We read a couple of books this Christmas that are formatted in daily readings. Both of them relate the Nativity story and can be considered devotional readings.
The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder is the story-story we read. I first read of it at Afterthoughts and thought it sounded interesting. It turns out it is interesting, though it wasn’t quite what I expected. It’s something of a fantasy. It’s the story of a boy named Joachim who acquires this magic Advent calendar from a bookstore. The Advent calendar reveals the Nativity story, but it does it in this odd combination of time travel mixed up with the angelic kidnapping of a girl named Elizabet from Norway (where Joachim lives). Through the daily readings we met many characters from the story of Jesus’ birth: angels (all of which are named with names that end in -iel), shepherds, the Magi, and even Quirinius, governor of Syria. They travel backwards through history as they travel geographically southward to Bethlehem, so we also get that perspective. It’s interesting, though I will confess that parts of it were hard for me to follow. I also found a bit of the theology to be off; a few of the days’ readings gave the impression that Jesus came to make people good or to make them kind to each other, which isn’t wholly the case at all. Yes, goodness and kindness should be byproducts of regeneration, but He came to reconcile us to God. (I was sure to discuss that with my children as we read.) I don’t know that this is one we’ll read again, as the kidnapping bit made the story too convoluted. Also, the ending doesn’t fit the rest of the story in that the kidnapping is resolved in a very non-fantastical way, which is completely out of place given the rest of the story. (More on that here.) Anyway, the girls enjoyed it, and the DLM listened and followed along pretty well. I did like that it was divided into daily readings, which made it a nice, predictable read for bedtime. The version of the book I’ve linked above isn’t the one we have, but I wouldn’t recommend ours. The one I purchased had errors in the text and was generally a little difficult to read. I’d go with the version above illustrated by Rosemary Wells. (1996)
The other daily reading we did was from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. We’re no stranger to Voskamp’s Christmas devotional, having used her free Jesse Tree devotional that used to be on her blog. This book is just a reworking of that, I think. Honestly, this is the first year we’ve used her stuff with what I’d consider mostly success with our older children. Our girls, at ten and nine, are finally old enough to get Voskamp’s very verbose prose. A friend of mine asked me about using it with her younger children. She had been given a copy and was trying to use it but was frustrated by it. I suggested she just read the passages straight from the Bible and skip Voskamp’s commentary until her children are older, and I stand by that. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it; I did, and I even shared a passage that I was particularly moved by. It was an interesting exercise for my girls to try to figure out from the devotional what the Bible actually says. 😉 I guess this is a mixed review. I think for children of the right age, this is a good way to approach the Christmas story. Half of our children have just reached that age; the other half were mostly obvlious to this particular read-aloud. We use the free Jesse Tree ornaments that used to be available on Voskamp’s blog with our homemade Jesse Tree. This makes the whole thing slightly more interactive. I DID enjoy the opportunities to respond and then DO something at the end of each devotion. However, Steady Eddie and I took turns reading this mostly at nighttime just before our children went to bed (and got ready for me to read The Christmas Mystery), so we didn’t actually carry through with any of the things we intended to do (aside from pray for people). I can see if someone is super organized and prepared this would really make the whole experience more meaningful and memorable. Next year I’m starting to prepare for Christmas in June, so maybe I’ll actually be able to carry through my good intentions. 😉 (2014)
I’ll be adding these books to our Christmas Book Basket. However, I’m certainly open to suggestions. If you have a favorite devotional book to use with your children at Christmas, please, do share!