At first, The Light of the World reads like a Christmas story. There are angels and shepherds, wise men and livestock, because every book about Jesus’s life on earth must begin with the Incarnation. But after that, Jesus emerges as more than an important baby: he is the Light of the world, a light that softens the eyes of the hopeful and glitters in the bitter eyes of the skeptics.

Katherine Paterson’s narrative incorporates Jesus’s own words from Scripture and tells of his life through parables, deeds and merciful healings. You might recognize Paterson’s name, as she’s the Newbery-winning author of Bridge to Terebinthia and Jacob Have I Loved. She uses her gifts well here, and rises to the challenge of faithfully rendering a complex story in the direct, clean sentences that children love.

The Light of the World | Little Book, Big Story

Jesus himself is depicted only sparingly throughout the illustrations, a choice that feels both deliberate and fitting, but through words and symbols Paterson and illustrator Francois Roca make his presence clear. The way the children run toward him, the shadow he casts over a crippled man’s upturned face, all make Jesus the focal point of the story, even when he stands just off stage.

In her dust jacket bio, Paterson writes, “The challenge for those of us who care about our faith and about a hurting world is to tell stories which will carry the words of grace and hope in their bones and sinews and not wear them like fancy dress.” In The Light of the World, Katherine Paterson does just that.

The Light of the World | Little Book, Big Story

The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus for Children
Katherine Paterson, Francois Roca (2008)