Monday, December 2, 2019

The Storybook Literacy of Advent

I don't think I will ever tire of writing about Advent. It’s coming at the end of each calendar year is what my soul needs. Over the past ten years I’ve written a lot about the deep meanings that Advent provides. It is a safe yet vulnerable place where we can remind ourselves that in God’s Kingdom, suffering and blessing can exist side by side.

But this year, I want to shift gears a bit. In a week or so, I’ll sharing a page where you can purchase a book of 31 readings from my blog. In working on the formatting and selections, I have read and re-read most of the words I’ve written in the past ten years. I am not tired of Advent, but I realized I wanted to approach my reflections a little differently this year.

This past June I began my first job as a children’s librarian for the Chicago Public Library. Each day I interact with children and families looking for just the right book. I have a soft spot for this type of work, called Readers Advisory in the library world. Why not jump into Advent with this same mindset?

Growing up, Advent was a staple of the holiday season. We had the Christmas tree and the Advent wreath; the Nativity scenes, the Jesse Tree banner; a picture book with inserts that became ornaments; Advent devotionals full of writings, poems, and scripture; and then there were the picture books. My parents prided themselves on only collecting truly Bible-based picture books for our Advent box that lived on the coffee table. No reindeer, Santa Clauses, or Christmas elves here.

In children’s literacy, there are standards that help educators, librarians, and caregivers get children ready to read. The current standard, Every Child Ready to Read (2nd edition) can be summed up in five easy words: Talk, Sing, Read, Write, Play. These are the things that help prepare a child to become a reader. It’s how we all learn to learn. My early years of Advent were no different. We talked about what we were doing, we sang the Christmas carols and hymns, we heard the stories read aloud, we wrote little notes to Jesus for His birthday, and we played by adding pieces to the Jesse Tree and flipping through the pages of the picture books on our own.

C.S. Lewis once said, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” So, as I share these Nativity picture books, try not to think of them as childish and simple, but open your eyes to the ways that stories have the power to shape our understanding. After all, when we repeat the narrative of Jesus’ birth each Advent, we are doing that very thing. We are telling the story of Immanuel, when God came down to Earth.

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