Author: Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrator: Helen Cann
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September, 2014
Audience: Not given. Reviewer’s suggestion is 3-8 yrs.
Summary: On Christmas Eve, according to tradition, God grants all creatures the power of human speech to welcome and comfort the Baby Jesus. In this collection of brief poems by twelve different poets, fourteen animals express their love, their awe, their welcome and offer various gifts. Most of the creatures are at home in the barn; a few like the llama and fish who, though confined to the ocean, will “swish and flap each fin, for we, too, welcome Jesus in” are a surprise The cat’s gift: No gold, no frankincense, no myrrh, only my quiet, soothing purr.” Richly colored and detailed pictures of the animals in water color and mixed media bring the poems to life. The first poem is by Hopkins, describing God’s gift to the animals; the last is the verse about the donkey from the traditional carol, “The Friendly Beasts.”
Literary elements at work in the story: Bennett had compiled more than one hundred anthologies of children’s poetry and has strong convictions about the place of poetry in children’s education. Considering the amount of poetry in the Bible we should share these convictions. Some of these poems were commissioned specifically for this book. They are varied in meter, style, and tone-some humorous and lively, some full of awe and stillness- but all convey wonder and focused attention on the child that is scarcely visible. The last picture of the animals gathered at the manger and a star streaking across the sky is particularly effective.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Not applicable.
Theological Conversation Partners: Let’s admit at once that there’s nothing in the New Testament about animals that talked on Christmas Eve. But the Psalms are full of trees that clap their hands, hills that skip like lambs; God’s Kingdom is inhabited by a lion and a lamb that bed together, a bear and an ox that eat straw. If voices are silent the very stones will cry out when Jesus comes. Moreover, Paul’s view of creation groaning for redemption indicates that the natural world has a stake in this holy birth. Perhaps they and we, as well, should pay careful attention to the truth that lies behind this legend. Theology as well as biblical poetry seem to give us warrant to imagine animals that talk. Imagination is one avenue into the truth of scripture and children can recognize these poems as imagination and perhaps come to the manger through it. Adding a new Christmas book each year to the family library is a good way to build up understanding and memories. Manger is a memory builder of beauty, reverence, and joy.
Faith Talk Questions:
- If you could have been at the manger that night, what would you have said to Mary or the baby?
- What gift would you have brought?
- Which of these animals have you owned as pets? Imagine taking it to the manger.
- Several kinds of gifts are given to Jesus. Name some of them.
- How are they different? How are they alike?
- What feelings did these animals have?
- What did the horse’s silence express?
- Choose which picture and animal you like the best.
This review is written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.
Manger by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.