A Baby Born in Bethlehem, by Martha Whitmore Hickman, illustrations by Giuliano Ferri (1999)
This retelling of the nativity story combines information from Matthew and Luke to make one seamless narrative.
From the angel’s announcement to Mary to the visit of the wise men, this story tells a selective, embellished version of the birth of Jesus. The author often uses recognizable paraphrases of dialogue from what seems to be the King James Version of the Bible as well as some pretty direct quotations from Luke 2. She also follows the chronological progression of the narrative accurately (including the arrival of the wise men much later), while leaving out portions less directly related to the birth story (like Mary’s trip to visit Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist) to make the retelling more streamlined. (She also leaves out the visit of the wise men to Herod–a story for another time, perhaps.) There is a good amount of imagination applied to the characterization of Mary and the dialogue between characters to move the action along, so there’s quite a bit of this book that isn’t strictly Biblical, but it isn’t contrary to the text either; as always with retellings of Biblical passages, it’s a good idea to read and be familiar with the original. The art is somewhat atypical of children’s books, as well. I wasn’t surprised to find that the illustrator is actually from Italy as the art has what I consider a Mediterranean flair. This is one of the few nativity books I’ve seen where other travelers are depicted on the road to Bethlehem or where Jesus has aged between his birth and the arrival of the wise men (as he should have).
I like this retelling because it addresses all the parts of the Christmas story that everyone seems to recognize and compiles them into a cohesive, more accurate whole than I think other retellings have done. (None of the animals talk, and I kind of consider that a bonus for this particular topic.) There is a relatively sizable amount of text on each page (along with large, colorful illustrations), but I think that even preschoolers could enjoy listening to this retelling with the right reader and circumstances (probably not in a large group, but an animated reader could make that a possibility, too). Readers in elementary school–possibly as young as kindergarten, although the amount of text on a page and some of the vocabulary might be intimidating–can enjoy this independently because the storyline is both familiar and reasonably simple. A good addition to a home library that needs more religious Christmas books that are accessible to children.