Night of Great Joy by Mary Engelbreit is an illustrated children’s book about a group of kids retelling the nativity story through a Christmas pageant. Engelbreit’s drawings have a quaint, old-timey feel. (Readers can see samples of the book pages on this YouTube video produced by Zondervan.) Though individual reading times will vary, some parents might finish reading the book to their children in five or six minutes.
The story may be especially exciting to children who love putting on their own plays at home, since it is fun to see how the kids in the book use costumes, stuffed animals, props, and set pieces to perform their pageant. The book may even give kids new ideas for staging an at-home Christmas play or skit.
The characters’ expressions throughout the pages match the text, and the expressions are sometimes humorous, such as when two children portraying angels are fighting over a stuffed sheep! One of the cutest illustrations is the second to last one, showing a crowd of kid actors – portraying Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Wise Men, and barn animals – as they kneel around baby Jesus, who is represented by a Raggedy Andy type doll. The children act the way that a lot of young kids might act during a Christmas pageant: they are not fully “in character,” and they look adorable!
This book is definitely a keeper. It echoes the central theme of Christmas – Jesus’ birth – told through a performance by precious children.