Name of Book: The Christmas Story
Author: Robert Sabuda
Illustrator: Robert Sabuda
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Audience: Ages 5-8 (This book would work for many ages, but little hands might be hard on the pop-up illustrations)
Summary: In our house, we have a box of Christmas books, which my kids received each year when they were little (and some which have been around since my own childhood). Even though they are long past the age of picture books, some evenings during Advent we will choose a book or two to read. They are more likely now to linger over the illustrations, and to pick up on subtleties of plot that escaped them as preschoolers. This book is one that they would love – with spectacular pop-ups to catch the eye as the familiar Christmas story is told.
Sabuda has summarized the text of the Christmas story in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 2 and illustrated it beautifully with six scenes of intricate pop-ups. While I would prefer the two stories not be so co-mingled (he has the shepherds and wise men appearing at the stable at the same time, for instance), he has created a gentle re-telling of the familiar story in language that children can understand. For those unfamiliar with the Christmas story, this is a brief introduction; for those who have heard the lines many times before, the illustrations provide a chance to imagine it in a new way.
Literary elements at work in the story (Genre/setting/characterization/plot/theme/point of view/style): The text of the familiar Christmas story is told in a gentle way with minimal, but happy-looking, expressions on the characters’ faces. Sabuda chooses to leave out much of the danger and conflict that is present in the Biblical account, which is probably appropriate for this age group.The element of surprise in the story is done through the illustrations, which are pop-up scenes. Each illustration is done in white and gold, which leaps up off a solid-colored background page when the book is opened. Mountains, stable animals, the porch of Mary’s house, and so much more are presented in intricate detail. One of my favorite scenes is the appearance of the heavenly host to the shepherds. As angels pop out in multiple directions, surrounded by heavenly “cloud,” sheep stand at attention and the shepherds bow down. Another highlight is the spectacular gold and white Bethlehem star, which lifts nearly a foot off the background to light the way for the wise men.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? There are no explicit references to these issues. Economic diversity is shown a bit in the illustrations, as the shepherds are shown very simply with their campfire, and the wise men with gold crowns, gifts, and detailed tapestries on their camels. The scene where they are all gathered at the manger shows this contrast of economic levels bowing before Jesus’ manger. Because the cut-outs of people are done with white paper, there is no distinctive race shown for any of the characters. (Of course, the default being white may reinforce ideas that are not multi-cultural).
Theological Conversation Partners: If you use this book in conversation with older kids, it might provide an opportunity to help them sort out which parts of the Christmas story are told by which gospel writer. Invite them to read the Christmas story from Luke 1-2 and Matthew 2, and determine what elements in each pop-up scene come from which account. Youth could also look for elements of the story that are not included in this re-telling. Why do you think those elements are not there?
Faith Talk Questions
- How many angels can you find in the illustrations? What jobs do they have?
- Can you find an animal (or several) in each scene? How are they part of the story?
- Look at the very last scene (all gathered at the stable). What is at the very center of this page? What helps you to know that Baby Jesus is the most important part of this story?
We welcome Edye Bender, 1992 alumna and Program Director at Faith Presbyterian Church, Indian Land, SC, as a new book reviewer on Storypath.
The Christmas Story by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.