by Rebecca J. Gomez
When I was a child, my favorite Christmas picture book was Santa's Crash-Bang Christmas by Steven Kroll, illustrated by Tomie De Paula. The story is full of slap-stick humor, and I sympathized with Santa as he struggled through a difficult night of delivering presents all over the world. Other favorites were How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess (of course) and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Missing from my childhood Christmas library were books about the nativity. When I was very young, the story of the baby Jesus wasn't a highlight in my family's Christmas celebrations. Though my mother had a beautiful ceramic nativity scene that she painted herself, we didn't go to Christmas services at church or sit around and hear the Christmas story from Luke chapter two every year. Our Christmas was more about the tree and Santa and presents and watching Christmas specials like Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer.
But my family, and therefore Christmas, changed drastically when I was eleven years old. My parents became Christians. Well, perhaps it is more accurate to say that they renewed the faith they had when they were children. In any case, from that point on our family was different. And Christmas was different. Yes, we still enjoyed watching the Christmas specials and setting up the tree and looking forward to presents on Christmas morning. But now, it was all about Jesus. The story of the birth of Christ took on a newer, truer meaning. My mother's nativity that I had always admired began to mean something.
I wish I could say that my family's library expanded after that to include more books about the birth of Christ. But the truth is that new books rarely made their way onto my family's shelves. They were expensive! And there were seven of us kids!
Then I got married and had my own children. Money wasn't as tight as it had been for my parents (we had three kids, not seven!), so new books were a more regular feature in our home, and I made it a point to include books about the birth of Jesus in our home library.
The first nativity book that I remember buying was The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado, illustrated by Liz Bonham. I remember countless times reading it with little ones on my lap as we marveled at the book's gorgeous illustrations and talked about the significance of the story. Later I added some others that became favorites, including Goodnight, Manger by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman and This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Delana Bettoli.
I continue to add nativity books to my Christmas library now that my kids are grown. Books like The Christmas Fox by Anik McGrory and Mouse's Christmas Gift by Mindy Baker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk. I've started buying them for my grandkids too because, as they grow up celebrating Christmas, my hope is that, as they have fun celebrating with lights and trees and gifts, Jesus and the story of his birth will be at the center of it all.
Do you have a favorite book about the nativity? We'd love to hear about it.