the Nativity: thought-provoking and real-mama versions

Today I have two more excellent nativity tellings to offer you, widely differing in style and substance.

First, coming from the UK, is this poignant, thought-provoking version…


Refuge, written by Anna Booth, illustrated by Sam Usher
published in 2015 by Nosy Crow

I bought this small book last year, but had to order it from the UK. This year, you can purchase it in the U.S. as well, and I hope you do!


Anna Booth’s telling of the Nativity is different from any you’ve read before. The baby is born on page two! Rather than dwelling on all the events leading up to the birth of Christ, the bulk of this story focuses on what happened afterwards.

Very lightly touching on shepherds and kings, the text pushes forward to Joseph’s “dream of danger” and the secretive, long, worrisome journey out from Bethlehem into a land of strangers, seeking — and finding — refuge.


Yes, the Holy Family were refugees! What an immensely important connection for us to make. Booth accomplishes this with grace and finesse. Not a heavy, clobbering word will you find. Instead, her economical, gentle text carries a lovely sense of humanity, tenderness, empathy.


It’s illustrated by Sam Usher in his marvelously-loose, quiet, ink-and-watercolor illustrations. I love his work! Here he brings a hush to the town of Bethlehem, immense warmth to the family, and solemn vastness to the star-studded night skies. It’s definitely one of my new favorite Nativity stories. Ages 2 and older.

Here’s the Amazon link: Refuge


The Nativity, retold and illustrated by Julie Vivas
first published in Australia in 1986; this edition 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A dear friend of mine introduced me to this telling of the Nativity (Thank you, Christine!) which features a Mary who is truly great with child! I love this real-mama interpretation.


The retelling is nimbly done using phrases from the King James Version of the Bible, pared down a bit in order to move things along and lessen the cumbersome nature of the language.

Vivas’ vision of these events is at once earthy and whimsical. I love her rounded, very physical bodies, exuding the true humanity of this small family, rustic shepherds, eager sages, and sweet, unmistakably-male, baby.


The color palette is strikingly different from traditional versions, with loads of pastel Easter-y tints predominating. And Vivas does not constrain herself to historically-accurate images. Ancient mid-Eastern architecture cozies up to Jesus in his stripey footie-jammies.


Her levity is at its height in her portrayal of the angels, which I’m not in love with, but then, I’m remarkably picky about angels. I do love that there’s nary a blond hair to be seen on all the pages! Ages 2 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link: The Nativity

Both of these untraditional, very human approaches to the story will surely appeal to kids who have heard this story a hundred times and offer them fresh perspectives.

There are almost 2 dozen more Nativity stories listed in my Subject Index under Holidays — Christmas. They’re marked with a diamond.