The Birds of Bethlehem

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A perfect first Christmas book

This inventive and fresh Nativity story is told from a bird's-eye view. On the morning of the first Christmas, the birds of Bethlehem gather in the fields—not only to eat but to share the exciting news. People from all over have descended on Bethlehem and an angel has appeared in the night sky. Something extraordinary is coming! The birds agree that they must find this wondrous thing, and off they fly to the ...

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A perfect first Christmas book

This inventive and fresh Nativity story is told from a bird's-eye view. On the morning of the first Christmas, the birds of Bethlehem gather in the fields—not only to eat but to share the exciting news. People from all over have descended on Bethlehem and an angel has appeared in the night sky. Something extraordinary is coming! The birds agree that they must find this wondrous thing, and off they fly to the stable where a child has been born.

In simple language and dazzling pictures, beloved author-illustrator Tomie dePaola shares the awe and anticipation of the first Christmas. His cast of brightly colored, curious birds will appeal to young children, making this a perfect introduction to the story of Christmas.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
…Tomie dePaola uses his signature folk-tale illustrations to stunning effect, painting in the style of faded frescos…Using a warm, sophisticated palette dominated by peach and teal for this daytime setting, dePaola sets the birds in a winter desert, their simple naïf shapes silhouetted against washes of rocky sand. This is not a dramatic story of trumpeters blasting and little drummer boys; the mood is instead one of hushed awe and contemplation.
—Pamela Paul
Publishers Weekly
No stranger to holiday stories, dePaola (Strega Nona’s Gift; The Night Before Christmas) offers a bird’s-eye view of the Nativity. Pairs of excited, colorful birds share the strange occurrences they’ve noticed (“We were roosting in a tree on the hill.... We saw an extraordinary thing,” says the red bird and his mate). The art is classic dePaola: the simple shapes of the birds, rolling hills, and stable are delineated by soft lines painted in opaque acrylics of vivid teal and orange-red, and muted by a soft patina. The effect is as pleasing as the whimsical storytelling, as dePaola offers a refreshingly indirect take on how the news of Jesus’s birth spread to all creatures. Ages 5–8. (Oct.)
The Horn Book
“The acrylic paintings of the birds and Holy Family are theatrically composed on spacious spreads. The colors of the birds (each, as they are in nature, a different shade from its mate) are a refreshing contrast to the holiday’s usual hues.”
“Traces the Nativity story reverently and without sentimentality. . . . The illustrations are notable for their simplified forms, pleasing compositions, and subtle combinations of colors. An inviting readaloud choice for Christmas.”
Children's Literature - Joyce Rice
Something strange and unusual is happening in Bethlehem and the animals are taking notice. The sheep have all been listening to the shepherds as they talk about the angels and the star but the birds have also been taking notice. They have seen the crowds walking into the small city and they have heard the innkeeper say that the inn is full. The birds are full of wonder because the inn has never been full before and some of the birds have seen a young man and his pregnant wife turned away from the inn and sent to the nearby stables. Surely there is a room for this young couple about to have a newborn baby. The red bird and his mate, from their vantage point high in the tree, have seen the shepherds on the hill as they are astonished by the appearance of an angelic figure. From the same tree, other birds saw a host of angels, singing and announcing the birth of a baby in Bethlehem that would bring hope to the world. As the shepherds move out to travel down the hill and see this wondrous site, the birds follow and are captivated by the small baby in the manger and the sweet mother and father standing over him. They cannot understand the peace and tranquility that resides inside that stable but they know that something is different here. Every year at Christmas, authors struggle to find a way to tell the old, old story in a new and vibrant way. We have seen stories from the point of view of wise men, shepherds, the innkeeper and even the animals in the stable. Surely these wise birds had the vantage point for the details of the Christmas story and will delight readers with their talk. This is a great read-aloud for young readers, gathered in family groups or classroom settings this Christmas. Reviewer: Joyce Rice
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—A bird's-eye view of the Nativity. Early one winter morning in Bethlehem, some colorful birds gather for breakfast and recount the unusual and spectacular sights they have seen over recent days-people streaming into town, a full inn, a man and his wife led to a stable, an angel bringing tidings of joy, and heavenly hosts singing "Glory to God" in the night sky. Avian observers agree to follow the shepherds where they behold the most miraculous sight of all. dePaola does not disappoint with his charmingly simple illustrations and spare text. An ideal read-aloud.—Madeline J. Bryant, Los Angeles Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
A quiet, simple story told by pairs of birds who witness the Nativity scene in Bethlehem. In turn, each pair of birds comments to others in the flock about something unusual observed in the town. The green birds saw a long line of people, the yellow birds saw that the inn was full, and the blue birds saw a man and his wife being led to the stable outside the inn. Other birds see and hear an angel announcing the birth of a special baby, and still others hear angels singing. Finally, all the birds fly into the stable and see "a young mother, her husband and their newborn baby," though there is no explanation of their significance. The subdued text fails to convey much emotion or excitement, despite the fact that the birds refer to the appearance of the angels as "extraordinary" and "spectacular." DePaola's simplified, folk-art–inspired style is well-suited to the stylized birds, but the announcing angel has a grim face, and the heavenly hosts are downright spooky, like flying aliens. Many other Nativity stories, such as Hurry! Hurry! Have You Heard? by Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrated by Jane Dyer (2008), more effectively convey the excitement of animal characters journeying to the stable. (Picture book/religion. 3-7)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399257803
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 10/30/2012
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 194,155
  • Age range: 3 - 5 Years
  • Lexile: AD790L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.36 (w) x 10.14 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola is the acclaimed author and/or illustrator of more than 200 books for children. He has received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a Newbery Honor for 26 Fairmount Avenue and a Caldecott Honor for Strega Nona. He was awarded the Smithson Medal, the Regina Medal (from the Catholic Library Association), and was designated a "living treasure" by the state of New Hampshire. He lives in New London, New Hampshire.


