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Advent with the Beasts

All Creation Waits
The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings

By Gayle Boss
Paraclete, 64 pages, $20.99

Upon opening the cover of this lovely book and thumbing past the table of contents, you’ll find a note:

This book is a kind of Advent calendar. The pages are numbered — Advent 1, Advent 2, Advent 3 — for the days of December leading to Christmas, like the little doors on an Advent calendar. And like an Advent calendar, this book’s “doors” are meant to be opened slowly, one — and only one — each day.

These instructions are important because they remind parents and their children to slow down, to savor each image, to listen to the music of the words. As we parcel out waxy chocolate to our children, we might read aloud about these creatures each day throughout the Advent season.

All Creation Waits is a kind of bestiary set to an Advent tune. Each day, the life of some creature unfurls before our eyes, with an accompanying prose poem that describes the animal’s hibernal activity. Lushly illustrated, each page opens to dream-like portraits of animals in their habitats.

The color palette is cool, as we might expect for a book written about winter, and the viewer is rewarded for looking deeply. These are not illustrations one can skip over with a quick glance. A refrain in the bottom corner of each illustration reminds the reader that “The dark is not an end. It’s a door. It’s the way a new beginning comes.”

We meet a painted turtle whose work is to wait, and a muskrat during his winter swim. We see little brown bats huddling together to stay warm, an opossum creeping in the dark, and we watch a lake trout laying her eggs where she herself was born.

Do you ever wonder how honeybees survive the cold? Tens of thousands cluster together in their hive. And as Boss writes, “Each bee knows that to live through winter they all must dance and shiver together.”

Finally, on December 25 we meet Jesus the Christ in the barn with Mary and the animals. We are told, “When the sheep-men found the child they saw what all creation is waiting for — a human at home with creatures as kin.”

The last several pages of the book list the creatures we’ve met in turn, with a short paragraph explaining what we might learn from them, along with a question to engage young readers. This is where Boss turns most explicit in drawing out the spiritual truths we might glean from observing creation.

This is a wonderful book to read with children during Advent. Parents and grandparents will enjoy it too, though I expect preschool children will love it best.

If you live in the American South, it may make you homesick for the winter.

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