Books That Lead to Bethlehem

Good reads for children this Christmas.

Shutterstock image
Shutterstock image

’Tis the season! Lighting the candles on the Advent wreath, counting down the days on the Advent calendar and hanging an ornament on the Jesse Tree remind children that Christmas is coming. As little ones await the birth of our Savior, make reading a part of your family’s rich Advent traditions.

Books are a portal through which children can shorten the distance between them and Bethlehem.

Countdown to Christmas

Written by Dr. Mary Manz Simon

Illustrated by Siobhan Harrison

Scholastic, 2009

52 pages, $9.99

Waiting for Christmas can be hard! This book will make it easier by helping children to count down the days in December to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Each day’s reading includes a short Advent reflection with a related Bible verse and prayer — and a fun activity to help children prepare for Christmas. Readers will enjoy making Advent crafts, singing Christmas songs and doing acts of love and kindness for others. The chubby board-book format makes this just right for the youngest children, but older readers will also enjoy all the festive and clever ideas offered in these pages. Ages 4-10.

My First Prayers for Christmas

Written and illustrated by Maïte Roche

Ignatius, 2010

14 pages, $6.99

Written for parents to pray with their very young children, this collection of prayers will help both to draw closer to God. “Jesus, little baby lying in the manger, close to Mary and Joseph, you look at us, and you love us.” The prayer continues, “With the shepherds, filled with wonder on Christmas Eve, Jesus, I look at you, and I love you.” This sturdy board book with cheerful illustrations is the right size for little hands. Ages 2 and older.

The Story of Christmas

Written by Vivian French

Illustrated by Jane Chapman

Candlewick Press, 2010

22 pages, $6.99

This vibrant book presents the Nativity in a format that can be appreciated by even the youngest readers. Straightforward language will help children to understand complex truths: Gabriel tells Mary, “God has chosen you to be the mother of his baby.” And the angel tells Joseph, “Don’t worry anymore. ... This is God’s baby.” Together, words and pictures herald a celebration of the Holy Family and Christ’s birth. Ages 2-8.

The First Noel

Written and illustrated

by Maïte Roche

Pauline, 2000

32 pages, $16.95

To order: (800) 836-9723

“God sent the angel Gabriel to announce wonderful news to Mary, a young woman in Nazareth.” This retelling of the Nativity story celebrates in a quiet, gentle way what that good news meant to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Wise Men. King Herod — often ignored in children’s books — plays a role, which helps children to understand why the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt. Few Christmas picture books can match or surpass the detail and warmth of the large illustrations. Ages 4 and older.

A Christmas Prayer

Written by Amy Parker

Illustrated by Marijan Ramljak

Tommy Nelson, 2010

20 pages, $9.95

“Thank you for the shepherds, / Who heard of Jesus’ birth. / They saw the angels in the sky / Announcing peace on earth!” The shepherds are just one of many Christmas blessings for which a young girl thanks God in this padded board book. As she recalls the Nativity story, the child also expresses gratitude for the angel Gabriel, Mary and Joseph, the manger, the star and, at last, the greatest gift of all: Jesus. The simple rhymed verse makes this a good choice for young readers anxiously awaiting Christmas. Ages 2-6.

The Gift of the Magi

Written by O. Henry

Illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Candlewick Press, 2008

40 pages, $15.99

The Magi, O. Henry wrote, “invented the art of giving Christmas presents.” This classic story introduces two givers from a time and place far removed from Bethlehem, but not from its heart. Della and Jim Dillingham Young live in a shabby flat when jobs are few and pay is scant. Della counts out all she has for Jim’s Christmas present: a grand sum of $1.87. To buy a gold chain for Jim’s treasured watch, Della sells her most prized possession — her hair — to a wigmaker. Jim sacrifices, too, selling his watch to buy combs for his wife’s beautiful hair. These now useless gifts have greater value. Ages 12 and older.

The First Christmas

Written by Candlewick Press

Illustrated by Sophy Williams

Candlewick Press, 2010

14 pages, $12.99

Faithful to the biblical text, this book is set apart by the amazing illustrations and clever, interactive design. Beautiful pastel pictures are overlaid so that with a turn of the page or lift of a flap, the story of Christ’s birth unfolds in different, but related, images. The paper engineering has a similar effect of a pop-up book and is sure to enchant children and adults alike. Ages 4 and up.

Great Joy

Written by Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Candlewick, 2010

32 pages, $8.99

Frances is preparing to be in the church’s Christmas pageant, but she can’t concentrate. For the past week, an organ grinder and his monkey have appeared at the corner below her city apartment. Late at night, she peeks out the window and sees the man and his pet standing half asleep on the snowy street. Her mother dismisses her worries about the pair. While her mother deliberately avoids the man, the compassionate Frances invites him to her Christmas pageant. His presence gives meaning to what she, as the Christmas angel, proclaims: “I give you tidings of great joy!” Ages 6-10.

The Crawford sisters write from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.