Religious Christmas Tales

I have long been an Ashley Bryan fan, so I highly recommend his Carol of the Brown King (all ages), with a text of five poems by Langston Hughes and another that Hughes translated from Spanish. Here Bryan continues his tradition of exploring African-American spirituals and poetry, with his trademark fireworks-like splashes of color in tempera and gouache paintings. An invigorating feast for the eyes!

Joseph's Story (ages 4-up) is a lushly illustrated (by George Hinke) and clearly told (by Patricia A. Pingry) narrative. A nativity story focusing on Joseph's thoughts and concerns, each spread contains a note explaining historical details and context, such as the fact that Joseph would not have been present at Jesus' birth (men were hustled away during childbirth). Lovely and informative.

Remember the Christmas classic The Littlest Angel? Recently the great niece of the author, Charles Tazewell, discovered one of his previously unknown manuscripts, now published for the first time. The Littlest Uninvited One (all ages) tells of a mischievous boy in heaven who longs for a dog. Michael finally gets his wish, but when the pup runs loose, all h - breaks loose behind those pearly gates. The Littlest Uninvited One is a touching story for dog lovers and older children (at least 4 or 5; the language is sophisticated) alike.

Another book with an imaginative twist is Saint Francis Celebrates Christmas, retold by Mary Caswell Walsh, illustrated by Helen Caswell (ages 3-6). Based on Thomas of Celano's 13th-century biography, the simple text explains how St. Francis pulled together the world's first living nativity scene. The language is just right for preschoolers, although, as an adult, I would like to have seen a short historical note.

The most unusual nativity story I've seen of late is The Bear's Christmas (ages 3-6), set in snow-covered lands. A hungry bear leaves his winter den in search of food, only to encounter shepherds, angels, and a mother and baby in a barn. The mother offers the bear a berry-covered branch, allowing the bear to return home for a long, deep sleep. This is a sweet, simple, and snowy fable.

Alice Cary is a reviewer in Groton, Massachusetts.

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