Author: No author (text consists of excerpts from the King James Version of the Bible)
Illustrator: Julie Vivas
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Audience: Can be used with all ages
Summary: The Nativity beautifully illustrates the birth of Jesus and the visit from the wise men and the shepherds with text excerpted from the King James Version of the Bible (from the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke). What is wonderful about the drawings in this book is that they present Mary and Joseph (and others) as real people rather than heroic, fictional characters. In one image, for example, Joseph struggles to hoist a very pregnant Mary onto a donkey for the journey to Bethlehem. In the last picture, we see the angel Gabriel tenderly holding the baby Jesus. Unlike many illustrated versions of the birth story, this book leaves the reader with the sense that the birth of Jesus was not simply a long ago event, recorded in the Bible and told each year on Christmas. Rather, the story feels like part of our story and the people in it feel like family. It is a wonderful way for a child, in particular, to learn about the birth of Jesus.
Literary elements at work in the story: This book includes text excerpted from the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke as it is presented in the King James Bible. The story of the foretelling of the birth of Jesus, the birth itself, and visits by shepherds and wisemen is told by a narrator and is set in both Galilee and Judaea. The text of the King James Version is not particularly child-friendly but the pictures do a wonderful job of illustrating the text and making it feel less formal and more personal.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: The Gospels of Matthew and Luke present the birth story quite differently. In Luke, for example, Mary plays a much more prominent role as she is visited by and speaks to the angel Gabriel and is told that she will give birth to a son. In contrast, the Gospel of Matthew says only that Mary found that she was pregnant and then shifts focus to Joseph’s reaction and the visit he receives from the Lord. The Nativity takes selected excerpts from both Gospels to create a new story, in which Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel, shares the joyous news with Joseph, journeys with him to Bethlehem where she gives birth to Jesus in a barn, and then welcomes visits from the shepherds and the wise men. The illustrations in this book reveal a humble couple in Mary and Joseph- when Mary is visited by Gabriel she is hanging clothes on the line and they talk at the table over big mugs of tea or coffee. Incidentally, Gabriel, whose wings are a bit battered, wears half-tied combat boots throughout the story and Mary wears a simple dress, often covered in an apron, and slippers. After Jesus is born, Mary is seen leaning against Joseph, exhausted and sleeping while he snuggles with his new baby.
In short, the illustrations in this book show what a wonderfully joyous event the birth of Jesus was and how important each individual is to the story. All played a role, regardless of race, class, or wealth. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, came from humble and extremely loving beginnings.
Scripture: Birth narratives found in Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 1:26-1:38 and 2:1-21
Theology: In this presentation of the birth story, we are reminded that Mary and Joseph were just normal people chosen by God for an extraordinary task. When told by the angel Gabriel that she would bear a child who would be the Son of God, Mary simply responded, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She had faith in God and did not question why God had chosen her (at least, in Matthew’s account). The illustrations reveal how excited Mary was to be a mother, how she and Joseph made the best of their situation, and how loved Jesus was from the moment he was born. As Christmas becomes more and more about gifts and spending money, it is good to be reminded that the first Christmas was about one gift- the birth of Jesus Christ. He was not born inside a royal palace surrounded by gifts and laid in a golden bassinet. Jesus was born to poor parents, in a barn, and laid in a manger.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Look at the picture of Gabriel and Mary sitting at the table. What do you notice about Gabriel? How does this picture compare to other images of angels you might have seen?
- How would you describe Mary? Joseph? How does Mary react to the news brought to her by the angel?
- Describe where Jesus was born. Was it a fancy place? Did Mary and Joseph get upset when they couldn’t stay in the inn?
- Why do you think we spend so much money buying presents for each other on Christmas? Does the story of Jesus’ birth tell us to do this? How else might we celebrate Christmas?
Review prepared by Erin Mills, MACE, Entering cohort Fall 2007
The Nativity by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.