Regardless of one’s religious beliefs or lack of them, I believe that it is an important part of our role as teachers to enable students to understand the origins of a time of year that claims our attention like no other. This book which uses the text from the King James version of the Bible is the perfect introduction. Superbly illustrated by Jan Pienkowski using silhouettes against the most stunning backdrops, it portrays the story in a unique way that does not interfere with any preconceived, more classical images the reader might have.
The illustrations bring the text to life, giving it meaning where there may have been none because of the unfamiliar syntax of such long-ago words. Pienkowski has interpreted the text in his own way with much detail that even being in silhouette form evoke emotion and movement and intrigue. And there is whimsy such as the two small figures on the poop deck of the Wise Men’s ship, who are pointing in different directions and plainly arguing about which way is East. As well as the exquisite illustrations, the pages are embellished with all sorts of delightful touches that make the reader feel they have one of those illuminated books of old in their hands.
This is the perfect book for beginning the Christmas Countdown – as classic as sharing ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.
Once upon a silent night, a stable stood. A star shone bright.
This is a new interpretation of the timeless story of the Nativity, retold in a manner reminiscent of the Christmas song, The Friendly Beasts as it tells the story of how the animals assisted the new parents once they were turned away from the inn. First, the cow white and red offers up his manger for a bed, the donkey shaggy and grey gives his hay, the sheep with the curly horn offers its wool to keep the baby warm while the doves will sing the babe to sleep, the trees will watch over him, and the moon will fill his dreams with silver light.
But while the story may be old, the illustrative interpretation is is more modern with Joseph and Mary portrayed in modern clothes, adding to the concept that not only is the story timeless but it transcends time. So this is a new way of introducing the story of the first Christmas so that our youngest readers understand not only the origins of this celebration but also the references to it that they will encounter time and again.
This is the story of Sarah, daughter of Sadek and Anna, granddaughter of Ali and Azar, and granddaughter of Maria and Paul.
In Sarah’s house the Bible and the Koran sit side by side on the shelf, each full of stories which her grandmothers tell her when they come to visit. Sarah’s favourites are those about the birth of Baby Jesus, but she is confused because even though parts of each story is similar to the other, there are parts that are different. “how can they both be true?” she asks.
Sarah’s situation is not an uncommon one – there are many families where there are differing belief systems, and these are often highlighted at this time of the year. Similarly, in our classrooms where we share stories about the Nativity with children who might hear a different version at home. How can the two be reconciled? Grandmother Azar provides an answer that satisfies Sarah and celebrates the richness of the two cultures her family straddles.
This is a beautifully illustrated story that is sensitively told and acknowledges that this is a special time of year for many, not just Christians, and that there can be bonds that are stronger than anything else.
First published in 1952, but reprinted with new full-colour illustrations, Christmas in the Barn is a retelling of the Nativity from the perspective of the barn animals. As dusk comes and night settles, and the animals take up their usual places and positions two people come into the barn and before long, without fuss or fear, Mary gives birth. The star shines, the shepherds and the Wise Men arrive and the baby is laid in a manger, no crib for a bed.
Told in rhyme this is a charming retelling of the traditional story that underpins the celebration of Christmas that is quite secular in its interpretation, making it perfect for sharing and explaining what is behind the images and imagery that is common at this time.
While some schools and communities have bowed to political correctness and taken the story of the Nativity out of the curriculum, I believe that given the widespread celebration of Christmas in Australia, all children should know its origins so they can understand the importance placed on it, just as they should know the stories and understandings behind the commemorations and celebrations of other religions. Because this version makes no reference to God – indeed neither the people nor the baby are even named because the emphasis is on the warmth, safety and harmony of everyone and everything in the barn – it is perfect for introducing very young children or those unfamiliar with Christmas to the basis of the beliefs of those who celebrate.
This is the story of The Nativity told from the perspective of Joseph’s donkey, Despite its apparent smallness and insignificance, the donkey still played a massive role in this event that continues to be celebrated around the world. Though the donkey wasn’t the biggest, fastest, or strongest of all the animals, he had an important job all the same.
Told in rhyme, this is a way to explain the story behind all the Christmas hype to the very young so they begin to understand what is really being recognised at this time. With its bright pictures and strong message that even the smallest of us has a role to play, it will appeal to parents who want their child to begin to know this enduring story and the common symbols associated with it including the angels, shepherds and the birth in the manger.
