The First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski

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The First Christmas is, as you might expect, the story of Jesus' birth, Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men and Herod, presented as a picture book.

Jan Pienkowski's silhouette illustrations are simply wonderful. The First Christmas is aesthetically perfect, it's gorgeous, beautiful, a joy to pore over. It's at once simple and deep, with each picture giving a perfect impression of the text, and allowing the reader's imagination to go on whatever flights of fancy they desire. We've been here before with the equally gorgeous Nut Cracker and The Thousand Nights and One Night. The idea of using silhouettes to illustrate such well-known stories is spot on, as it means it can sit comfortably alongside any pre-existing mental images, without jarring you out of the moment.

The text is taken directly from the King James version of the Bible (verses from Luke and Matthew, to be specific). If it was any other story, the vocabulary would be totally unsuitable, pitched well above the heads of the young target audience, and not in an interesting and challenging way, just simply above their heads. Similarly, if it was any other story, some of the subject matter would be unsuitable too - we're about nine books shy of being able to upload Bookbag's Top Ten Picture Books About Infanticide. But, Christmas is everywhere, there's no escaping it (try as I might), so it's worth going as directly to the source as is possible. In that context, both the language and subject matter are suitable and appropriate.

It would make a wonderful Christmas present, particularly from a grandparent. For obvious reasons, it's not the sort of book you'll read every day, but it'll be much-loved every time you read it. It's a book that deserves to have that lovely old book smell, and that you'll get down from the bookshelves at Christmas, take another look at what granny and granddad wrote on the front page, and let the atmosphere of Christmas, love, and books wash over you. It's the sort of book that could become a family tradition. Highly recommended.

My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.

If you've not already discovered David Walser and Jan Pienkowski's Nut Cracker and The Thousand Nights and One Night, then they're the perfect place to start for further reading. Both feature in our Top Ten Retellings of Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales. For more picture book versions of Bible stories, check out The Two-by-two Band by David Flavell and Alison Bartlett. For more secular Christmas fun, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss is always enjoyable.

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