For the past four or five years, we have marked the days of Advent by celebrating with a Jesse tree. The Advent Jesse Tree, by Dean Meador Lambert has served us well and taken us through Advent after Advent, but this year I decided to branch out (pun totally intended) and try a new book, a huge and beautifully illustrated book with a reading level more suited to our smaller children: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp.
I ordered it with a certain amount of apprehension, though. I had read Voskamp’s book for adults, One Thousand Gifts, and found that her writing style was–ahem–not quite my cup of tea. There are certain authors who tinker so much with the way that they say things that it can be difficult to get at what they’re trying to say–the reader can’t help but focus on the words themselves, rather than on the image they’re trying to evoke–and this particular reader finds that crazy-making. But I have a theory about writers like this, and in this case, it was proven right.
My theory is this: writing for children forces authors who might otherwise be flowery or verbose to cut to the chase and say what they mean, because children won’t typically put up with the fancy stuff. I’m not implying here that authors should dumb their writing down in order to make it appealing to kids–what I’m saying is, in fact, quite the opposite. The expectations (and attention spans) of young readers force authors to get on with the story and stop wasting time trying to reword phrases in a clever or edgy way, and that, ultimately, that is a good thing.
For Ann Voskamp, the experience of writing for a younger audience has suited her writing well: she has created a book that takes families through the twenty-five days of Advent with daily stories from Scripture that set the Christmas story in it’s rightful place–in the midst of the grand story of the Bible–and those stories are so beautifully illustrated that they feel almost extravagant. I love the illustrations, and I know that our girls will love them, too.
Each story closes with discussion questions and service ideas (which our old book did not have), but no prayers (which I will miss). It feels like a big deal to move away from our tried-and-true book, but I’m looking forward to seeing how Unwrapping the Greatest Gift enriches our family’s Jesse Tree celebration by bringing in fresh perspective and–yes–illustrations.
And if you’ve never done a Jesse Tree before, this is a great place to start. Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree is a great way to keep Christmas from becoming a whirlwind two-day celebration of shredded wrapping paper and weepy kids, because it lays the groundwork so thoroughly for what we are celebrating and why well before December 25th hits. To get started, you can read my previous post on the topic, or just dive right in with Ann Voskamp’s recommendations in the opening chapters of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.
Next up: I have a special edition DIY post on cheap, easy, and lovely Jesse Tree ornaments slated to appear on Tuesday (I’ll also have some ideas of where you can purchase a set, for the DIY-averse). Stay tuned!