'Twas the First Night Before Christmas by Mary Beth Vonk

'Twas the First Night Before Christmas

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A poetic takeoff on “A Visit from St. Nicholas” makes Jesus, rather than Santa, the central figure in this picture book for children ages 5 to 8.
Using some of the lines and rhymes but shifting the scene to the night before the first Christmas, first-time author Vonk reclaims the holiday from its focus on gift-giving in Clement Moore’s poem. Readers who know Moore’s poem will recognize the source in the first stanza: “ ’Twas the night before Christmas / when all through the town / Not a creature was stirring / or making a sound.” The references to the original continue, as Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem and settle down in a stable behind the inn; as shepherds respond to the appearance of angels and make their way to see the babe; as wise men see a new star and follow it, visit Herod, bring gifts to the child and heed the warning not to return to Herod. The poem ends with the proclamation of the birth of Jesus: “Happy wise men were they / as they drove out of sight – / Proclaimed they to all, / ‘We have seen The Great Light.’ ” The book ends with a quotation from the Gospel of John about God’s love for the world resulting in the gift of his son. An illustration on the right-hand page of every spread, as well as a repeated star and decorative elements that frame the text, helps tie the book together visually. The illustrations, which appear to be digital art, are clear enough that a younger child could easily follow the story by viewing the pictures. The straightforward text also clearly conveys the details of the story, despite the poetry, although it suffers from a few contortions of language in order to maintain the stanza pattern (“Being warned in a dream, / the wise men did know. / Don’t return to King Herod”) and some may find the colloquial tone of “To see Yahweh’s Savior, / His number one pick” and the wise men turning “with a jerk”—used to force a rhyme—a bit jarring.
An appealing Christmas message—simplified and rendered in poetry—for Christian youngsters.
Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0615856070
Page count: 26pp
Publisher: Mary Beth Vonk
Program: Kirkus Indie
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