Title: M is for Manger
Author: Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley
Illustrator: Claire Keay
Publisher: Tyndale Kids
Publication Date: October 1, 2015
Audience: Ages 2 – 6
Summary: This book introduces the narrative of Jesus birth by pairing specific people, places, and things from the Christmas story with the letters of the alphabet.
Literary elements at work in the story: The text provides a lovely cadence through its rhymes that can draw children in without being contrived in such a way that detracts from the miraculous narrative of Jesus’ birth. The text navigates the pairing of letters and Biblical themes quite nicely. M is for Manger, J is for Jesus, W is for Wisemen. The only occasion where the author has to make a stretch is for the letter X, which represents Expected. The author also utilizes scripture on each page so that the reader is reminded of where this story truly originates. It does follow chronological order of the Biblical narrative, which is impressive to parallel the alphabet so seamlessly. This is valuable, especially for the range of older children who are learning to read. The illustrations are lovely and soothing; gentle, pastel colors are used and the pictures on each page reflect the letter being highlighted along with a drawing depicting the portion of the story being told. For parents of toddlers, the book is not a board book so one must be careful when reading together. It is certainly of a great size for reading in one’s lap, but it is one that might require special care or being placed high on a shelf for safe keeping.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? While the book’s representation of characters in the story is accurate, even reflecting on Simeon and Anna, characters children don’t always learn about early on in their education, the lack of racial diversity in the text is disheartening. The main characters of the story are illustrated as very Caucasian in appearance. Only one wiseman seems to be drawn to reflect Middle Eastern descent. An illustration of 21st century children, in order to reflect “U is for Us”, has the most diversity demonstrated in the book. While encouraging, such a message falls flat when the true reflection of Biblical heritage and appearance is not well represented. Such early illustrations in children’s are the foundation of our imagining Jesus as a fair-skinned, white male. How might African-American or Asian-American, or children from other countries internalize the unspoken message of these illustrations? The writing of the story is marvelous and truly will capture children’s attention, but what is missing from the illustrations was diversity. In light of our present political, economic, and racially tense cultural experience, this stood out a great deal.
Theological Conversation Partners: With young children in particular, this text highlights for them the “real meaning of Christmas.” It provides an opportunity to talk about how Christmas is more than a secular holiday in which we acquire stuff. It also does well to reflect why Jesus came into the world. It calls him both Ruler and Savior. It also says that Jesus came for all of us. This particular rhyme does well to be aligned with the most diverse drawing of the book. The authors do recommend in their notes to read Luke 2 as a family.
Faith Talk Questions:
- I wonder what it felt like for Mary to have an angel come and talk to her? I wonder what Joseph’s dream was like? The birth of Jesus may allow opportunities to tell the story of your child(ren)’s birth.
- Who were some special friends that came to meet Jesus? What made Jesus so special? Why did people come to meet Jesus?
- Which page or letter is your favorite? What do you like about it?
- Why do we celebrate Christmas? What do you do with your family to celebrate Jesus’ birthday?
Loren Tate Mitchell is a 2010 MDiv/MACE graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary. She currently lives in Roanoke, VA with her husband Michael, and her two and a half year old son, Kemper. She serves as Associate Pastor for Christian Education at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Roanoke.
M is for Manger by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.