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From the Nativity to Hanukkah, 9 pictures books share religious, faith themes

From the Nativity to Hanukkah, these recently released picture books share religious elements of the Christmas season. They include ones by local authors and retellings of the first Nativity story from different perspectives, sharing the Christmas spirit and modern stories that apply lessons from Jesus’ life.

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THE MISMATCHED NATIVITY,” by Merrilee Boyack, illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Deseret Book, $18.99

It’s right before Christmas and Joshua’s family has moved across the country. He’s new in his Primary class and feels lonely. His Primary teacher notices.

Throughout the week, the class members reach out to him — Sammy invites him to help walk her family dog, Maria brings over star cookies and frosting so they can ice the cookies together, Taylor and Josh build a birdhouse and a tiny manger, Keaton invites Josh to go sledding and Angela and Josh build snowmen. Each shares a different person from the Nativity scene (and different sets) with Josh, and he and his new friends find a way to relate to it and feel the Christmas spirit.

It’s Josh’s teacher who brings over the last piece to his mismatched set in this timely story about reaching out to others from Utah author Merrilee Boyack.

Included in the back are suggestions of ways for families to learn about the Nativity.

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SHMELF THE HANUKKAH ELF,” by Greg Wolfe, illustrated by Howard McWilliam, Bloomsbury Childrens, $16.99 (ages 3-6)

Shmelf is a clerk in Santa’s workshop who finds a list of good children who aren’t getting gifts from Santa, and it’s explained that as those children are Jewish, they celebrate Hanukkah. Confused by those who aren’t celebrating Christmas, Shmelf takes it upon himself to investigate. What follows is a delightful explanation of Hanukkah traditions, including menorahs, dreidels, gelt and latkes, and what Shmelf does to help make sure Hanukkah-observing children are remembered each year.

Rhythmic and rhyming couplets and whimsical illustrations help share about this religious seasonal holiday.

Author Greg Wolfe, who was raised Jewish and also believes in Santa and flying reindeer, wrote this for his young son “to prove that Santa believes in him, too.”

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SHEPPARD’S LAST LAMB,” by Annalisa Hall, illustrated by Alex Worthen, Bonneville Books, $14.99

When Sheppard accidentally volunteers to be a shepherd in his Primary’s Christmas pageant, he’s assigned to find sheep and to give one of the speaking parts.

At first he’s frustrated by the assignment. As he gathers the toy lambs and stuffed animal sheep, Sheppard realizes the significance of the shepherd and the sheep, including finding one that might be lost.

Author Annalisa Hall, a Brigham Young University graduate, shares an interesting perspective that also explores Jesus Christ’s role as the Good Shepherd. Alex Worthen’s illustrations help show diversity.

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REFUGE,” by Anne Booth and Sam Usher, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $15.99 (ages 4-8)

Told from the perspective of the donkey, “Refuge” shares Joseph and Mary's travels to Bethlehem and then how a baby was born that shepherds and kings came to visit. However, with Joseph’s dream, the family left during the night, “hoping for the kindness of strangers” as they sought refuge in Egypt.

The art in “Refuge” is in dark blue and gray hues with an occasional splash of yellow.

It’s an important and timely reminder of how Jesus and his family were once refugees as they left their home.

Author Anne Booth, of England, wrote this to raise money for children who are refugees because of war and other conflicts, according to press materials. The publisher will also donate $1 from each book sale through September 2017 to USA for UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.

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WE BELIEVE IN CHRISTMAS: How the Symbols of Christmas Remind Us of Christ,” by M. Weber Longoria, art by Mark Missman and Dona Gelsinger, Covenant Communications, $12.99

With rhyming couplets, “We Believe in Christmas” relates many holiday traditions, including gifts, Christmas trees, lights and bells to religious ones, such as the Magi’s gifts to baby Jesus, the Good Shepherd’s voice and the star. The pages alternate with the Christmas traditions and religious ones, making an interesting juxtaposition. This book is meant for older children who can make the connection or to be read with parents who can help younger ones.

The artwork by Mark Missman and Dona Gelsinger is beautiful and intricate with images of Jesus Christ, the holy family, shepherds, wise men and the star along with those of Santa and other holiday traditions.

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THE MIRACLE MAKER: He Taught a Village to Believe,” by Ann Action, illustrated by Dan Burr, Covenant Communications, $14.99

When it’s announced on Christmas Eve that a miracle maker is coming to their village, the people are disappointed when the man who came looks ordinary and is carrying a hen.

The man rents a small, ugly house, and each morning, trades a stone from the yard for bread and corn. He also goes to the marketplace to trade the hen’s egg for flower seeds, which he plants in the yard.

As the villagers watch him and others come to visit him, including a rich man, an old woman and the village teacher seeking for miracles of their own, he shares advice that seems foolhardy at the time. As they begin to apply it, changes begin to take place powered by small acts in a lesson worth learning for all.

As some pages have quite a bit of text for a picture book format, older children or more advanced readers can likely handle it on their own.

Dan Burr’s striking illustrations are realistic enough to appear as artful photography, which help bring a richness to this powerful story.

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CHRISTMAS IN THE BARN,” by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Anna Dewdney, Harper, $17.99 (ages 2-6)

Initially published in 1952, this rhyming story of the Nativity by “Goodnight Moon” author Margaret Wise Brown has been republished with illustrations by Llama Llama illustrator Anna Dewdney.

Brown’s story centers around visitors to a barn with many animals, and these visitors are Mary and Joseph preparing for Jesus’ birth. A star shines down on the barn, and shepherds and wise men also come to visit the young family.

Dewdney’s colorful illustrations show a canvas texture with, at times, visible brush strokes.

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MY FIRST STORY OF THE FIRST CHRISTMAS,” retold by Deanna Draper Buck, illustrated by Jerry Harston, Deseret Book, $6.99

Deanna Draper Buck is the author of the My First scriptures board book series that includes books about the Old and New Testaments, Book of Mormon and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“My First Story of the First Christmas” shares the Christmas story from the Bible, including the Angel Gabriel’s visit, Joseph and Mary’s travels to Bethlehem and visits by the shepherds and wise men, and also the Book of Mormon, with Samuel the Lamanite’s prophecies and how those were fulfilled.

The book shares a simple, yet effective, story of Jesus’ birth and is the size for small hands to hold.

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AWAY IN A MANGER: Remembering His Sacred Birth with Beloved Art and Music,” Covenant Communications, $10.99

The words to Christmas song “Away in a Manger” is presented with art of the nativity in the 35-page “Away in a Manger: Remembering His Sacred Birth with Beloved Art and Music.” The art includes works that are different perspectives of the Nativity by Simon Dewey, Liz Lemon Swindle, Joseph F. Brickey, Roger Loveless, Mark Missman, Jay Bryant Ward, Dan Freed and David Lindsley.

Sheet music for two versions of the song “Away in a Manger” are included, as is the story of Jesus’ birth.

A music CD is tucked in the back cover and has “Away in a Manger” sung by Hallie Cahoon along with Roger and Melanie Hoffman’s “Joy to the World” and “Away in a Manger/Once in Royal David’s City.”