As an extra treat to start the season here’s a childhood favourite from Bing Crosby …
This re-issue of the 1964 original by Dick Bruna (of Miffy fame) tells the story of the Nativity in a simple, uncomplicated way that ensures children learn about the events that underpin this important celebration and help them understand that there is more to it than a fat man in a red suit and bulging stockings.
This is my all-time favourite Christmas book sparking one of the most enduring activities that I did with the re-telling of the Christmas story. Inspired by Bruna’s signature illustrations of simple lines and colour blocks, students would cut out silhouette shapes of the characters, paste them onto bright sheets of paper and as a class we would reconstruct and retell the story of the story behind the celebrations.
There were few children in my teaching career who were not exposed to this book and it’s great to know that it is on the market again. If it is not in your collection, it should be.
If you like to start the festive season with a story about the story behind the celebrations, then Star! Stable! Saviour! could be a great choice. Drawing on the traditional elements of the Wise Men (scientists) and the shepherds seeing a star and following it to the stable where they find Baby Jesus the story is told using as many words as possible starting with the sound of ‘s’.
“See- a star!” stated a slightly stunned, smart, snazzy scientist to several similar smart, snazzy scientists.
These scientists from The South Saudi Sands, Sudan (or somewhere similar) searched the stars for signs.
This strange star was certainly a sign.
See it shine!
With bright, clear illustrations which capture so much movement and expression, the story is told in alliterative format which brings new life to it so even those who have heard it every year about this time will get a fresh perspective and enjoy it again and again. Originally published under the title The Star, The Stable and The Saviour it’s been repackaged and republished by Wombat Books in time to bring a new version to the traditional Christmas literature fare in a quirky but respectful way.
This will be read on Day 2 of the Christmas Countdown at my school, following The First Christmas in which Jan Pienkowski has illustrated the original text from the New Testament so those children who may be encountering the story for the first time can consolidate what they learned from that experience. Told without a religious editorial, it gives those students for whom Christmas is not a religious or traditional festival an understanding of what it is we celebrate at this time of the year, the meaning behind many of the symbols they see and why it is so important to so many.
This is the text version of the traditional Christmas song which tells the story of a poor boy who wants to see the baby Jesus, but has nothing to offer that would be worthy of royalty. Or so he thinks. Originally written by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941 and called Carol of the Drum, this version features illustrations by Ezra Jack Keats that capture the spirit of the song and the message that while Christmas is about giving it is not necessarily the biggest, brightest, store-bought that is the best.
The Little Drummer Boy
This is my all-time favourite Christmas song and this is my all-time favourite rendition.
For as long as he could remember, Wombat wanted to be in the Nativity play at Christmas. Now, at last he was old enough and so he hurried off to the auditions. But getting a part was not easy. He was too heavy to be the Archangel Gabriel. He was too big to be Mary and too short to be a king. Perhaps he could be Joseph. But that didn’t work either and neither did being the innkeeper or one of the shepherds. Soon there were no parts left and Wombat didn’t have any of them. Then, suddenly, Bilby has an idea…
Wombat Divine is one of Australia’s most-loved Christmas stories written by one of Australia’s most-loved authors for little people. Mem Fox’s words always have a magic about them and this story is no different. As you read it to yourself, you can hear yourself reading it aloud – the true indicator of a master writer at work. Superb illustrations by Kerry Argent capture the action perfectly with just a touch of humour so that we can empathise with Wombat but you just know something will work itself out.
This is such an iconic Australian story that every child should know it as an integral part of their growing up. It was the first in the pile that I sent to a family in Wales as part of a special Australian Christmas collection.
This is the story of the Nativity, with a twist. It is told from the perspective of the innkeeper who liked nothing more than a good night’s sleep. But this night, just as he got into bed there was a knock at the door. After showing travellers who turn out to be Mary and Joseph to the stable, he shuts the door, climbs the stairs, gets into bed and goes to sleep. Only to be woken by another knock … And so the pattern of his night is established.
This is a quirky view of a traditional tale that could be used in lots of ways in the classroom to investigate the events which underpin Christmas. It’s also an opportunity to help students learn about viewpoint and how circumstances can be perceived differently, depending on our relationship within the context, either as participant or observer. Younger children will enjoy the repetitive text and empathise with the innkeeper’s frustration.
The book has been adapted to a musical, perhaps an alternative to the traditional school Nativity play. Here’s a sneak peek