes through his school day facing the chill of the house first thing in the morning, the freezing walk to school, warming up at school, dashing through the cold to get home and finally settling into his warm bed at night. Jane Barclay’s writing is full of playful descriptions which help the reader feel the cold and the warmth with the boy. We are taken on an adventure through his day as his imagination entices us to see new possibilities in frost, icicles and steam rising from sewer grates. This is a joy to read after a cold day outside, when you can cuddle up on the couch with blankets and read together.