**** updated: 06/2015, new comments in RED****
Be sure to check out the alternate and more concise version of this list here.
I had an ambitious project in mind this year before Advent begins. Normally we do our readings for each day of the Jesse Tree straight from a Children’s Bible. But I wanted to up our game. So I did some initial browsing online to see if it was even possible. It was. I could find a picture book for every individual Bible reading for each of the days of Advent! Mind = Blown.
I got many of my initial title inspirations from this kind mama where she lists a book for each of December’s days. But in our home, we do Jesse Tree a bit differently so I adjusted quite a bit for our purposes. First of all, we observe Advent for the full 21-28 days depending on the year. Some folks keep it simple and just do Jesse Tree readings beginning Dec. 1st. Secondly, I wasn’t willing to find a picture book just to have a picture book of a certain story. It had to be good, which means most serial Bible story sets need not apply. Third, beginning on December 17th, we switch completely to the Antiphons. So the last Bible story we read about is the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth before going to the beautiful Messianic titles of Christ (heard in the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”). It would have been far too difficult to find picture books for THOSE, so we just go back to the simple Bible verse and prayer until Christmas Eve when we will read over the original Nativity story (picture book or straight from the Bible) itself.
So in reality, I needed a full 21 individual stories (28 – 7 Antiphons = 21 stories for the longest year of Advent.) On shorter Advent years, we may read more than one story a night (i.e. all the Moses readings work nicely to combine or separate) or skip one altogether.
The downside to this project is that finding picture books—quality picture books—for the stories I wanted to include was a big challenge. Huge actually. There are a myriad of cheap, saccharine-looking Bible story books on the market. But with enough hunting and scavenging and library holding… it was just about possible to find worthy books for my tastes! There are only a couple stories with which I’m not 100% satisfied, so my hunt continues. Now, I had a couple of these titles already; many others were found at the library. Others were purchased at cheap out-of-print prices. Only one was splurged on at full price. So doing the Jesse tree with picture books is possible! But I admit that its a bit of a luxury; maybe start by acquiring just a few titles a year to supplement your regular readings.
Here’s what we have going on for a full 28 day Advent. This year, 2013, the season is only 24 days so we’re doing Moses all in one day and Joseph all in one day. I’ll probably skip Elijah altogether. I recently found a couple more stories that are NOT on this particular compendium but you may want to substitute in somewhere if you happen to have an easier time finding them than some of these others:
BALAAM’S ASS: I didn’t realize there was a good picture book version of this drama-comedy until I stumbled upon The Donkey’s Story by Barbara Cohen, thinking it must be a Christmas story at first. But I was pleasantly surprised. Then I found another one I liked even better in The Angel and the Donkey! There is a third story on this which I haven’t seen but it is part of an old vintage series that I would LOVE to have in its entirety: Balaam and his Ass .
JOSHUA: Joshua Crosses the Jordan is a reader book but it looks like it could be pretty good. It’s done by the same pair who did the Elijah title below.
Jesse Tree Booklist
Day 1: The Story of Creation. The best I found on this is Gennedy Spirin’s Creation. I’m looking forward to Archbishop Tutu’s yet to be released Let There Be Light (update 11/14: I’ve seen it now and not really a fan.). But so far, Spirin’s story is both the most simple, most beautiful (well God does look a little bit intimidating but I can overlook that) and most faithful to the original Bible text.
Day 2: Adam & Eve and the Fall. I am currently using Fiona French’s Paradise for the story of the Garden of Eden. I previewed a few others and either didn’t like the text or was uncomfortable with the full, frontal nudity. I loved everything about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden except for the overt nudity and as my three oldest are boys… I just would rather avoid that ogling temptation. Other families might feel differently. The nudity is in context after all, and one good mama suggested that she has no problem employing the Sharpie marker to lengthen Eve’s hair or some-such in these situations. But this particular Jane Ray book was a library one… and I wasn’t willing to purchase something that needed at least two pages of obvious modification. In French’s book, there are two pictures of Eve’s breasts; they are pretty benign considering the art is clearly stained glass-style unreal.
(I thickened an arm shadow to cover the nipple on one page and had the audacity to draw in a blackbird on Eve’s arm for the other page! It might be a little ridiculous… my kids probably won’t notice the alterations at all. But I feel better anyway.) I wish the story went a little more into detail about Eve tempting Adam and the confrontation; it also ends on a somber note of simply the Garden being closed. In short, it’s not perfect but I do like most of it…
Day 3: Noah and the Ark. Despite the many versions of this story, the clear-cut winner is hand’s down Jerry Pinkney’s Noah’s Ark. (update 6/15: Wait, wait! Pinkeye’s is awesome but even better, EVEN BETTER is the new, GORGEOUS book of art Noah’s Ark)
Day 4: The Tower of Babel. I was very happy to see that a great and vibrant story exists on this: (albeit, out of print…) You can read my review on it at amazon. The Tower of Babel.