Born in 1934 into a large extended Irish/Italian family, Tomie dePaola received his art education at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute and the California College of Arts & Crafts. Although he always wanted to create children's books, he spent several years applying his talents to the fields of education, theater, and graphic design. In the mid-1960s, he received his first commission to illustrate a children's science book. A year later, he published his first original picture book, The Wonderful Dragon of Timlin. Today, he is one of the most prolific -- and beloved -- author/illustrators in children's literature.

In addition to illustrating stories by other writers, DePaola has created artwork for collections of poetry, nursery rhymes, holiday traditions, and folk and religious tales. But, he is most famous for books of his own creation, especially Strega Nona ("Grandma Witch"), the beloved story of an old woman who uses her magical powers to help the people of her small Italian village. Written in 1975, this Caldecott Honor winner is still delighting children today.

DePaola admits that there are strong autobiographical elements in many of his books (Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, The Art Lesson, Stagestruck), but nowhere is this more evident than in 26 Fairmount Avenue, a series of charming chapter books based on his Connecticut childhood. Taking its name from the address of his family home, the series captures the experiences and emotions of a young boy growing up in the late 1930s and early '40s in the shadow of World War II. The first book in the series received a 1999 Newbery Honor Award.

DePaola and his work have been recognized with many honors, including the Smithsonian Medal, the Kerlan Award for "singular attainment in children's literature," the Catholic Library Association's Regina Medal, and several awards from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. In 1999, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts bestowed on dePaola the Lotte Jacobi Living Treasure Award for the body of his work.

Good To Know

  • Tomie dePaola's name is pronounced Tommy de POW-la.

  • Between college and graduate school, dePaola spent a short time in a Benedictine monastery before determining that religious life was not for him.

  • Using a combination of watercolor, tempera, and acrylic, dePaola's artistic style is best described as folk-traditional.

  • DePaola's favorite painters and strongest artistic influences are Matisse, Giotto, and Ben Shahn.
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