Thursday, November 12, 2009

Voices of Christmas

If I could only buy one new book for the Christmas season this year, I would pick Voices of Christmas by Nikki Grimes. An award-winning master of language, Grimes uses each two-page spread to highlight one character in the nativity story. At the top of each page is a Bible verse telling about or spoken by the person. Each character then delivers a lyrical, touching poem in his or her own voice. We begin with Gabriel, who is beautifully depicted by Eric Velasquez as a strong, striking African figure. Gabriel says, "Hush! The hour is late. Nazareth is sleeping,/and I wait for my Lord's signal/to once again go/to earth below." He continues, "I must get the message right:/The Light of the World/is on his way!/What will Mary say/when I tell her?"

Every page includes not only a Bible verse, but a detailed oil painting of the person speaking. Both Grimes and Velasquez capture the mood, personality, and individuality of the most-loved characters in the Christmas story. Included with Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the Innkeeper, a shepherd, the three wise men, and Simeon and Anna are a distraught Herod, and a fictitious neighbor. She reports, "In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. . .Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem." Although extra-biblical, the neighbor simply observes Mary and Joseph leaving for Bethlehem and speculates on their motivations.

The book ends with a poem directed to "you." The verse quoted says, "The woman said to him, 'I know that Messiah is coming. . . .' Jesus said to her, 'I am he.'" In the most powerful poem of all, Grimes writes,
And who are you?
Not an angel, no.
Nor Herod.
But perhaps you are
a magi, mapping the miracle
on a chart of stars;
a shepherd
trading sleep
for a chance to seek
a golden child. . .
Grimes continues by asking if we are like Simeon, or Mary, "prayerfully waiting/for the King of Kings/to be born in you?" She then announces with joy, "Well, He is here!/Sing! Sing 'Oh Holy Night.'/Run towards His Light!"

The book includes a pleasant CD of the author and Craig Northcutt reading the book, with an original music score by Keith Ward in the background.

What I Like: I love this book. The poems profoundly illustrate what the people involved with the birth of Jesus may have been thinking. As Grimes adds emotion to accurate biblical accounts, she stirs our hearts and makes us not only imagine what the people in the Bible felt, but she also makes us consider what our response to Christ will be this season.

Also, this is wonderful poetry. Not rhyming, but rhythmic, lilting, and creative--Grimes chooses words deliberately, and each poem sounds as if a different person is speaking it. For example, the Innkeeper speaks with an exasperated tone, but the wise men sound reverent and excited, and Herod sounds worried and frantic. We can see why Grimes has won many awards, including a Coretta Scott King Award, and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Children's Poetry.

I also enjoy the paintings. Velasquez mirrors Grimes' tone in the expressions on the faces of his subjects, and he includes period details to give us a sense of setting. The muted colors add to the sense of mystery and awe surrounding our Savior's birth.

What I Dislike: I wish the Scripture references would have been printed on each page, or at the back of the book. However, they won't be too difficult to find in the Gospel accounts of the birth of Christ.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: Publisher lists 4-7, but many of the poems are sophisticated in their assessment of emotions. I would say the book will appeal to the whole family.

Publisher Info: Zonderkidz, 2009; ISBN: 978-0-310-71192-6 ; Hardcover, $16.99

Buy it Now at for $12.99

OR Buy it at for $12.23.

Special Information: Each of the three wise men are referred to by their traditional, but non-biblical names, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Balthasar says when they reach Jesus, "More than a year has passed" since they saw the star announcing His birth.

The baby Jesus is only depicted in Mary's arms on the cover of the book.

View our reviews of Nikki Grimes' books about Creation and Easter here.

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1 comment:

Marinela said...

This book seems really interesting :)