The Greatest Gift by Anika Lillicrap
An excellent age-appropriate book about Christmas - except for the evangelistic adult preach in the middle
The Greatest Gift
By Anika Lillicrap; illustrations by Kezia Husle
Onwards and Upwards
ISBN No 9781788155144
Reviewed by Moira Kleissner
This bright beautifully illustrated book is aimed at 5 – 7/8 year olds (Key Stage 1). The cover is of a stylised child looking out at an urban window on a starry sky, with reindeer galloping past, drawing the reader/listener into a story told in rhyming couplets.
It begins, in the child’s world, with the child asking “What’s going to happen?” as the house is decorated for Christmas. Then follows a simply told version of the Christmas event and what Jesus, as an adult, did on earth. This whole section was truly engaging and would be lovely for story-time, with the children joining in with the rhyme. The simple modern pictures will give good material for questions, discussions and answers.
Sadly, the middle section is like an old fashioned Wordless Book based on the doctrine of Original Sin. It was as if the author, the wife of a pastor, needed to put in a “preach.” “Like Adam we’re all bad,” it states. For many children, especially unchurched ones, they will not know who Adam was. What does “bad” mean for this age range? “All bad” is a very strong concept for Key Stage 1. God is said to be “rightly cross and sad” with children because they have, “said no” to him. Has a child of this age range actually said “no” to God?
The author also talks about God making our “hearts far whiter than snow.” The modern child in Key Stage 1 knows the heart pumps blood around the body, keeping us alive. If the heart was white there would be no blood, therefore you would be dead! I used to love the body apron that Year 1 children tried to put the Velcro organs in the right order, as they learned, in simple terms what each organ did – including the heart.
For concrete thinkers, as children are in this age range, this is frightening and puzzling stuff. We can’t frighten children into God’s kingdom. These are adult metaphorical concepts and not appropriate for the young child to fully understand.
Then we return, with a huge sigh of relief, to the lovely story from the beginning of the book. The child, is now putting decorations away and discovers what Christmas is really about, when they find the nativity set. Here a new concept, and much more age-appropriate one, is introduced, of becoming “God’s friend."
This would have been an excellent age-appropriate book had it not been for the evangelistic adult preach in the middle. Sadly, it spoiled what would be an ideal Christmas book for Key Stage 1 and seemed out of place with the rest of the story which expressed what Christmas is about and how a young child can relate to God.
Moira Kleissner is a retired Primary Deputy Head, storyteller, trainer and minister’s wife