Children's books can teach and celebrate Christmas

Saturday, December 21, 2002

In the minds of many children, the story of Christmas is about Santa Claus, reindeer and the presents they wait for all year.

But, of course, the real story of Christmas is a religious one, and several new books tell it in a manner children will both enjoy and understand.

James Bernardin's illustrations help explain the language in "The Christmas Story" (HarperCollins, $15.99, all ages), taken from the Gospel According to St. Luke from the King James Bible.

The book begins with Caesar Augustus' taxation order and includes the birth of Mary's babe in a manger and celebrations by neighboring shepherds.

In "They Followed a Bright Star" (Putnam, $16.99, ages 5 and up), young readers will see that as the shepherds made their way to the manger, many other people with important jobs -- the fisherman and the man who guards the well, for instance -- had to remain at their posts so that when Jesus would need fish, water and other things, they'd be available.

"Off to Bethlehem" (HarperCollins, $8.99, ages 4-7) by Dandi Daley Mackall and illustrated by R.W. Alley captures the excitement in the air as the angels sing and shout on their way to see Christ the King.

But even before the angels and the shepherds made it to visit, Jesus had plenty of company as youngsters will see in "The Stable Where Jesus Was Born" (Aladdin Paperbacks, $6.99, ages 3-6) by Rhonda Gowler Greene and illustrated by Susan Gaber.

As Mary and Joseph first approached the stable, a cow, cat, kittens and mice greeted them warmly and showed them all the comforts of their home.

Meanwhile, beautiful birds were busy creating their gift for the new baby. "The Feathered Crown" (Henry Holt, $16.95, ages 4-8) by Marsha Hayles and illustrated by Bernadette Pons shows birds from around the world flocking to a strange land to build the crown and a soft manger throne.

And don't forget the shy donkey who was so nervous to meet Baby Jesus after all the other animals sang him such quiet, tender songs. But the welcoming smile on the baby's face persuades the donkey to come forward in "The Donkey's Christmas Song" (Scholastic, $16.95, baby-preschool) by Nancy Tafuri.

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