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Nativity Stories

There's more to Christmas than presents, turkeys and trees. The nativity story has delighted children for hundreds of years and, unless it is against your beliefs, it is good to keep up the tradition. There is a good selection of books available to help you, ranging from straight retellings to humorous ones.

The First Christmas
Jan Pienkowski
(Puffin Books)
This is a reissue of a truly beautiful version of the nativity story which uses text taken from the King James Version of the Bible, in particular verses from the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Jan Pienkowski has used full page silhouette pictures and also decorated the pages of text with illuminated letters and small seasonal illustrations to create a book at once modern yet timeless, a book to treasure and to bring out every year at Christmas.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Lion book of Five-Minute Christmas Stories
by John Goodwin, illustrated my Richard Johnson
The short stories in this collection are an ideal length for reading in class or at bedtime in the run-up to Christmas. Told from a variety of view points, the first nine tell the story of the nativity from the angel's message to Mary right up to the flight from Herod. The tenth and final tale is told by a fir tree describing the first Christmas tree.
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The Best of Times
by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Chichester Clark
In this beautifully told and produced, small format book we have the nativity story embedded within a charming fairy tale. Prince Frederico and his true love, Princess Serafina marry and everyone in the kingdom is expecting their lives to be filled with happiness. But, during their first year together, the Princess is overtaken by a great sorrow and, try as he might, her husband can do nothing to cheer her. So bad does she become that he fears she’ll die. As Christmas approaches, the Prince rides out into a blizzard and meets a band of story telling travellers. It is to these strangers that he tells his own story but can they help him to find a happy ending; will the Princess have her nativity story?
   Emma Chichester Clark’s lovely watercolour illustrations perfectly illuminate this magical story. A perfect gift for the over fives.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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What Can You See On Christmas Night?
by Victoria Tebbs, illustrated by Russell Julian
A succession of peep holes encourage children to turn the pages of this book to find the answer to the question What did they see? and discover the story of the nativity. The text is ideal for reading out loud and the friendly, colourful illustrations are sure to appeal to young readers or listeners.
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An Angel came to Nazareth
by Anthony Knott and Maggie Kneen
In this beautiful Christmas gift book, the angel's task is to organize transport for four travelers, one of whom is the greatest of them all. So he finds four animals and lets them choose which person they will carry. The horse, the ox and the camel all pick riders who look important, leaving the humble donkey to carry the expectant mum who turns out to be the most precious burden of all - Mary. The rhyming text reads aloud well and combines perfectly with the sumptuous, embossed illustrations and their glittering, gold decoration.
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On This Special Night
by Claire Freeman and Simon Mendez
(Little Tiger Press)
On the night in question, Little Kitten snuggles against his mother in the old barn under a starry sky. As he gazes heavenwards, he sees a blazing star, bigger and brighter than all the others. Then a thirsty donkey appears at the door, a donkey on a journey. He is followed by a lamb, mice and a calf, all tired and hungry, but anxious to continue on their way, convinced that an amazing event is imminent. Eager to join them but deterred by the lateness of the hour, Little Kitten and his mother climb out into the chilly air on the barn roof. From there, they spy three travellers on camels. Then, convinced of the specialness of the night, the cats too follow the star to the stable and the sleeping baby boy.
   The poetic text combines with soft, gentle illustrations touched with a glow of special starlight to make this a lovely, slightly unusual slant to the Nativity story.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Nativity Story
by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Sophy Williams
Geraldine McCaughrean’s evocative text brings the characters and settings of the nativity to life so well that you can almost smell the incense in the temple and see the camels moving in single file through the narrow streets of Bethlehem. She has divided the story into eleven sections, starting with Zechariah’s desire for a child and ending with the flight into Egypt. Each section is about 3 pages long, which makes them ideal for a daily storytelling session in the run-up to Christmas.
    The pastel artwork combines strong colour and dramatic layout to illustrate the well-loved scenes.
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Father and Son
by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Fabian Negrin
'Long after the star had set, after the angel had roosted’ Joseph sits watching over his new-born son. As he does so, he embarks upon a prayerful introspection about the enormity of his role as the father of Jesus.
