Do They Know It's 'Jesus Time' At All?

It's not lost on kids that, this time of year, everywhere they turn their attention — from store windows to neighborhood light displays to songs on the radio — someone is doing something to rev them up for Christmas.

The good news is: This most electric of seasons provides parents with plenty of opportunities to focus tuned-in little ears and eyes on what, exactly, Catholics really celebrate each Dec. 25.

We can start by helping children understand that December is not just a long footpath between Thanksgiving and Christmas, nor simply a time of year to be especially jolly. December means Advent — a time of active, yet introspective, waiting.

How to communicate that message to racing young minds? Few activities calm the preoccupied gift recipient like a read-along. Here are some titles that can help turn mad materialism into joyful — and peaceful — anticipation.

JESUS IS BORN

written by Ester de Pilato

translated by Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSP

illustrated by Maria Grazia Boldorini

Pauline, 2002 10 pages, $6.95

To order: (800) 836-9723 or www.pauline.org/store

The birth of Jesus is presented for very young children in this chunky board book. Toddlers will be engaged by the extra thick pages, which give the impression of a three-dimensional manger scene. Meanwhile, the simple language (“Jesus is God's Son. He came to earth as a little baby. This is how it happened …”) and cheerful illustrations will appeal to slightly older children. A great introduction to the Christmas story, presented in a durable and inviting format. Ages toddler to 5.

I SEE A STAR

written by Jean Marzollo

illustrated by Suse MacDonald

Scholastic, 2002

32 pages, $7.95 Available in bookstores

In this unique rebus book, 20 children join forces to perform a Christmas pageant. Young readers will enjoy seeing children similar to themselves as they dress up and pretend to be Mary, Joseph, angels, manger animals, the star of Bethlehem and even the baby Jesus. Best of all, children will enjoy decoding the story, which is written completely in a rebus format, without the inclusion of conventional spelling. Thus, a picture of an eye means “I”, the letter C means “see” and so on. Perfect for budding readers; with a little assistance, even preschoolers will be able to decode and enjoy this warm, fun-filled text. Ages 3 to 8.

TO HEAR THE ANGELS SING:

A CHRISTMAS POEM

written by W. Nikola-Lisa

illustrated by Jill Weber Holiday House, 2002 32 pages, $16.95 Available in bookstores

This rhymed retelling of the story of Jesus' birth is a perfect choice for preschoolers and grade-school children alike. The illustrations are large, vibrant and sufficiently detailed to draw in young readers. The words provide a good match. They are simple, repetitive and singable. The poem's cadence fits well with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (“She gave Him birth in Bethlehem, Bethlehem, Bethlehem/ She gave Him birth in Bethlehem, among the hay and sod”). Add a few simple hand motions and you have the start of a classroom performance or a delightful family Christmas tradition. Ages 4 and older.

BABUSHKA

retold by Sandra Ann Horn

illustrated by Sophie Fatus

Barefoot Books, 2002 32 pages, $16.99 Available in bookstores

In this Russian folktale, Babushka is too busy cleaning to join the kings following the star. One night as she sleeps, an angel sings of a baby born in a stable. Babushka wakes with a start. Placing her shawl and a few presents in a basket, she sets out for Bethlehem. She meets others on the way needing her help and gives to them what she has. Babushka arrives at the stable empty-handed and embarrassed. There she finds the infant wrapped snugly in her shawl. “Everything you gave away with love,” Mary consoles Babushka, “you gave to my son, also.” Ages 5 and older.

BRIGID'S CLOAK:

AN ANCIENT IRISH STORY

written by Bryce Milligan

illustrated by Helen Cann

Eerdmans Books, 2002 32 pages, $16 Available in bookstores

In this legend, a Druid from the deep forest knocks on the door of a hut where a Christian slave woman has just given birth. He wraps the infant, Brigid, in a blue cloak, saying, “This cloak will be the sign of your God's favor.” Some years later, the young girl, now a shepherdess, lays fresh hay in the stable and kneels to pray. Upon rising, she realizes she is in a different stable in a different land. There Brigid wraps her tattered cloak around Mary and goes to fetch water. When she returns, Joseph hands her the newborn, whom Brigid lovingly settles in the manger. Brigid awakens to her own mother calling her name. Has she been dreaming? Her cloak — now sparkling with the stars of the sky — tells another tale. Historical profile of St. Brigid included. Ages 5 and older.

THE FIRST NOEL

designed by Jan Pienkowski

Candlewick Press, 2004 5 pages, $12.99 Available in bookstores

Many books tell the story of Jesus' birth, but few as cleverly as this “artwork in the round.” Pienkowski — with the assistance of a paper engineer, no less — has c r e a t e d a series of three-dimensional silhouettes. Just open the book and the white silhouettes pop away from the s t r i k i n g red background. Push the front cover to meet the back cover and tie the covers' decorative red shoestrings together. The result is a carousel in the shape of a standing star. Each of the five panels presents a scene of the Nativity, starting with the Annunciation and ending with the visit of the Wise Men. Biblical text accompanies each tableau. Ages 8 and older.

THE DONKEY'S

CHRISTMAS SONG

written and illustrated

by Nancy Tafuri

Scholastic, 2002 32 pages, $16.95 Available in bookstores

When baby Jesus is born, each of the stable animals welcomes him in its own special way. The doves coo, the cows moo, and the sheep bleat. But it's the shy donkey whose funny braying makes the baby laugh with joy. The reassuring storyline, repeated animal sounds and oversized watercolor illustrations offer readers a great invitation to think about the very first Christmas. Ages 3 to 8.

BETHLEHEM

text from the RSV Bible,

Catholic edition

illustrated by Fiona French

Ignatius, 2001 32 pages, $15.95 To order: (800) 651-1531 or www.ignatius.com

The traditional biblical narrative is recorded here and accompanied by stunning illustrations done in the style of stained glass.

Although the formal language may be challenging for very young children, readers of all ages will find themselves caught up in the beauty of the Christmas story as it unfolds in these beautiful and inspiring scenes. Ages 6 and older.

Patricia Crawford writes from Winter Park, Florida.

Kerry Crawford writes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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