A Child Is Born, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Floyd Cooper (2000)
This basic retelling of the birth of Christ reads like a simple Christmas carol for the very young.
I typically steer away from nativity-based books where the story deviates from Biblical accuracy (particularly when they reinforce popular misconceptions, like that the wise men came directly to the scene of the birth on the same night as the shepherds), but the strengths of this book lie in the simplicity of the text and the beauty of the illustrations, so I decided to overlook the inaccuracies (after noting them!) and share anyway. The manuscript for this book was unpublished at the time of the author’s death, but her sister (to whom the copyright belongs) eventually arranged for its publication (along with a few other previously unpublished manuscripts). The artist–a prolific and award-winning illustrator–manages to make every image so lifelike that the illustrations appear almost as somewhat grainy photographs of the holy family. (Cooper said in an interview that he frequently uses models for the main characters of his books, so that probably accounts for the realism.) Additionally, the art depicts a diverse cast of characters, including an African holy family and shepherds, angels, and wise men of varying ethnicities, which challenges the somewhat stereotypical depiction of a lily-white nativity. (Granted, a family of Jewish descent at that time probably wouldn’t have had a native African appearance, but neither would they have looked like your traditional Swedish family as they’re so often depicted. And there’s no reason either why any of the other people or angels at the scene couldn’t or wouldn’t have had a wide range of skin tones and hair colors and textures.) My favorite illustrations are of a sweet and pudgy baby Jesus lying in the straw (the cover image) and the two pages where the angels are featured–they are simply gorgeous.
This book is a perfect addition to a collection of picture books about the nativity, and any differences from the source material can be discussed as your family feels necessary. While I haven’t had a chance to read this yet with my little ones, I know that their love of babies will mean that both of them spend most of the reading cooing over the pictures of Jesus! While this is probably not great for independent reading because the font is a little unusual and some of the vocabulary is hymn-like, listeners from preschool to early elementary would probably enjoy the experience.
(by the author)
(another of the posthumous publications)
(by the illustrator–I think I need this one!)