Church Library

Advent Book Reviews

advent-book-review The following are just a few of the wonderful Advent books that are out there these days, we hope that you’ll have time especially to look at what is available in the Blacknall library! With our book reviews, we hope to give you a little taste of some of the best across the spectrum, which also span a developmental range. Here’s our estimation of where they might “fit." Scroll down for longer reviews!

M is for Manger – 26 letters, for 26 days leading up to Christmas – ages 1 to 4 (or those who won’t sit still for a longer reading of a story.)

B is for Bethlehem – again 26 letters, leading up to Christmas – ages 4 to 8 (or those who like to read or be read to from storybooks with great pictures!)

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift – A newer version of the Jesse Tree with stories, questions, activities & ornaments for each day of Advent & Christmas. Beautiful storybook for reading aloud or reading on your own for older elementary age.

The Advent Jesse Tree – Has devotions for each day of Advent & Christmas, one for children and one for adults, each using the same scriptures, along with songs and prayers for each day. Not a story book.

The Season of Nativity – More a resource book than a devotional or story book. Packed with ideas for parents of all ages of children, or just for being more intentional about Advent on your own.

The Blacknall Advent Devotional – Created by Blacknall members and friends each year, this is a great resource to use with your entire family, especially if you are using an Advent Wreath created at the Wreath Workshop. Pick one up in the atrium throughout the Advent season, or look it up online from the Blacknall website!


M is for Manger

By Crystal Bowman & Teri McKinley, pictures by Claire Keay

“As children turn the pages and follow the letters of the alphabet, the events surrounding the birth of Jesus unfold before their eyes.” This is the description given by the authors in their letter to parents at the beginning of this Advent countdown book. Obviously geared for children up to four years old, each letter has a full page illustration, with simple large text on the opposite page. The rhyming text is short and sweet, followed by a Scripture, which could easily be adapted to be a memory verse even for very young children. For example – “K is for King." “Though he was just a baby, he was born to be a King. Jesus will reign forever, and heaven and earth will sing!” “His Kingdom will never end! Luke 1:33”

By the letter U, the story comes around to “Us," helping children to understand that even they are part of the story of the birth of Jesus. This would be a wonderful simple way to help even the youngest of our children celebrate the Advent season, as they wait for Christmas to come.

B is for Bethlehem

By Isabel Wilner, pictures by Elisa Kleven

Another ABC book, B is for Bethlehem is more of a story book than M is for Manger. However, each day’s letter has such a detailed beautiful collage, that much time could be spent simply pondering the picture on that day. The story goes in order of the story of the Birth of Christ, letter by letter. There are not Scriptures listed for each day, but it also would be easy to go from the story book to the Bible and show children where this part of the story comes from in the Gospels. The text goes on in a rhyming poetry, with only about 2 lines per page. Older children would probably enjoy reading this entire book each day during Advent, and then focusing on talking about one letter each day.

“F is for Flocks of fluffy white sheep, huddled together and soon fast asleep.” A lovely journey through the story of the Nativity, this book is a wonderful way to journey toward Christmas with older children, or anyone who likes to read beautiful picture books.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

A Family Celebration of Christmas, by Ann Voskamp

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1&10, NIV)

Every year as I pull out our Christmas decorations I come across my husband’s childhood collection of advent calendars. They’re beautiful pictures with tiny little doors numbered for each day of Advent. Every day you open a new door or window until you reach the final window on Christmas Day. These calendars have beautiful “vintage” artwork, but I have to wonder how much of a disappointment they would be to my children, even when they were young. You open a door and find…a tiny picture of a candy cane. Or a tiny picture of a teddy bear. Seems rather a letdown.

One of the things that we teach the children at Blacknall as we tell the stories of Advent in Children’s Worship is that Christmas is a Mystery. It’s such a big mystery that the church created the whole season of Advent – 4 weeks – to get ready to come close to Christmas. Throughout the Bible we see stories that point to this mystery, and the children approach Advent as a wonderful time full of mystery itself. They get so excited as we draw near to those four purple weeks on the calendar of the church year. This mystery seems much bigger than a tiny picture behind an Advent calendar door.

