The Birds of Bethlehem
Tomie de Paola
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012
It is the morning of the first Christmas and the birds of Bethlehem have gathered in the field to search for stray pieces of corn that might have dropped from the harvest. But this morning they are more interested in gossiping than eating as they talked about the events of the previous day. According to the green birds many people had been seen coming over the hills, while the yellow birds added the inn in the town was full, and the blue birds told of a man and his wife being led to a stable. Even the red birds had a tale to tell – of an angel appearing and talking to the shepherds who were tending their sheep in the fields. The brown birds saw the sky filled with heavenly hosts singing but the white birds tale was the most interesting of all because they followed the shepherds. And so all the birds decided they needed to see for themselves.
Using his signature illustrative style and folkloric telling of stories, Tomie de Paola creates a new version of the Christmas story using the birds of Bethlehem to explain what happened on that day all those years ago. Using a warm palette, soft lines and a simple background, the birds in their colours predominate just as they do in the text. There is a sense of awe and anticipation as each couple shares their observations leading up to all of them flying to see what had taken place that had evoked such amazing sights. It’s a new look at an old story that will appeal to those for whom the story is new as well as those who have heard it before – from a different perspective.
When I asked my US colleagues for their essential stories to read at this time, The Birds of Bethlehem was recommended by many. It is easy to see why.