  Fabian Negrin’s beautiful paintings show father and son as they grow through Jesus’ childhood years: The young boy whispering in his father’s ear, throwing stones in the river, splashing in puddles and the sea, playing with a pet dog and other everyday activities, which are shared between every father and son. The lyrical words Geraldine McCaughrean puts in Joseph’s mouth are truly a prayer of humility as he contemplates his awesome task.
   This is definitely a thought-provoking book for those for whom Christmas is more than just a party and a time to be jolly. Cannot be recommended too highly.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Ituku’s Christmas Journey
by Elena Pasquali, illustrated by Dubravka Kolanovic
This is an unusual and altogether delightful slant on the nativity story. It starts in a land of snow and ice where a small Inuit boy and his trusty dog, Jaq receive some amazing news from a giant polar bear in the sky. Together the pair set off in their kayak to an unknown destination - a far distant place of sun and sand where a wonderful surprise awaits them.
Warmth and softness is the mood that emanates from the gentle illustrations despite the chilly nature of the landscapes for most of the story.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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On that Christmas Night
by Mary Joslin illustrated by Helen Cann
This is a straightforward nativity story, told with a directness and eloquence that makes it highly accessible to young audiences and a pleasure to read aloud: ‘As they looked, they saw a bright light. They all saw it. At first, it was as if a single star began to slide; then a cluster of stars began to move together, scattering sparkle in their wake. The sparkle swirled and rose up like an ocean wave… rising, cresting and tumbling in flakes of glittering gold.’ Try sharing that passage with a group of children and see what artwork it inspires.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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How Many Miles to Bethlehem?
by Kevin Crossly-Holland, illustrated by Peter Malone
‘I am Mary. Tight as a drum. Round as the lady moon calling out to me.’ … so begins this superb narration of the Christmas story wherein the innkeeper, the ox, the donkey, the sheep, the shepherds, the wise men, King Herod and the Christ Child and the angels all take turns to add their voices as the nativity unfolds. But the final words are those of the infant child proclaiming himself the ‘Light of Light.’
Peter Malone’s Renaissance style illustrations are masterfully painted, reflecting the awe and wonder of the nativity story.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Home for Christmas
by Sally Grindley, illustrated by Karin Littlewood
(Frances Lincoln)
A small homeless boy with no family spends his days working in the market, going each evening to share a straw bed with the animals in a stable. But one night there are unexpected sounds and movement when he returns to the stable, and that night he too comes to know what it means to belong and to feel that special warmth inside – the warmth of family love. As well as being a heart-warming new perspective on the nativity story, this poignantly illustrated picture book is a reminder that even today many people have no real place to call home or a family to rely upon.
Well worth seeking out, sharing, discussing and reflecting on.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Littlest Camel and other Christmas Stories
by Bob Hartman
Bob Hartman retells, in his usual lively manner, nine traditional tales with a seasonal theme from around the world. As a professional storyteller, he retains that directness and lightness of touch characteristic of the oral tradition, making these short tales perfect for reading aloud to under eights. Some, such as the Italian Old Befana and A Flower for Christmas, based on a Swedish telling of how the scarlet poinsettia became a special Christmas gift, are quite well known, others less so. I particularly liked the title story (from Syria) and a story from France wherein, with an important message to deliver, The Raven, sets aside his jealousy and flies to the stable in Bethlehem to see a special baby.
Gently humorous line drawings by Brett Hudson will add to the enjoyment of more confident young readers who want try reading the stories themselves.
(Reviewed by Jill Bennett)
( The Noisy Stable is a companion volume in the same Storyteller series and some of the stories also appear in The Lion Storyteller Christmas, reviewed below.)
