After reading this book…”you and your children will never look at a crèche the same way again. That Baby in the Manger is a wonderful starting point for family discussions on race, ethnicity and faith. ” — Paul Canavese and Ann Naffziger, co directors of GrowingUpCatholic.com
This week at Paraclete we caught up with Anne E. Neuberger the author of a new children’s book for Christmas that is a powerful conversation starter! This is a timely book as parishes, congregations, and communities become more and more diverse, and national conversation about race and ethnicity increases.
Anne, can you give us a synopsis of the book?
It is just a few days before Christmas and the first graders have gathered around the nativity scene in the front of their church. The manger, however, is empty, as the Christ Child statue will not be placed in it until Christmas morning. The statue’s absence causes a discussion amongst this multi-cultural group, and it becomes clear that they are bothered by the statue they remember (with blonde curls). Each child wants to identify with Jesus, but he doesn’t look like any of them! An inspired solution comes just in time for Christmas, and shows how Jesus and his love came down for all of us.
What makes this book unique?
Christmas stories for children are not uncommon and fall into three basic categories. Some are religious and focus on the events in the nativity story in scripture. Some use this story and add new characters children will appreciate, such as a child shepherd or a mouse that is a resident of the stable. Many books are secular, portraying fun holiday preparations and gift giving.
THAT BABY IN THE MANGER is clearly reflecting the scripture story but its theme is very contemporary: how can children of a variety of ethnicities in an urban, 21st century setting, identify with the child-God who came to earth into a very different a culture, centuries ago?
We are raising our children in a secular society. It is a tremendous challenge to help them become aware of the spirituality in life. Our world is more commercial than any earlier generation. How can we do this?
One way is through the use of stories. This ancient and very reliable method of passing on wisdom and heritage is still available to us. Story has the power to let us slip into someone else’s life and emotions. Through stories we can experience another time and place. Add THAT BABY IN THE MANGER to a reading of a more traditional Christmas books. It can either open up a discussion about who Jesus is and how we experience Him , or help make the time we call Advent about Jesus and not about gift getting.
This book may encourage families to get or create their own nativity scene. Download a discussion and study guide, suitable for ages Pre-K-4th grade.
Anne has also created an online activity and discussion guide to assist churches and families to discuss the themes of the book even further.