Friday, November 1, 2013

Book Review: Bethlehem's Baby

When author Sheila Deeth contacted me to see if I would be willing to review her latest ebook of children's bible stories, titled Bethlehem's Baby, I was immediately interested. As a children's Sunday school teacher in a Methodist church, I am constantly looking for new and fresh ways to explain the materials to our students, who range in age from kindergarten to fifth grade. As you can imagine, you can't always use the same methods and explanations with an age group that varies that widely. 

Here is a synopsis of the book:
With the introduction of Bethlehem's Baby, Biblical author, Sheila Deeth, turns her prodigious writing talents to familiar tales from the New Testament. This Sixth Volume in the ever-popular Five Minute Bible Story Series looks the characters and events leading up to and immediately following the birth of the Christ Child...from Caesar Augustus and Herod to John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and many more.

This series of 40 linked short stories is aimed at the middle-grade reader. Each one is chock full of insights, information, and her trademarked quirky humor, making them a joy for youngsters. Each story contain Biblical references and ends with a prayer, making them work equally well for younger children at bedtime or naptime. Like all books in the Five-Minute Bible Stories Series they'll have your children begging for “just one more.” Contain Author’s Notes.

My review:
Even as an adult using a Quest Study Bible that works hard to annotate events and explain terminology in the footnotes, I still have a hard time understanding many of the stories in the manner in which they are told. I often borrow my daughter's Adventure Bible for help in streamlining the material. When I first took a look at Bethlehem's Baby, I'll admit I was a little confused. The way Deeth explains the stories in the book is unlike anything I've ever seen in a traditional Bible. They almost read in the style of narrative non-fiction, or even historical fiction. Deeth writes with rich, sensory details that really help the reader visualize the time and place of each story, such as this passage from the Baby Jesus story:

Joseph's family gave Mary and her baby woolen shawls to wrap themselves in. And Mary cuddled her child, peeking under the covers where she sniffed his newborn smell of warm milk and honey. Jesus' tiny fist was bunched just beneath his chin, his thumb still damp and his lips still puckered into a tiny oh as he blew milky bubbles. Mary smiled, feeling warm all over with love for her child.

Deeth also includes stories that provide historical context to what was happening around the time period as other stories in the Bible, such as the story about Caesar Augustus and the birth of Jesus:

Meanwhile, in one small, unimportant country called Judea, in the not very important Roman province of Syria, a very special family set off to register in the town of Bethlehem where the husband lived as a boy. While they were there, this little family had a baby boy of their own, a son called Jesus who was more important, wise, strong and powerful than any kind or president or emperor or army general or even than a Caesar.

Each story includes a related bible verse and ends with a short prayer. While my 7-year-old son enjoyed the stories, my 10-year-old daughter appreciated the tone and style of Bethlehem's Baby the most. When I asked her what she enjoyed most about the book, she said, "I liked all the details she put into the stories. It's really hard to understand the stories in the bible sometimes."

The author's notes at the end of the book provide even more historical context, including a timeline of world events and overview of what was going on socially and economically. I think Bethlehem's Baby is a great extension to anyone seeking the context and richer detail that is sometimes lacking in traditional biblical materials.

About the author:
Sheila Deeth is the author of several novels including Divide by Zero, Love on a Transfer and Flower Child, and of the What IF . . . S Inspired by Faith and Science books. With a background in the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Free Evangelical, Presbyterian and Christian Reformed churches, and a master's degree in mathematics from Cambridge University England, she calls herself a Mongrel Christian Mathematician. Now living with her husband in the Pacific Northwest she enjoys reading, writing, running  Coffee Break Bible Studies and the Writers' Mill writing group, and meeting her neighbors' dogs on the green.

1 comment:

Sheila Deeth said...

Thank you Renee. And my thanks to your children too. I really appreciate learning how the stories appeal to different people. Between you, you've made my day!