a haunting, lilting and memorable Nativity story

by Lorenz Graham, pictures by Colleen Browning - Boyds Mills Press, 1993
ages baby to grown-up - and everyone in between / Christmas

Every Man Heart Lay Down is a truly gorgeous nativity book. We love it because it tells the nativity in a way that makes new listeners stop and think and ponder to understand.

The story is in idioms from Liberia and it’s beautiful to read. It’s so well told that the rhythm of the words is easy to catch and then it just flows. Words like: 

"Long time past. Before them big tree live. Before them big tree’s papa live. That time God live."

It's a familiar story, but with a couple of twists. God is worried for the world - and his Son (Pican) volunteers: 

"I talk to people. I walk with people. Bye-m-bye they savvy the way."

So the Baby is born to Mary. And Joseph and the Wise Men and the men by the waterside (in place of the Shepherds) come to worship:  

"And they look on the God pican. And every man heart lay down."

I love that the illustrations are not the soft around the edges, misty-eyed illustrations that usually accompany nativity stories (though those are often gorgeous too). Here, they are full of strong colours and lines. They're stunning, and they cause us to stop and pay attention to a wonderful and very familiar story.

every man heart.jpg

Every Man Heart Lay Down was first published in 1946!  It‘s that timeless. The introduction tells the story of its writing – and ends with this plea:

"Read again an old story. Behold a new vision with sharper images. Sway with the rhythm of the storyteller. Feel the beat of the drums."

There are lots of things that are brilliant about this little book, including that it is:

a really nice way to keep the nativity story fresh
quite haunting; the illustrations have life and depth
easy to read aloud - and begs for lilting, deep voices!
takes the nativity story out of the realm of the white, western world
a soft-edged reminder that all of humanity has worries and cares and hopes and dreams
and, while it only takes a couple of minutes to read, it will linger long in your thoughts

Most of all, it’s a lovely reminder that Christmas is a time when ‘Every Man Heart Lay Down’. Here's a lovely video: