Voices of Christmas

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Eric Velasquez
Zon­derkidz, 2009

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Voices of Christmas

About the Book

Gabriel “paced the halls of heav­en” as he mem­o­rized God’s mes­sage to Mary. He won­dered what she would say.

The Christ­mas sto­ry unfolds, as nev­er before, through the voic­es of those who wit­nessed the Messiah’s birth. Lis­ten to Joseph’s strug­gle. Rejoice with Eliz­a­beth and Zachari­ah. Wor­ship with the magi. Hear the fear in Herod’s voice. Receive the bless­ing of Sime­on and Anna.

And, like the shep­herds, shout for joy!

From the Book

“Gabriel”

Hush! The hour is late.
Nazareth lies sleep­ing,
and I wait for my Lord’s sig­nal
to once again go
to earth below.
When last I went, my words
were for Zachari­ah.
Now, I pace the halls of heav­en
mem­o­riz­ing a mes­sage
for Mary.(Every achangel I see
envies me!)
I must get the mes­sage right:
The Light of the World
is on his way!
What will Mary say
when I tell her?

from Voic­es of Christ­mas
© 2009 by Nik­ki Grimes

Reviews

  Grimes uses her tal­ent as a poet to retell the Nativ­i­ty sto­ry from sev­er­al dif­fer­ent view­points, each one a dis­tinct voice with its own style. Four­teen poems in free verse con­vey the sto­ry, from the announce­ment of the impend­ing birth by the angel Gabriel to the final poem direct­ed to read­ers. The attrac­tive design includes a dou­ble-page spread for each char­ac­ter, with a short Bible verse and the poem set in gold type against dark back­grounds and the illus­tra­tion of the char­ac­ter attrac­tive­ly inte­grat­ed into the spread. Each char­ac­ter is a real per­son, with his or her own con­cerns or fears, and the whole of the Nativ­i­ty sto­ry is con­veyed through the sum of their indi­vid­ual sto­ries. Velasquez’s strik­ing, dra­mat­ic illus­tra­tions add to the per­son­al­i­ty of the char­ac­ters, who are clear­ly of Mid­dle East­ern eth­nic­i­ty. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

Grimes brings her lyri­cal style — and a com­pas­sion­ate, human-cen­tered tone — to the Nativ­i­ty sto­ry. Each dou­ble-page spread com­pris­es three parts: a character’s por­trait is vivid­ly ren­dered; a bib­li­cal pas­sage estab­lish­es the cur­rent seg­ment of the over­ar­ch­ing nar­ra­tive; and a poem offers read­ers entrance to the sto­ry through the eyes of the spot­light­ed char­ac­ter, from Gabriel to Mary to Herod to the innkeep­er. The mono­logues are spar­e­ly poet­ic, empha­siz­ing the human­i­ty of each icon­ic fig­ure: after being told that she will deliv­er the child of God, Mary is “root­ed to this dirt floor, / dizzy with won­der, / pinch­ing my wrist, / wait­ing to wake / from this dream.” The text is unabashed­ly spir­i­tu­al; the book design is sump­tu­ous, with its gold type­face and end­pa­pers; the paint­ings are dra­mat­i­cal­ly com­posed, alter­nate­ly dark and lumi­nous (or some­times both). Togeth­er, they make a famil­iar sto­ry seem new­ly res­o­nant. A CD with orig­i­nal music and the author’s read­ing is includ­ed. (Claire E. Gross, The Horn Book)

Grimes presents 14 poems, each pre­ced­ed by a Bible verse, telling the sto­ry of the Nativ­i­ty through the voic­es of Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, the innkeep­er, Herod, and so on. The poems, most­ly unrhymed free verse, use sim­ple lan­guage and a rolling rhythm that makes them a plea­sure to read aloud. Gas­par, one of the Wise Men, begins his verse with “All those years of por­ing over/charts and scrolls on astronomy,/then sud­den­ly, it was as if/the Morn­ing Star/leapt from the page/and rose into the sky.” The real­is­tic paint­ings, ren­dered in mut­ed night­time shades of blue, gray, brown, and yel­low, depict intense peo­ple in the midst of a momen­tous event, their glow­ing faces bowed in rev­er­ence or raised to the heav­ens. This love­ly and heart­felt book adds a deep­er per­spec­tive to the oft-told sto­ry and will enhance most hol­i­day col­lec­tions. (Eva Mit­nick, Los Ange­les Pub­lic Library, School Library Jour­nal)

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