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Little Owl and the Star
by Mary Murphy
(Walker Books) 07445 8802 2
With a friendly owl narrator and companionable star as guide, we share a journey to a stable. On the way the pair encounter three camels and their riders, sheep and shepherds, and singing angels, who all obey the star’s command, ‘follow us’. Inside the stable, Owl is the first of the travellers to join a man, woman and peacefully sleeping baby. This tale of the nativity is told in simple direct language for young listeners and readers and illustrated with bold bright images set against an inky black. On the final spread the star – complete with holographic effects – bursts forth in showers of rainbow coloured light out across the world. A lovely book for sharing or giving.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Christmas Story
Retold by Heather Amery, illustrated by Norman Young
This inexpensive paperback combines a straight retelling of the nativity story with equally straightforward illustrations full of details showing life at that time. The few lines of text per page are written with short, simple sentences to make the book accessible to young children and weak readers.
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by Sandra Ann Horn, illustrated by Sophie Fatus
(Barefoot Books)
Babushka is so hooked on housework that it's become the most important thing in her life. To her, the Christmas star just lights up the smudge on the window, the angels might make dirty marks in the house and the three king's camels are messing up her clean path. But the thought of a baby in a dirty stable finally captures her attention and she sets off with presents for him. On the way, she gives the presents to other people who need them only to be surprised that they've found their way to Jesus after all. Well told with a lovely touch of humour, this picture book has a clear underlying message about loving and giving.
Ages 3 - 6
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The Christmas Mystery
by Jostein Gaarder
On the 1st December, Joachim buys a magic advent calendar which turns out to have a small piece of an amazing story hidden under each door. Soon his parents are as captivated by the mysterious pilgrimage to Bethlehem as he is. Who is Elisabet and what is her connection to the old flower seller who made the calendar? Written by the author of Sophie's World, it assumes the reader knows the nativity story and also talks about some of the history and teachings of Christianity. Although this is an abridged version, some of the historical information may be difficult for younger children to understand without help so they may enjoy it more if they read it with an adult. The novel is an advent calendar itself with one chapter for each of the 24 days leading to Christmas so you could read it that way.
Ages 9+
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The Story of Christmas
by Jane Ray
(Orchard Books)
You can't get much more traditional than this one as the text is based on the King James Bible. It starts with the Annunciation and includes the kings' visit with Herod but not the slaughter of the innocents. The colourful illustrations bring the words beautifully to life with glittering gold stars and a Mary who really looks pregnant on the way to Bethlehem. A book to keep and treasure.
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This is the Star
by Joyce Dunbar and Gary Blythe
(Picture Corgi)
The unique approach of this book is reminiscent of the The House That Jack Built with a poem repeated on each spread that has an extra line or two added each time. The rolling rhythm reads aloud well and the text is well complimented by the traditional style and rich, dark colours of the illustrations. A book to read and enjoy again and again.
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Cat in the Manger
by Michael Foreman
(Andersen Press)
The cat who narrates this version of the nativity story is a real character. He doesn't trust donkeys in case they kick, resents being tipped out of the manger to make room for the baby and considers the arrival of the kings' camels the last straw. But even he eventually finds the arrival of the baby a life-changing experience. This picture book has no angels or explanation of who the baby is which leaves you free to give as much or as little of the spiritual side of the story as you wish.
Ages 3- 7
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Click for Writing for ChildrenJesus' Christmas Party
by Roger Parsely (based on the book by Nicholas Allan)
Nicholas Allan's book is an established favourite so this musical version is sure to be popular. It tells the nativity story from the innkeeper's point of view - a night of constant interruptions and lost sleep - and has lots of humour and a satisfying ending. The director's pack contains everything you need to perform the show, including a CD of the backing music in case you don't have a pianist available.
Available from Starshine Music.

The Lion Storyteller Christmas
by Bob Hartman
This collection of Christmas stories divides the nativity story into 13 episodes so you can spread it out over the run-up to Christmas. It also contains a delightful selection of other traditional Christmas stories including many from other countries. These give an insight into the different ways the holiday is celebrated around the world and the legends behind those customs. The stories read out loud extremely well so this book is particularly useful for teachers and youth group leaders as well as parents looking for a good selection of bedtime stories for December.
Ages 5-11
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For more Christmas titles, see
Stories with Father Christmas     
Stories without Father Christmas    
Christmas Film Tie-ins and Videos    
Christmas poetry    
Christmas Activity Books
Nativity Plays



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