Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman
Published: 2005, Margaret K. McElderry Books-Simon & Schuster, New York
Age range: 2-6
This is one of my favorite Christmas stories. But let’s face it: I’m a sucker for a good story, and also for anything Christmas. By the time Kid#3 was born, however, we already owned many of the best-loved ones, so I searched for new Christmas books to add to our collection.
In a big house lived a wee mouse named Mortimer.
He dwelled in a dark hole under the stairs.
Nobody ever noticed little Mortimer. And Mortimer liked it that way.
But he didn’t like his hole. “Too cold. Too cramped. Too creepy,” squeaked Mortimer.
Each day Mortimer creeps about the house to find crumbs. But one day he spies a Christmas tree, as well as a little house that is just his size. He discovers tiny people—statues—that he moves out so he can move in and sleep on the cozy bed of hay. Every day the statues are replaced, and every day Mortimer lugs them back out. One day the people are around the tree, so he hides and listens to the man tell the Christmas story. He realizes that the baby statue is Jesus, and puts him back in the manger. As Mortimer climbs down the tree to return to his cramped and creepy hole, he says a prayer for a new home. And then he spies a gingerbread house.
I have always enjoyed Karma Wilson’s and Jane Chapman’s work, ever since Bear Snores On was published and I bought it for Kid#1. In fact, that’s the reason I picked up this story in the first place. It did not disappoint. In addition, finding Christmas books that include the religious aspects of the holiday has always been important to me.
The language is simple yet satisfying. Repetition in the text occurs in just the right places. Mortimer is happy to find a home in the little house, and is frustrated when the children continually move the statues back into it. The statues don’t leave any room for him, so each time, he drags them out again. After he hears the Christmas story, he realizes that the baby statue is Jesus. Despite that fact that he will lose his home, Mortimer makes room for baby Jesus in the manger—and in his heart. The story comes to a satisfying end when Mortimer’s simple prayer is answered and he finds a new home in the gingerbread house.
Jane Chapman’s sweet illustrations add so much to this story. Mortimer’s hole is indeed dark, and also filled with spiders, bugs, and bits of trash. The pictures give a realistic representation of a home with children: toys scattered on the floor, a stack of newspapers on the coffee table, the little girl on the floor painting a reindeer. I love the Christmas tree, and the detail of the ornaments—some drawn to look like children’s hand-made creations.
Mortimer’s Christmas Manger would be a good holiday addition for most families, especially those who would like a new take on keeping the religious part of Christmas. Wilson and Chapman have worked their magic again to create another fantastic picture book.
Here are some of my family’s favorites.
Christmas in the Manger, written by Nola Buck and illustrated by Felicia Bond
Who is Coming to our House? written by Joseph Slate and illustrated by Ashley Wolff
Santa Mouse, written by Michael Brown and illustrated by Elfrieda De Witt
The Legend of Old Befana: An Italian Christmas Story, by Tomie DePaola
Clement Clarke Moore’s The Night before Christmas pop-up book, by Robert Sabuda
Advent Storybook: 24 Stories to Share before Christmas, written by Antonie Schneider and illustrated by
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
Chapter Book and Middle Grade
Junie B., First Grader: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (P.S. So Does May), by Barbara Park
The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper, by Jean Van Leeuwen, pictures by Steven Kellogg