Christmas in Zarahemla by Amiel and Jorge Cocco is a children’s book available in English and Spanish that tells the Book of Mormon story of the first Christmas in the Americas. A prophet named Samuel predicts the birth of Jesus Christ, and that a new star will appear in the sky when he is born. Few people believe him, but another prophet named Nephi continues sharing his message. Enemies of Samuel and Nephi threaten to kill people who believe their prophesies. But (spoiler alert) as they gather them for the slaughter, the signs of Christ’s birth are realized, and the mass execution does not take place. The book ends with an image of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.
The illustrations in this book are absolutely gorgeous and the main reason to buy this book. They are the kind of art that both kids and adults would enjoy looking at repeatedly. I’m going to be searching out more work by this illustrator. (I read the book on my Kindle, so I can’t comment on the quality of the print version.)
But the text has room for improvement. The vocabulary and sentence structure of the English version are too advanced for young children, and may even be a struggle for middle schoolers with an average reading level. (My day job involves editing non-fiction for children, so I have experience in this area.) The text does not consist of direct quotations from the Book of Mormon, so there’s really no reason for the language to be so advanced. The Spanish version, which I also read, is not written at a low literacy level, either. Most kids wouldn’t be able to read the story by themselves until they’ve had an adult read it to them many times.
Another issue is that the book assumes a certain level of familiarity with the Book of Mormon. It uses the terms “Lamanite” and “Nephite” without any explanation. (Something simple like, “Samuel was a Lamanite. That means he had a different king than the Nephites,” would have sufficed.) It also makes a sudden jump from Samuel’s story to that of the succeeding prophet Nephi, leaving the reader to wonder what happened to Samuel. I also thought that the story ended pretty abruptly with Jesus’ birth. One more page talking about how the believers in the Americas felt about his birth would have made the story more complete.
In short, I enjoyed the story for the illustrations and think it’s worth the $4.99 retail price for that. But the text has lots of room for improvement, and if this team continues to make children’s books, I hope they put a higher priority on readability.