Day 5: The Promise to Abraham. I ran into some trouble here. I settled on a typical series-version book for the stories of Abraham and Isaac but it’s not anything worth writing about. I really wanted to get my hands on Sarah Laughs but wasn’t able to budget it in this year… (update 11/14: got it and love it) and it still left me with the problem of…
Day 6: Isaac and Abraham. There IS The White Ram: A Story of Abraham and Isaac but I thought it strayed too far into the fanciful and I really want to keep our readings focused and reverent. So, until I find some better options, I’ll be reading from our mediocre story book for Abraham and Isaac.
Day 7: Jacob and Esau. Done very well in this book: Jacob and Esau.
Day 8: Joseph. This is one of those stories that can be broken into two days: the early story of The Coat of Many Colors and the later story involving his brother” reconciliation in Benjamin and the Silver Goblet or you find the whole story done well in Joseph.
Days 9 & 10: Moses. This covers the individual stories of the baby in the basket, the 10 plagues and parting of the sea, and the 10 Commandments. We can read it in sections. There are a few different options that have the whole Moses story but the one I liked the most was done by Margaret Hodges and Barry Moser: Moses. I may also throw in parts from Wildsmith’s Exodus just to change it up a bit.
Day 11: Ruth. I finally got The Story Of Ruth and think it’s a necessary addition to the Jesse Tree. I’ll be shortening the Moses stories to include this one! It’s a great lesson in fidelity and devotion.
Day 12: Samuel. I was surprised to find The Story of the Call of Samuel! It’s a pretty well done version of the story. I just wonder why there aren’t other decent picture books on even more interesting Bible figures like Samson, Joshua, Elijah, and others…
Day 13: David and Goliath. The best version I was able to find was David and Goliath.
Day 14: Esther. I really, really love the Esther book we use for this day! Queen Esther Saves Her People is just sooo good. If you can’t borrow or purchase this one, there are other decent versions out there. I’d settle for The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale if it weren’t for the other one.
Day 15: Solomon. I wasn’t thrilled with the couple of books I previewed on Solomon’s riddles and such. I wanted a general idea of his kingship and justice. So I bought the compilation picture book: Kings and Queens of the Bible and am pretty happy with it. Alternately, you can find a lovely tale of his testing by Queen Sheba in The Wisest Man in the World, complete with illustrations by the excellent Anita Lobel.
Day 16: Elijah. I desperately wanted to find a good picture book on Elijah because I think he’s an important prophet and his story is neat enough to visualize. Instead I found Journeys with Elijah: Eight Tales of the Prophet at the library which is a collection of legends. The book is nice but the only useful part to me for my purposes is the introduction which tells the actual story of Elijah. So I’m still on the hunt for a stand-alone picture book on this man. (update 11/14: There is a wonderful and excellent story to be found in Elijah and the Fire from Heaven but it is “very” out of print and used copies in good shape are hard to find. I’ll write more about this in a separate post. I did notice a reader book called Elijah and King Ahab but haven’t had a chance to personally preview it yet. It is cheap though and looks like “inoffensive” art; I’d buy it if I didn’t have the other one.)
Day 17: Jonah. I was really, really pleased with Jonah and the Whale. I looked at a few different versions of this story but was really discouraged by the twaddle and the unfaithful retellings out there. This one is really good…
Day 18: King Belshazaar and the Writing on the Wall. I admit that this wasn’t my first pick on stories to include in our Jesse Tree traditions but I wasn’t able to identify any good books for the stories I DID want. So this will suffice. I found this story in the Kings and Queens of the Bible book again.
Day 19: Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I only got to see a couple story books with this tale in it (indeed there are only a couple) and the best one out there is definitely Daniel and the Lord of Lions.
Day 20: The Annunciation and Visitation. I have the book Mary by Brian Wildsmith but de Paola’s Mary: The Mother of Jesus is pretty great too. (also, let’s not forget the strange and wonderful book by Inos Biffi The Life of Mary to use for these stories also.)
Days 21-27: The Antiphons
Day 28 (Christmas Eve): The Nativity. There are a number of decent versions of the Nativity told in picture book form. I like ones that use the actual words from the Bible. I’m using Francesca Crespi’s The Nativity because I already had it and it’s a nice, special, pop-up touch to the end of the Advent season for my kids. Other worthy titles are: The Christmas Story, Bethlehem, and Christmas Story.
Why do the Jesse Tree at all? For us, it’s to give the FULL Christmas story… to remember the beginning of salvation history. I love this thought from then-Cardinal Ratzinger (1986):
“Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope.
The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.…
It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”