The structure of the traditional poem “This Is the House that Jack Built” is used as the premise for this Nativity story.
The opening pages show Joseph leading Mary and their donkey toward the town of Bethlehem, with a verse from Luke about the birth of Jesus as the text. The following pages begin the repeating pattern with the refrain, “This is the bed where Jesus slept,” followed by “the straw that lined the bed,” “the cow that shared the straw,” and so on. The key nouns are capitalized in the text, which is more annoying than helpful, as it reinforces the singsong nature of the pattern. All the phrases repeat with each new character, including Mary, the baby, a lamb, an angel, the shepherds, and the wise men. The last few recitations of all the elements are quite a mouthful, but that’s the nature of this traditional structure and part of its appeal. When the entire group is assembled, the cumulative pattern is cut off with a clunky ending that doesn’t fit with the rest of the text, and a final page includes a picture of a smiling baby Jesus and another Bible verse. The double-page spreads have a greeting-card prettiness, with static poses; the character of Mary looks somewhat unfinished. The shepherds and wise men have light-brown skin; Mary, Joseph, and the baby have light skin.
This Is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten and illustrated by Delana Bettoli (2006) uses the same “This Is the House that Jack Built” structure with a more graceful text and more polished illustrations; seek it out instead. (Picture book/religion. 3-6)