Monday, November 3, 2014

An Advent Book Basket Keeper! {A Review of If He Had Not Come}

Picture books and the holidays go hand in hand in our home.  We just love snuggling up to read together every day and night throughout Advent.  So, when we were offered the chance to review  If He Had Not Come, reintroduced by David Nicholson, I was delighted.

About the Book

Christmas Book Review

In 1938, Nan Weeks published a classic Christmas story called If He Had Not Come.  Now, David Nicholson has published a new version with updated text and newly commissioned illustrations by Charles Jaskiewicz.

If He Had Not Come is an 8.5 x 11, 40-page, hardcover Christmas picture book geared for children ages six and up that asks readers to imagine what the world would be like if Jesus had never come to Earth.  It tells the story of a young boy who awakens on Christmas morning to find himself in a world where Jesus was never been born.  As the boy moves throughout his day in his community, readers ponder Jesus’ impact on history and religion.  By the conclusion of the book, the boy -- and perhaps readers -- discover where the greatest gift of Christmas can be found.

As the text of If He Had Not Come unfolds, illustrations evoke mood and offer a hint about the conclusion of the story.  The first two full-page  illustrations are cheerful, colorful ones with the nostalgic flavor you might expect to accompany a classic Christmas story.  The next one has more muted tones and reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Then, page after page or less colorful, yet well-detailed, interesting and emotional illustrations follow, before a final colorful, happy illustration of a boy praying over a baby Jesus figurine concludes the story.

Our Experience with the Book

Pardon the post-meal mess in this photo.  Please, instead, focus on the children's rapt attention to the picture book.  (Or, if you must, focus on both.  Note the children being 100% into the story despite the mess about them and smile at the fact that the mess exists.  Not every blogger has a photo-worthy home!)

When I received If He Had Not Come in the mail, I excitedly opened it and read it over.  The final page of the story, as prayed by the main character Bobby, included the sentence, "I'll show You my thanks by doing everything I can to please You today and everyday.These words prompted me to wait until the beginning of November to introduce the book to my children.  For, how better to look forward to Thanksgiving than to recognize our gratitude that Jesus came for us and to consider how we might offer thanks for Him doing so with actions as well as words?

Thus it was that I did not share If He Had Not Come with my children until this morning.  As you might guess from the photograph above, it was worth the wait.

As soon as I began the story, my children became highly engaged in both the storyline and the illustrations.  In fact, they thoroughly immersed themselves what was happening to the main character Bobby and in noticing the changing tones of the illustrations.  Several pages into the book, as Bobby wondered why no one in his community seemed to know about Christmas, my children wondered aloud about why what was happening to Bobby seemed "weird" and "unreal"About halfway through the book, they began predicting that Bobby was dreamingAnd, when we reached the final page of the story, with its warm, colorful illustration and confirmation of their prediction that Bobby's experience had all been a dream, my children smiled.  

As my reading of the story concluded, my children all agreed it was a story worth putting in our Advent book basket.  They went on to offer further commentary as well.

The Children's Opinions

Luke said he would have liked if the book was a bit longer.  He felt that it should have continued on to show us what Bobby got in his Christmas packages, what happened when he went to church and how life was for him on Christmas.  My ever-literal and book-loving Luke said additional pages depicting what happened to the main character Bobby because Jesus did, indeed, come, might give readers a clearer idea about the differences in life because Jesus came and life if Jesus had never come.

Nina agreed that the book felt short and commented that "only three pages were of real life; most of it was just about his dream."  She then went on to say that she really liked how the pictures changed from bright to dark to bright again and that she liked the story overall.

Jack shared that he liked how so much of the story seemed "in the olden days".  (Got to love our history and nostalgia-loving kids!)

Together, the children concluded that the main message of the book is "without Jesus, there would be only sin... If Jesus had not come, everything would be so different... more different than we would believe."

Not Just a Book, But a Conversation-Starter, Too

The children's conclusion about the main message of the book seemed a perfect bridge for me to begin diving into some of the thoughts and questions posed on the page towards the end of the book entitled "Interactive Topics for Families and Sunday School Teachers".  Doing so led to a rich discussion about the impact that Jesus' coming has had on the world, what life would be like if Jesus had never come and what types of things exist because Jesus did come (hospitals, churches, orphanages, Christmas, Easter, etc.)  

The conversation also found me smiling when  Luke wrapped it up by commenting, "Mom, if Jesus had never come, we would not know two important rules: Love God and love others as we love ourselves."  I admittedly loved that that was his takeaway from our first experience with the book.  In fact, I was delighted that ll of my children -- ages three to eight -- were engaged by both the book and our conversation inspired by it

A Note to Fellow Catholic Readers

Grace Church's pastor Josh Mulvihill wrote "Going Deeper", which serves as endnotes for If He Had Not Come.  In these notes are thought-provoking questions and suggestions for Bible study, which are well worth perusing and, perhaps, sharing with your children.

However, there is also a page on "The Gospel Message" which elaborates on the "ABC's of Salvation":

A- Admit you are a sinner separated from a perfect God.
B- Believe in your heart that Jesus is Savior.
C- Confess with your mouth and receive God's gift of salvation.

We Catholics consider these ABC's to be only a partial list since they miss mention of obeying Christ's teachings and living a Sacramental life, among other things.  With this in mind, I suggest that Catholic parents pre-read all endnotes in If He Had Not Come and decide how best to approach discussing them or elaborating on them before handing the book over to independent readers.

Final Thought

As always, my personal take is to take Philippians 4:8 to heart, recognizing what is worthy of praise and thinking about those things.  A lovely picture book that centers families on the true meaning of Christmas -- Jesus' coming -- is certainly praiseworthy and worth thinking about adding to a family's library of Advent and Christmas reading.  If He Had Not Come will be in our Advent book basket this year and for years to come!

Learn More

Learn why the author wrote the book and how it is set apart form other Christmas stories.  You can order a hardbound copy of the book for $18.95 or an e-book version for $3.99.

Christmas Book Review

Discover what 100 other Schoolhouse Crew members thought about the book!

Click to read Crew Reviews

Find If He Had Not Come on Facebook.

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