The Nativity story from the King James Bible serves as the text for this engaging interpretation done in exquisite cut-paper–and-watercolor illustrations that stand out against dramatic, black backgrounds.
Dalton’s intricate illustrations are cut from paper and then hand-colored to fill in textures and details. Many of the illustrations employ mirror images at each side as in traditional paper-cutting art, with a single focal element showcased in the center. Other formats vary the perspective, including a dramatic overhead view of Baby Jesus in the manger full of hay and a complex procession of multiple characters in panels outlined in organic tree-limb shapes, illustrating the Flight into Egypt. Many of the compositions consciously echo medieval illuminations. Traditional symbols for Mary (roses, lilies and rose of Sharon) are worked into the illustrations, and roses decorate the endpapers as well. Though the overall look of the cut-paper illustrations is dramatic, the faces of the people tend to look sad or disengaged throughout the story, especially in the Christmas Eve scene in the stable. Another issue is the apparent advanced age of Joseph, who is bald and has a white beard, in comparison to the youthful Mary. Though this disparity has historical roots in apocryphal literature and early Christian art, it may feel odd to modern children.
The downcast faces of the people and angels and the old-fashioned language of the traditional text serve to distance readers. The “good tidings of great joy” are missing from this otherwise visually stunning work. (Picture book/religion. 4-8)