Saturday 7 October 2023

The First Christmas

The First Christmas illustrated by Jess Racklyeft (Penguin Random House Australia) PB HB RRP $24.99 9780143796909 

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Jess Racklyeft is an award-winning illustrator with a magical touch. Recent awards include CBCA Notable Picture Book of the year two years running. She lives in Melbourne with her family.

The First Christmas beautifully captures the wonder of the nativity and highlights the Christmas spirit of giving and togetherness. This timeless picture book shares the true meaning of Christmas and the importance of family.

The simple word-efficient text gives the captivating illustrations plenty of space to shine. A long time ago, in a country far away, shepherds were keeping their sheep safe at night is the opening sentence that sets the scene with ease. The minimalistic dialogue is direct, intentional and conveys meaning ‘There was no room for us at the inn,’ said Mary. ‘His name is Jesus. The carefully placed punctuation allows the special moment of meeting the new baby boy to be felt and savoured. Lying on hay, wrapped up snuggly, was a baby boy. The verbs are effective and used in the right places. A light shone around them in the darkness, and they were frightened. This retelling is well done by an anonymous author.

The book cover will attract attention with its soft blue background with hints of gold and the title is eye-catching and golden. Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus with farm animals are centre on the bottom part of the book so the eye goes to the title and then the characters. The endpapers are festive and cheery with small green branches, stars, birds, and, if you look closely, tiny sheep. The title page has a vignette of two shepherd children sitting under a tree in the illuminating light of the star that heralded the birth of Jesus. The layout varies but double page spreads are used for most of the story. The illustration of baby Jesus asleep on the hay with three farm animals is beautifully illuminated by the light of the Christmas Star. The water colour palette works a treat with the simplistic drawings. The childlike illustrations really give this book a unique specialness.

The First Christmas is a picture book for children 3-8 years that brings the meaning of Christmas and family together. This timeless book is sure to appeal at Christmas time for those wanting to share or learn about the first Christmas.

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