I hope you each have had a good holiday season and are looking forward to a very happy and hopeful New Year’s. We are still very much enjoying the Christmas season in our house. Nativities are still the center of the kids play and the lights of the Christmas tree are glowing while I type this post. It may seem strange, to post a review for a “Christmas” book after Christmas, but I promise it makes sense.
Strangers at the Manger by Lisa M. Hendey is the 5th installment of the Chime Travelers series. The series is written for elementary students and early chapter readers. Though my kids are not quite there yet, the pace and word structure make these perfect read-aloud books.
In this Chime Travelers story, it’s Christmas Even and twins Katie and Patrick Brady travel back in time to, you guessed it, the birth of Jesus. This is the first time that Katie and Patrick go back in time together which made this story extra exciting for my kids. After sort-of meeting, more like avoiding, a strange new family , the Perez family, that clearly is not from their town and very much in need of help, the twins are pulled back to just before Mary and Joseph enter Bethlehem.
At first I was a bit surprised that the birth of Jesus happens so early in the story. But, as Katie and Patrick learn, there is more to the Christmas story than just Jesus’ birth. And, most importantly, from start to finish it is a story full of opportunities to interact with strangers.
I enjoyed being able to share Katie and Patrick’s change in perspective regarding first impressions and how to be welcoming to new people. Initially, Katie and Patrick are on guard, a little suspicious and definitely not very open to meeting the Perez family. As the story unfolds, they slowly begin to change their attitude. They see how Mary and Joseph welcomed them. They watch as Mary patiently welcomes each shepherd, young and old alike. They are there to watch as Mary and Joseph share Jesus with Simeon and Anna in the Temple. They also witness the faith of Mary and Joseph as the tables turn and they flee to Egypt, now the strangers hoping for a welcoming smile or helpful hand. Hendey crafts a lovely little phrase that Mary tells the twins:
Strangers are simply new friends, waiting to be loved.
Without giving away the whole story, I’m sure you can guess what kind of change of heart the twins felt toward the Perez family.
What I love about this story is how it takes the classic Christmas themes of peace, love, hope and joy and extends them into practical reality. Mary and Joseph extend hospitality, they offer friendship and they gift each person they meet with their love. The twins pick up on this and begin to replicate it when they return home.
I think I would recommend this book as a Christmas season book, not an Advent book, for a few reasons. 1. There are so many Advent books – wonderful Advent books – but so many! 2. Regardless if you are reading this to your younger children or your kids are reading it on their own, it helps to keep the Christmas season alive beyond Christmas day. 3. Especially in today’s world, what better lesson could you kick off the new year with other than Jesus’ desire for love and peace for each person. So, if you are looking for something new this Christmas season (or any season really), or perhaps a new Christmas season tradition, I highly recommend Strangers at the Manger.