Review: The Glorious Impossible


Author: Madeleine L’Engle

Illustrator: Frescoes by Giotto

Published by: Simon and Schuster

Available second-hand from sellers on Amazon and Abebooks

“Possible things are easy to believe. The Glorious Impossibles are what bring joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, song to our lips.”

Good for: Families with children aged 7—14 and adults who like classic art and a different perspective on well-known Bible stories. 

Best bit: It’s a hard call between the beautiful, gentle storytelling and the wonderful paintings. My personal favourite fresco is Jesus with his fist held up to the money lenders in the temple.

Worst bit: This book is only available secondhand and is crazy-expensive just before Christmas. However, out of season, it’s far more reasonable. It also has the limitations of a re-telling, in that the author’s theology becomes part of it. This isn’t a big deal for me, as I like most of it. However, it should be said that the story isn’t aiming to ‘tell truth’, but rather to allow us to enter into the mystery of the incarnation and the resurrection.

More thoughts

This book is a rich retelling of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Illustrations are stunning frescoes from a chapel in Padua, Italy.

It’s beautifully written, although it included words not often used in contemporary Bible storybooks. For example, Mary says “Be it unto me according to your word.” My children are 6 and 7, and they understood the words, so this isn’t an issue for us, but rather the ‘ancient’ feel to the language adds to the beauty of the storytelling.

I love the way it describes the birth of Jesus as a ‘glorious impossible’, and how Mary and Joseph opted into being part of it. The storytelling gives a different perspective on each story, and the combination with the frescoes is quite dramatic. We found it easy to chat about which picture we liked best, and which aspects of it we liked, which was an easy way to start discussing our responses to the text as well,

The first half of the book tells the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth but I was pleasantly surprised to find the other half mostly dealing with the passion story making it perfect to get out again at Easter (if you ever put it away). 

It is used in a Godly Play session where they recommend getting two copies so you can laminate the pictures of one. I’d recommend buying it out of season as it is only found second hand and the price rises when lots of people are looking for it.

Personally, I think it’s a great book to read together either a page at a time or all in one go in the run-up to Christmas and Easter, although it’s really too nice to put away for the rest of the year.