Name of Book: If You’re Missing Baby Jesus
Author: Jean Gietzen
Illustrator: Lila Rose Kennedy
Publisher: Blue Cottage Gifts, a division of Multnomah Books
Audience: Ages 7—9
Summary: In 1943, a young family of four in North Dakota buys a nativity set to decorate their house for Christmas. When they unpack the nativity set, they find that there are two figurines of the baby Jesus. Mom, (whose name is Ethel), asks her young son and daughter to go down to the five-and-dime store where the set was purchased, and tell the store owner about their two figurines of the baby Jesus. Mom is worried that some one will buy a nativity set that has no baby Jesus in it. The children go down to the store, and the store owner puts this sign in his window: “If You’re Missing Baby Jesus, Call 7162.” Mom finally gets a call from a young mother who has no heat, no sufficient supply of food or clothing, and few Christmas presents for her young children. Mom hurries over to 205 Chestnut Street, and involves her husband and children in the process of giving the family in need a truly meaningful Christmas.
Literary elements at work in the story: The author uses a first person narrative; the daughter of the family tells a true story which took place when she was a child during World War II. The title, If You’re Missing Baby Jesus, has a dual meaning. The first meaning relates to the possibility of someone buying a nativity set from the store with a missing figurine of the baby Jesus. The second meaning is explained by the author’s family acting as Jesus lived and taught–by ministering to the needs of the young family without heat. The young woman with cold and hungry children says it best when she says, “That nice lady (Ethel) is singin’ ‘bout the Lord Jesus. He ain’t ever gonna walk out on us. Why, He sent these people to us just to fix our furnace. And blankets—now we got blankets, too! Oh, we’ll be warm tonight. Jesus saves, that’s what He does.”
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The story takes place in war time during the year of 1943. Winters were extremely cold in North Dakota. War times were times of deprivation. Not everyone had the basic necessities of life. The war separated families, and left many families without bread winners. The book does not tell us why—but the young family without heat has been deserted by the husband and father of the family.
Theological conversation partners: In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when we give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, when we welcome the stranger, give clothing to the naked, when we visit the sick, and the imprisoned, we are doing these things for him. This scripture illustrates the concept of giving to others, caring for others, and loving others, because that was what Christ did, and it is what Christ wants us to do. This story changes the focus of Christmas from being a time of receiving, to a time of giving. The story shows how parents can model—for their children—a giving spirit.
Faith Talk Questions:
- When does Dad begin to understand the meaning of the concept – missing baby Jesus?
- What kind of things besides material things did Mom, Dad, and the children give this family in need?
- How is the faith of the young mother living at 205 Chestnut Street affected by the gifts given her and her children?
- How is the baby Jesus figurine important to each of the characters in this story?
- Why is the location of the baby Jesus figurine so important?
- What do the narrator and her family do with the “extra” baby Jesus figurine?
- How does this story show the real meaning of Christmas?
This review was prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Chris Feno.