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Um. Don't look now but Christmas is almost here.

Or DO look if you're so inclined. Me, I totally understand why people don't like the holiday season, but I still enjoy it. I guess you could say that Christmas with all its noisy bells and whistles is my favorite guilty pleasure.

I especially love the traditional Christmas story — how a baby was born to a couple of desperate kids who had no place to stay, so they spent the night surrounded by animals in a random stable. It speaks to me about all kinds of things. Fear. Class division. The kindness of strangers. Hope.

I also like the way the traditional Christmas story is reimagined in books like "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Robinson, which, as you'll recall, introduces us to those really rotten Herdman kids (Imogene, Ralph, Claude, Leroy, Ollie and Gladys) who end up owning the Nativity narrative in a completely memorable way.

"Wombat Divine" by Mem Fox is another charming take on the Christmas story, featuring a cast of animals from Down Under, including Wombat, who lands himself the perfect role in the annual Christmas pageant. "Humphrey's First Christmas" by Carol Heyer, a story about a snooty camel who does the right thing in the end, is equally appealing.

One of my favorite retellings of the Christmas story, however, came from a football coach who used to live in my neighborhood when I was growing up. He and his wife had a bunch of rowdy, big-hearted boys, who (like their parents) were pretty much forces of nature.

He told me about the time his wife made their little boys do an enactment of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. One boy was Joseph. One boy was Mary. One boy was baby Jesus. The boy who was Mary did his best to talk like a girl. The boy who was baby Jesus did his best to fake-cry a lot.

Not surprisingly, all that fake-crying became annoying in a BIG hurry. "Mary" did his best to soothe "Baby Jesus," which only made "Baby Jesus" fake-cry louder.

Finally, in desperation, "Mary" said in his special "Mary" voice, "Please be quiet, Baby Jesus, or I'm going to punch you in the face."


This year there's a new retelling of the Christmas story with which I'm especially impressed — "Refuge" written by Anne Booth and illustrated by Sam Usher (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $15.99). While most renditions end at the stable, this one begins after the wise men leave, trailing clouds of frankincense behind them. It's the part of the Christmas story we often forget about — how a young couple, fearful for the safety of their child, left one country and fled to another.

According to an interview in The Bookseller, Booth says she was inspired to write the story after viewing pictures of Syrian families with young children fleeing the violent chaos of their native land. The experience reminded her of "how Jesus was a refugee and how part of celebrating Jesus' birth is also remembering the fact that he was given refuge as a baby and escaped being killed." Her hope is that the book "will touch religious and nonreligious people alike as we all care about this situation."

Awareness is one thing. Action is another. For every copy of "Refuge" sold in the United States, the publisher will donate $1 to UNHCR — the UN Refugee Agency — which helps people displaced by war, not only in Syria, but also around the world.

I love this idea — a book that gives back in more ways than one.

Ann Cannon can be reached at or