So if not an Advent calendar then what? One of the blessings of working at Blacknall is that I get glimpses of the rich spiritual practices of many families of our church. A beautiful example of this is the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree is another way to do a “countdown” to Christmas, but this happens while walking through the words of Scripture that point the way to Jesus’ arrival. Each day, the family reads a Scripture and places a new ornament on the Jesse Tree. And these Scriptures go from the beginning – Creation – through to the birth of Christ, allowing the mystery to show up in each day’s devotion. The Jesse Tree is a practice that can be as easy or as elaborate as you might wish to make it. Some folks sew beautiful felt ornaments for each of the days, and put them on their own little tree. Others cut pictures out of a magazine to represent each day, and paste them to a paper cutout of a tree on the wall. The beauty of this practice is that in reading these Scriptures chosen for each day, the mystery of God’s plan for redeeming the world becomes the focus for each day, and our children learn to focus on what is important in this month of getting ready. I also would guess that they find much more mystery and joy in this practice than in a tiny picture of a teddy bear.

The Season of Nativity

Confessions & Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist, by Sybil MacBeth

This book is really more of an adult book – it does read partly like a book of personal stories, partly like a devotional, partly non-fiction information about each of these seasons, and partly like a book of ideas. Sybil MacBeth is the author and creator of Praying in Color, a book that has reshaped the way some of us spend time in prayer, by waking up our imaginations as we put words to our thoughts and longings through doodling and color. In Season of the Nativity, MacBeth begins with simple definitions of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, and then goes on to give deeper explanations of each “season," finally moving on to her own stories and ideas to spark your imagination as you approach each of these seasons.

Advent “recounts and remember the events prior to Jesus’s birth.” Christmas “celebrates the birth of Jesus.” And Epiphany “heralds the ramifications of Jesus’s birth.”

The author lists many reasons to read this book, beginning with “You swore last Christmas that next year would be different.” Another reason that really spoke to me was “You are fidgety, distractible, and word-weary. You want some non-reading ways to participate in Advent.” Honestly, most of the reasons that MacBeth lists resonated with me in some way, so I’ve been sitting with this book and going back to it over and over for snippets of ideas as we’ve approached Advent. I anticipate continuing to go back to it as we move through Advent and into Christmastide. One suggestion that I’ve tried already is that we did put up our tree, but I’ve only put purple lights on the tree. I think we will leave it that way until Christmas Eve, when we will put on the white lights and ornaments. Not only will that mark the transition from Advent waiting to Christmas Christ is here, but we will have more time once school is out to actually decorate the tree together as a family! MacBeth suggests at Ephiphany taking off the Christmas ornaments and covering the tree with stars and gold and white to celebrate that season. We will see if that fits into our family’s life when it gets to be that time!

I did not grow up celebrating Christmastide beyond Christmas day, nor did we ever talk about Epiphany. I’ve learned much through reading this book, and am truly looking forward to incorporating more intentional, thoughtful practices in these upcoming seasons, with my family, and just for myself! I encourage you to pick it up and see if any of the suggestions might be for you!

– Beth Solie, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries

God Made All of Me

IMG_2644by Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb, illustrated by Trish Mahoney After our Safe Church training this past fall, we want to make sure that we let everyone know about books that can help families talk to their children about their bodies and how to keep their bodies safe. This book provides a good starting place for those conversations.

God Made All Of Me is most appropriate for young children ages 3 to 8. The pictures are simple and the language exact. The book is more a springboard for conversation. I’m not crazy about how it is framed as a conversation between a mom and dad and their children David and Kayla. I think it could say the same thing without being placed in the context of another family’s conversation. However, this third person approach might be helpful if it is being read to a child older than six who perhaps is already feeling self-conscious about talking about his or her body.

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The explanation about the difference in secrets and surprises is an important one and well placed at the end of the book.

I like the way scripture is used in the book and I think the verses chosen are the right ones for this age group. I also appreciate the brainstorming exercise where a child and parent can list people with whom the child feels safe. The explanation about the difference in secrets and surprises is an important one and well placed at the end of the book. The final section for parents, “9 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse,” contains much of the pertinent information provided in the Darkness To Light training the church offered in early November.

I would recommend God Made All Of Me if you are looking for a way to begin a conversation about helping your child protect his or her body. You may even read it as an adult and find the information given there something you can transform into a more natural conversation than even a book reading. The book is available in our church library.

- Traci Hoover, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries