Christmas in the Barn

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Christmas in the Barn Book Poster Image
Evocative new art enlivens poetic telling of Nativity story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Intro to Nativity story. Weaves in reference to New Testament's "because there was no room in the inn," as well as snippets of lyrics from popular Christmas carols. New vocabulary words "kine," an old-fashioned plural for cow; "ass," synonym for donkey; "lowed," sound made by oxen.

Positive Messages

Even when there is "no room at the inn" for a traveling couple in need, there's a humble barn to accommodate them that keeps them "safe and warm." Implicit, comforting, spiritual message that we are looked over and cared for by forces greater than ourselves.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The animals in the barn welcome "two people who had lost their way," and the barn accommodates them and cradles their newborn in its manger, keeping them all "safe and warm." The shepherds and wise men recognize the significance of the blessed event and come to witness it.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Christmas in the Barn by children's book great Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon) is a retelling of the Nativity story first published in 1952, now reissued with new art by Anna Dewdney, the late author-illustrator of the beloved Llama Llama books. The text is poetic and includes the old-fashioned word "kine" as a plural for cows, as well as the word "ass" for donkey. Still, it's accessible and highly kid friendly, putting a lot of focus on all the various animals who live in the barn. Though the baby in the manger looks white on the cover, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (never actually named in the book) look a bit more Middle Eastern in the interior art. The book's a rhythmic, artful, and child-friendly introduction to the classic Nativity story.

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What's the story?

CHRISTMAS IN THE BARN begins with a barn and its animals as a bright star rises. "Two people who had lost their way" (the unnamed Mary and Joseph) arrive to sleep in the hay "Because there was no room at the inn." The animals and the new couple are "all safe and warm all together in that ancient barn." As the star burns bright in the night, a newborn babe is born. The shepherds with their sheep plus the three wise men arrive to watch the newborn in the manger.

Is it any good?

Evocative new art enlivens this reissue of the rhythmic, poetic telling of the Nativity story by masterful children's book author Margaret Wise Brown. In Christmas in the Barn, Brown uses her full arsenal of kids' book know-how to tell the story of the birth in the manger, mesmerizing readers with rhyme and repetition. She also adds to the classic feel by seamlessly weaving in fragments of lyrics kids will recognize from well-known Christmas carols, for instance, "Away in a manger, no crib for his bed." The story talks about, but does not name, the human characters -- Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the Wise Men -- and draws in young readers by emphasizing all the animals present at the crèche scene.

The art, by another beloved children's book creator, Anna Dewdney, is rendered in oil paint that evokes the dusty desert landscape in which the babe was born. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are pictured with somewhat darker skin, though one might wish they looked more clearly and consistently Middle Eastern. All in all, a lovely introduction to the classic Nativity story for young readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the characters in Christmas in the Barn. Do you know the names of the characters? Since the author never names them, how can you tell who they are?

  • Where do you think this story takes place? What clues can you find in the art?

  • Do you recognize any of the words in the book from Christmas carols you've heard or sung? Which sentences or phrases sound familiar to you? What songs are they from?

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