O, Little Town: The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie de Paola
THIS WINTER MORNING WAS DIFFERENT.
"YESTERDAY AFTERNOON WE SAW SOMETHING WE'D NEVER SEEN BEFORE." SAID THE GREEN BIRD AND HIS MATE.
"THE INN IN TOWN WAS FULL."
The birds of Bethlehem are seeing strange things. Instead of an occasional visitor, crowds of people are flocking into their small town , and the sights that the green and yellow birds report catch the attention of the blue, white, gray, and red birds as well.
The blue birds witness a man and woman being turned away from the crowded inn and escorted to a small stable behind it, where, as the roosting red birds report, a newborn baby is being cradled in a hay-filled manger. Beyond the town they see shepherds transfixed by the sight of angels hovering over their fields and flocks with strange tidings:
"I BRING YOU TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY.
GO QUICKLY TO BETHLEHEM, WHERE YOU WILL FIND A BABY LYING IN
“LET US GO SEE THIS MIRACULOUS THING,” SAID ALL THE
Anyone familiar with the illustrations of Tomie de Paola has probably noticed that birds, sometimes symbolic, sometimes simply decorative, are frequently seen in his illustrations. Here De Paola elects to use his birds as the principal narrators of the story, giving us a bird’s-eye view in his latest, The Birds of Bethlehem (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Group, 2012), using simplified quotes from the Nativity account in the Gospel of Luke. For his intended young audience, de Paola simplifies his usual detailed drawings in a faux-primitive style executed in a strong acrylic palette of muted primary and secondary colors set against neutrals on each double-page layout. De Paola, who has won both a Caldecott (for Strega Nona) and a Newbery Award (for 26 Fairmount Avenue (Newbery Honor Book, 2000)), as well as numerous other awards, has done both secular and religious picture books in his long illustrious career, including his earlier Nativity tale, The Friendly Beasts.
This simple preschool picture book joins Tomie de Paola's other Christmas books for slightly older readers, notably his early American-styled The Night Before Christmas, his folkloric The Legend of Old Befana, the charming and affectionately funny Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, and Strega Nona's Gift, and especially the lovely and moving The Clown of God. His latest Yuletide tale is a both vintage de Paola and a fresh new take on the Nativity story. As Publishers Weekly says, “The effect is as pleasing as the whimsical storytelling.”
Labels: The Nativity (Ages 2-5)