Pros: Fun book, sturdy pages, nice lights and sound feature, cute illustrations, traditional Christmas carol text...
Every year my mother-in-law gives us a children's book about Christmas. Ostensibly they're for our boys, but they also commemorate the deaths of two of my nephews who were stillborn, Nikolas and Joshua. This year the book is "O Little Town of Bethlehem: A Pageant of Lights" from Smart Kids Publishing. The sturdy 16-page board book is a large one, with 10 inch pages and a heavy back page to contain the batteries, lights and speaker for the lights and sound features.
The book tells the Nativity story, starting with a group of travelers journeying toward Bethlehem. We see the small city from the hillside, with the Middle Eastern domes, slit windows, thick walls, and tall trees nearby.
Above the town of Bethlehem,
there shone a wondrous star.
Whose eager eyes reflect the skies?
Three wise men from afar.
Each two-page spread is a nighttime scene of people journeying toward Bethlehem and the stable--shepherds, the "wise men," etc. Above these scenes are stars illustrated on the page, but also eight tiny lightbulbs that twinkle and shine as you turn the pages. One of them is larger than the others, and it merges with the illustrations to beam down upon the stable and the Christ Child.
As you turn the pages, the book also plays the Christmas carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem." It plays the entire song, and has a better sound quality than many similar books we've had around the house. It's one of the less familiar Christmas songs in our house, so it's nice to have this book here as a reminder. Reading the book with my boys last night, I found myself thinking, "well, this is nice rhyming text, but...are they ever going to use the real words?" Or maybe I had just grown up with a different text? But no, the final page of the book features the full Nativity scene on one side of the book, and the complete words of the song on the other:
O little town of Bethlehem
how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep
and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth,
the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years,
are met in thee tonight.
The illustrations are cartoony, simplified and cute. All of the people (and even the animals) are chubby-cheeked and squat, looking as much like Fisher Price Little People as anything else.
This is a fun, sweet little book that's good for families with young children who want to help teach them the Nativity story. And yes, Virginia, there is an off switch on the back of the book, just in case the song is driving you nuts. It would have been nice to include separate switches for the lights and the sound, so you could read by the twinkling of the lights, without reading over the hymn. Still, a book that my boys have already fallen in love with, and one I hope they'll want to read at Christmastime for a few years yet.