In this middle-grade book, a humble innkeeper gets a new lease on life after he sees the crucified Jesus Christ.
Joel, a lonely, older widower, owns the most prosperous inn in Bethlehem. He makes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, and while traveling, he sees a crucified man, left for dead. On his return trip, Joel meets Claude, who traveled to ask the crucified man to heal him. Joel soon remembers that, 33 years before, he’d turned a pregnant woman named Mary away from his inn and offered her the stable; the baby who was born there was Jesus Christ—who grew up to be the crucified man. As Joel learns more about Jesus, he befriends various people in and around his inn, including a shy servant named Elizabeth and an affable songwriter named Cody. Joel’s former solitude gives way to a life of friends and laughter, and he ultimately decides to celebrate Jesus’ 34th birthday later that year, inviting the ill and downtrodden of Bethlehem into his inn. After Joel dies the following morning, his spirit wakes in the presence of Jesus and, ultimately, salvation. In this short fable, Dittrich (The Secret of the Magic Penny, 2016) creates a story about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that effectively shows how the events affected everyday people. The fairy tale–like prose style is appropriate for such a story, but it doesn’t allow Dittrich to flesh out Joel and his friends as distinct individuals. This is mitigated somewhat by the frequent full-page, full-color illustrations that clearly depict key scenes, such as Joel meeting Claude on the road or Joel encountering Jesus in the final act. Dittrich occasionally inserts Bible verses into the dialogue, complete with citations, to further ground the tale in tradition. The large amount of text on each page, as well as the narrator’s habit of interpreting events, makes this title most suitable for a preteen audience.
A worthy introduction to the Christian faith for young readers.