Christmas in the Barn
By Margaret Wise Brown; Illustrated by Diane Goode
We have a barn, so this book is really relatable and imaginative territory for me as I wonder what it was really like on that Christmas Eve thousands of years ago.
Some have said this blessed event occurred in a stable, some say a cave or, even here, written by the author of the famous “Good night Moon,” and illustrated by Caldecott Award winning illustrator Diane Goode, it occurs in a barn.
Somehow, I think Mary and Joseph did not have the cozy comfort of this idyllic setting for the birth of their baby. Ms. Goode’s images are of a snowy wind whipped day, with a couple, on the cusp of a birth, trying to find shelter for the night.
But no matter, the setting here is an “ancient barn”, set apart from the main house where the owners, apparently kindly though unseen, take in two out-of-towners on a bitterly cold, snow drifted night, as they await the birth of their child.
The couple are drawn by Ms. Goode as ordinary folk, caught unawares in a defining moment in their lives. And Ms. Wise Brown makes the nativity story fresh, accessible and real to readers. This could be any couple, awaiting the birth of their baby.
Was it that way more than 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem? Maybe. But I think the freshly new straw laden ancient barn with its coziness is what we may all hope it could have been in an ideal world and in our imaginations.
But, all the truly essential elements are there in this re-imagining of this seminal moment in Christian history.
The “ancient barn,” for that is the one thing that defines the measure of age, and its ability to sustain against the onslaught of time, is set in a huge, snow covered field. Its lintels house the couple-in-waiting who “had lost their way,” plus a host of out-of-door curious creatures, including rabbits, a black and white herd dog, horses, and even field mice, escaping the frigid temperatures.
And, also, all the traditionals are here: the sheep, cow, cattle, oxen and donkey are present front and center. Did I miss the “doves in the rafters high?”
And there they were all safe and warm
All together in that ancient barn.
Young readers will love how the positioning of the shepherds, a stones throw away in a nearby pasture, come running with one small cry:
When hail – the first wail of a newborn babe reached the night
Where one great star was burning bright
Where are the wise men, kids may ask? Not to worry. They arrive at the dawn of Christmas Day.
And interestingly enough, their look is not defined in any way, as if it were not important, as they are just there in shadow, a trio to bear witness and manifest that moment in time to a wider world.
In that ancient barn
Margaret Wise Brown’s re-imagining of the story is wonderful in setting, in tone, and in the texture of its simplicity in the farm-like images of Diane Goode’s pastoral art.
Maybe what young readers may glean from this ancient story, positioned in an “ancient barn”, is that a miracle occurring some 2,000 years ago is still possible to reverberate today, in the kindness we make visible in the world, as this centuries old event continues to echo its tidings of joy to young readers of today, and down the ages.
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