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I briefly mentioned this book in my Advent post last year but I wanted to revisit it as Advent approaches. When my oldest kids were very young, I found it difficult to navigate this time of year. I had grown up with some pretty solid family traditions and carried expectations of the same into married life, but I found my husband and I rather fumbled through the first couple of Advents, unsure of what would be our own family traditions. And when the children were so young as to seem hardly aware and their memories weren’t very long term, lots of times it felt like we were just going through motions. Gradually, however, it all began to stick. They remembered one year what we had done in the last. The traditions were setting! Around that time, I purchased this sweet little book, Advent Storybook. I wanted something like an advent calendar, but which didn’t involve siblings fighting over a tiny piece of chocolate (a predominant memory of my childhood Advents). I wanted something that would help lead the kids’ anticipation for presents into a more fruitful season of patience and waiting.
I know, that’s a tall order for kids, especially when even as an adult the struggle to keep the Christmas crazy at bay is a real one. But if we don’t do it for our kids, who will? And where will they ever learn? Before you know it, they’ll be adults like us, swamped with planning Christmas gifts and budgeting and travel and with a very weak inner disposition towards practicing the true meaning of the season.
Advent Storybook is a very simple book. A little bear is impatiently awaiting Christmas, so to distract him his mother tells him a story of a little bear’s twenty-four day journey following the star of Bethlehem. For each day of December there is a story about his travel - a person he meets or a challenge or adventure - and a corresponding lesson the real little bear learns. The stories are pretty transparent in terms of their morals but they are not, therefore, heavy-handed. For example, on one day the little bear comes across an ant working painstakingly at a pile of sand, removing one grain at a time. The bear offers to help but the ant is afraid that the bear’s bigger paws will be more risk than aid. Even though the bear points out the impossibility of the ant completing the task on his own, still the little ant continues moving that mountain - and then, overhearing their conversation, ants from all around come to help and the trapped ant is rescued. "You see, Benjamin”, said Mother Bear, “faith can move mountains.” It’s a pretty obvious and almost literal expression of that Scripture passage, yet still metaphorical enough for the simple reflections of children’s minds.
The travel, of course, ends at the manger, and the little lessons culminate in a fuller appreciation of the meaning of the Christ child: a blind man who is a torch of faith; the little and weak leading the strong; light in the darkness; gentleness, kindness, and patience being stronger than fear - all the beautiful contradictions of the Incarnation, conveyed in short and sweet stories with beautiful Illustrations.
My kids have really taken to this book as part of our Advent ritual, and I love the simple excitement and joy it brings. Perhaps they’ll outgrow it, but I suspect it will be one of those things that the older children will happily participate in for the sake of the younger.