This was first posted in December 2011 on my old blog.

Title: A Northern Nativity: Christmas dreams of a prairie boy

Author/Illustrator: William Kurelek

Publisher: Montreal: Tundra Books, 1976

 

Genre: Picture book

Audience Age: 5 to adult (publisher’s website says succinctly, “ALL”)

Theme: Christmas story, multicultural settings, 1930s, Canada, Canadian art, imagining, Christian thought.

Opening Sentences: These sentences are excerpted from the page before the title page, and part way through the first section of the book.

If it happened here
as it happened there…
If it happened now
as it happened then…

Who would have seen the miracle?
Who would have brought gifts?
Who would have taken them in?

As drowsiness came over William, the Nativity story got mixed up with his history and geography lessons, and he had his first Christmas dream. It was about the Far North, perhaps because his nose protruded from the bedcovers and breathed the cold crisp air in the bedroom.

Throughout that December when he was twelve years old he had these Christmas dreams. A few were long; others were more like pictures that flashed on very briefly. But they all started and ended with the questions:

If it happened there, why not here?
If it happened then, why not now?

Synopsis: Each double-page spread includes a story told in several paragraphs and an illustration in Canadian artist William Kurelek’s detailed but primitive style. Each story, one of the young William’s Christmas dreams, finds Mary, Joseph and the baby in some setting in Canada in the 1930s, from the half-igloo of a hunter in the arctic, to a boathouse in Newfoundland, from a grain elevator in Saskatchewan to the woods across the river from the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Each dream-story asks the question who would have received the family, and who would have turned them away.

Why I like this book: For years, this book has been a “must read” tradition for me on Christmas Eve. The stories catch both my heart and my mind, and make me ask that wonderful and scary question, “What if?”

Activities/Resources: Although I wasn’t able to find ready-made lesson plans or activities for this book online, it would readily lend itself to many different areas of study, especially, I would suggest, in homeschooling settings. Besides the obvious religious theme, it could be the basis for a study of different areas of Canada; the 1930s and what life was like for people during the time of the Depression; even a study of art, artists, and William Kurelek in particular. Children could be asked to make up and/or illustrate their own stories of how the Christmas story might look in their own place and time.

Availability: Still in print after all these years, and available in paperback.

# 7 in Perfect Picture Book Fridays. See all this week’s Perfect Picture Books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, or find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”

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