Sunday, 16 December 2012


This is not a religious household.
Aged around 5 Bill asked to go to church because he wanted to 'see what it was like'. I took him with me to the one across the road to their Festival of Nine lessons and Carols. About 10 minutes in he lean't across to me and whispered to me in a serious tone 'I wondered what it was like and now I know'. I asked him if he wanted to leave quietly but he said no. He was very pleased to get given a candle in an orange for his perseverance. We both enjoyed the experience but he has never asked to repeat it.

I was brought up more churchy with weekly trips to Sunday School to colour in pictures of Jesus and baskets of fish. Although I never chose to be confirmed it remains a part of my cultural heritage and in that spirit it is important to me that my children grow up with some sort of understanding of the stories of the Bible and the spiritual calendar of the year. They'll make their own choices in due course.

Apart from anything else they ARE pretty good stories, with a satisfying and unusual amount of violence and absolutism for small boy tastes. I remember Bill coming across the story of Adam and Eve for the first time and just boggling and boggling- "They were really never allowed back Mum?  what NEVER??"

In the same spirit the story of the Nativity is mainly fascinating to them because of King Herod; a bad guy to trump any of their Marvel or DC villains. We've got a few different nativity books around.
The first; 'The Very First Christmas' by Louie Stowell, illustrated by Elena Temporin is a tender and sweet (and Herod-free) retelling of Baby Jesus' arrival and his parade of visitors with unusual gifts. I like the simplicity of the text and the warmth and love that radiates from the illustrations.

Jan Pienkowski's 'The First Christmas' is a complete contrast. It's a small and tactile hardback of delicious beauty, exoticism and darkness. He illustrates the text from the St James bible with woodcuts of muscular angels, cavalcades of elephants, twining grapevines, climbing monkeys and creepy bats. There is detail, movement, joy and danger in every spread. There is also a lot of Herod. A book to savour and shiver with in equal measure.

But the boys most popular way to get their daily Nativity update would be our partworks-style Advent calendar with 24 installments in teeny tiny books. It's an irresistable treat each morning to read the latest news from Bethlehem: Eddie likes to intone it with Proper Gravity in between mouthfuls of minibix. This is its second year outing for us and it has already acquired Tradition Status. If it appeals to you, I highly recommend forking out for it, it is a nice thing.

'The Very First Christmas' by Louie Stowell, illustrated by Elena Temporin, pub. Usborne
 isbn 978074607705-4
'The First Christmas' illustrated by Jan Pienkowski, pub Puffin
isbn 978-0-141-50097-3
'The Story of Christmas: Story Book set and advent calendar' story retold by Mary Packard, illus. Carolyn Croll pub Workman isbn 978-0-7611-5250-7


  1. Lovely - but you're recommending an advent calendar on 17th December... As far as nativity books go, Jesus's Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan always makes me laugh.

  2. next year Toby- next year tsk... 'Jesus' Christmas Party' an excellent choice