Sometimes, when you’re looking through piles and shelves of Christmas picture books, all the sweetness gets to be a bit too much. Cake and candy and cookies are lovely, of course. I’d happily have pie for breakfast, or cake for supper. But not all the time! Sometimes, you need something a little bit less sweet.
I think Nicholas Allan must have felt that way when he wrote Jesus’ Christmas Party. Allan is an English writer best known for his delightfully naughty books for children. Books like The Queen’s Knickers and The Giant Loo Roll and Cinderella’s Bum. If you’re not familiar with his books, think Captain Underpants and Everybody Poops. They’re popular with kids for the same reasons.
But there’s none of that childish scatology in Jesus’ Christmas Party. Instead, he gives us an innkeeper in Bethlehem. A very grumpy innkeeper.
All the innkeeper wants is a good night’s sleep. And that’s just what he can’t have.
First, Mary and Joseph arrive at his door, looking for a place to stay. Then Joseph comes back, asking for a small blanket. Then there’s a star. And then shepherds knock at his door. And kings. And then there are angels.
Every time his sleep is interrupted, the innkeeper deals with the disturbance, then goes back to bed and back to sleep. Every time, it’s the same, but different. This kind of repetition with variation is common in children’s books, because it allows children to work on important developmental skills, like learning to identify patterns and to predict what comes next. And, of course, for children, working on a “just right” developmental skill, one that is possible, but still challenging, is about the most fun and most delightful thing they can do.
By the time a child finishes hearing Jesus’ Christmas Party the first time, they will know that the innkeeper is going to say, “Round the back!” And they will giggle and laugh and say it with him. And when he himself finally goes round the back, they’ll be delighted with what he finds.
Nicholas Allan’s illustrations
Allan’s simple ink and water color illustrations set off the story perfectly. They’re spare and light, without much detail. Think cartoons, not portraits. No speech bubbles, but as the innkeeper grows more cross, a dark cloud appears over his head. And, as with the language, the art provides repetition with variation to delight the children.
The very relatable grumpiness of the innkeeper, along with the variation in art and language, makes it possible for an adult to enjoy reading the story to a child as many times as the child wants to hear it. And you can expect a child to want to hear it many, many times.
Fortunately, the text is set in a font that’s easy on the eyes. And when you don’t have time to read it yet another time, the book is small enough for a small child to manage independently. The simplicity and repetition in the language and art encourage little ones to engage with the story. Even children who aren’t yet reading will memorize the story and happily “read” it on their own.
It’s a delightful book, perfect for the littlest ones, and a joy for the grown-ups who share it with them.
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