I am a father of four and I appreciate a good Christmas picture book, something that explains the meaning of Christ’s coming, in ways which are accessible and vivid for my children. And of course, cultural sensitivity is important too. There are too many Jesus books where Jesus, Mary and Joseph appear in Northern European guise, instead of as olive-skinned Mediterarian Jews. That Baby in the Manger by Anne Neuberger discusses how one Catholic parish wrestled with how Jesus appeared in their annual Christmas crèche and how they expressed the message that Christ came for one and all.
Anne Neuberger, the author, is a religious educator and children’s author who has produced teaching resources on Catholic customs and kids’ books on saints, notably Saint Francis & His Feathered Friends (Tau Publishing, 2013), and Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks (Novalis, 2013). That Baby in the Manger is illustrated by Chloe Pitkoff, a Brooklyn artist and student at Davidson College.
The story begins with first graders from the parish school visiting the church during Advent to look at the Christmas crèche. Mr. Gonzalez sits in the pew, watching and listening as the students discuss how Jesus is missing, not yet placed in the crèche, and the ways the Jesus used in the church crèche has blond curls and blue eyes. Father Prak explains to the children that the real Jesus probably had dark hair and eyes and that their statues are just there to help them reimagine Jesus in the stable.
Mr. Gonzalez remembers a similar discussion with his daughter when she was a little girl. He goes home after the children leave, and digs out his daughter’s old doll, swaddles it and returns to the church and lays it in the manger, offering it as a more accurate proxy for baby Jesus. On Christmas Day the church is full. The first-grader each came to Mass lovingly carrying their own dolls, with a wild diversity of shapes and sizes. They sang Away in a Manger and each placed their doll near the manger.
The story shows how Jesus came to us all. Neuberger’s words are illustrated by Pitkoff’s drawings—watercolor and colored-pencil sketches—in vibrant color. I enjoyed this book a lot, as did my kids (though, it didn’t hold the attention of my two-year-old). This is a perfect addition to our Advent & Christmas library. Four stars -★★★★
Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review