It's not that the story by Victoria Tebbs is awful; it's not at all. In fact, it has a fresher voice than many Christian Christmas picture books. And it's not that the illustrations by Russel Julian are bad; they are actually appealing. However, the book begins weakly with Joseph and Mary entering Bethlehem. We don't learn anything about Mary's special pregnancy. Later, angels tell shepherds "Good news! God's Son has been born in Bethlehem" and the wise men say "A great king has been born!" But we don't learn why God sent his Son.
And throughout, some pages feature a die cut circle or "peephole." About half the pages end with a phrase like "What did they see?" Kids are supposed to look through the hole to answer the question. To my family, this seemed more of an interruption than a fun addition.
What I Like: I greatly appreciate the last page, which reads: "And from that time, all around the world, families have celebrated Christmas to remember that special day when Jesus was born." Most books for young children don't tie the biblical story of Jesus' birth with modern day celebrations, so this is a big plus in my mind. And as I've said before, the illustrations are nice and the text interesting (aside from the "what did they see?" interruptions).
What I Dislike: I wish the publisher had set aside the "peephole" gimmick and just focused on creating a thorough picture book on the topic. I'm sure my kids aren't the only ones that find the peepholes - well, boring.
Overall Rating: Good.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 4 to 8, but I'd say toddler to first grade.
Publishing Info: Lion, 2010; ISBN: 978-0745961422; hardback, 32 pgs., $9.99.