Gulliver Books, 1988
I’ve been thumbing through a handful of nativity story books for the past few weeks, agonizing over which one to review first. It’s a tough decision (they really are all quite good), but I finally decided on Julie Vivas’ excellent book, The Nativity.
Many nativity books seem to use excerpts of Scripture (usually KJV) as their text, so what sets them apart (or not) is their illustrations. The Nativity is no exception – Passages from Matthew and Luke form the text and Vivas’ artwork is wonderful! There are so many different ways to visually represent the Christmas story that I don’t mind having quite a few of them in our collection, but this version is one of my very favorites.
One of the things I love most about this book is how the characters seem so real. They’re down-to-earth human beings, not people who come across as so entirely different from you and me that we end up having a hard time relating to them. For instance, Mary looks very large and uncomfortable when she’s 9 months pregnant, and right after she’s given birth she looks like she really needs a nap.
Am I just appreciating those aspects of the book because I happen to be with child at the moment? Well, maybe. But even my non-pregnant self would love how Vivas captures the fact that the miracle of the nativity story took place among men and women just like us. Books like this (as opposed to, say, books where Mary is oddly serene and the shepherds are quintessentially quaint) make me enter into and wonder about the story in a new way. It points us back to the glory of Emmanuel, God with us. Us, ordinary people that we are.
Alrighty, now for a few cautions. First, I do feel the need to mention that baby Jesus is depicted in his full birthday suit on one page, should that bother any potential readers. I’m also not thrilled with Mary being called Joseph’s wife instead of his betrothed or espoused wife. And have I mentioned before that I tend to have issues with how angels are illustrated? I do. It may just be my own idiosyncrasies coming through, but as much as I like Mary and Joseph being depicted as down-to-earth I’d prefer that angels look a bit more, I don’t know, majestic or something. No book is perfect, though! What I love about The Nativity definitely outweighs these few issues, so if you’re looking for a new nativity story to share with your children this is a great one to consider.