Not one but two editions suffice to publish this sure crowd-pleaser by the celebrated McCourt, inspired by a childhood experience of the mother made famous in Angela's Ashes. The plot can be reduced to anecdote: six-year-old Angela worries that the Baby Jesus feels cold in the crèche at the church, so she devises a way to smuggle him home and warm him. In McCourt's hands, however, the story opens a child's view onto a vast world that takes scant notice of her, where "people passing by were not in the mood to be looking at a little girl carrying something white in the dark," and where she is considered too young to have anything of interest to say, even at home. Angela negotiates with unmistakably childlike logic: frustrated at her difficulty in getting the Baby Jesus over the garden wall (an improvised part of her scheme), she scolds him with empty threats: " 'Baby Jesus, I have a good mind to leave you there in Mrs. Blake's backyard.' But she couldn't. If God found out, he'd never let her have a sweet or a bun for a whole week." Rarely, McCourt risks inviting a laugh at Angela's expense (Angela continues, "You're not to be flying around like an angel"), but otherwise he brings consummate skill to his layering of different types of authenticity (in Angela's thinking, in the reactions to the inevitable discovery of the Baby Jesus), and evokes a potent mix of emotions.
Given a traditional storybook format and charged with illustrating a children's edition, Colón (My Mama Had a Dancing Heart) employs his signature, multi-step watercolor and lithograph pencil technique, patterning the colors and surfaces to suffuse the story with warmth and light. Theeffect stops just short of nostalgic, to hint at a timeless if imperfect past. Candles in the church, streetlamps, a barely seen fire in the hearth all bathe Angela in a steady glow that emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the story. No incidental players stroll into these scenes, and the focus remains on Angela; not even Angela's mother can be seen unobstructed.
Long, ranging far from his illustrations for The Little Engine That Couldand Toy Boat, interprets the story with an almost foreboding air, as if giving a form to Angela's trepidation and awareness of her own insignificance. The adult edition, produced in a small, square gift format, suggests the atmosphere of Angela's Ashes, beginning with the cover illustration of chimneys spewing smoke into an evening sky, and continuing with the stony palette of grays and blues rendered in grainy acrylics. Already dark pictures make dramatic use of shadow-sometimes to conceal, sometimes to announce a character's presence. Readers never see Angela's face, and most of the characters, too, are shown with their backs to viewers, sometimes from an even more distancing mid-air perspective. McCourt's humor seems harder to locate in this version; on the other hand, the tender ending comes as more of a surprise. All ages. (Nov.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4-The Pulitzer Prize-winning author shares the story of how his mother, at the age of six, took the Baby Jesus from the church crèche because she feared that he was cold. Showing remarkable insight into the logic of childhood, McCourt chronicles the little girl's struggle between right and wrong, her attempts to maintain secrecy, and her fear in the face of consequence. The interplay between Angela and her brother, Pat, is particularly touching, and the adults in the story react authentically to the youngsters' innocence and compassion. Colón's textured watercolor and litho pencil illustrations are exactly suited to the tone of the story. Their slightly grainy, etched quality blends realism with romanticism in a way that evokes distant Ireland as it might appear in a memory. This is excellent storytelling on every level.-Linda Israelson, Los Angeles Public LibraryCopyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Pulitzer Prize-winner McCourt offers a sweetly sentimental, longer Christmas story about his mother, Angela, who is anticipating the holiday with her family in the Ireland of a past generation. The six-year-old girl feels sorry for the life-sized baby Jesus figure in the creche at her church because to her he looks cold without a blanket to cover him. Angela takes the Jesus figure home with her, putting him in her own bed to warm him up. Young readers will have to accept Angela's notion that the baby is somewhat real, while adults will recognize the religious symbolism and the antecedents of the responsive Christ Child figure in other stories. McCourt's strong narrative voice and Irish cadences and expressions add flavor to his well-written story, complemented by humorous dialogue displaying a dry wit. Col-n's lovely watercolor and pencil illustrations in muted tones use subtle lighting and a grainy texture that suggest old photographs, and his sensitive interpretation brings Angela and her family to life. The same story is also available in an edition targeted at adults, with more sophisticated illustrations by Loren Long. (Picture book. 6-10)
Read an Excerpt
Angela and the Baby Jesus
By Frank McCourt Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books Copyright © 2007 Frank McCourt
All right reserved.
Chapter One Then she stopped. How was she going to take the Baby Jesus into her house with everyone gawking and wanting to know who she was and what she was doing? She wouldn't go in the front door. There was a lane behind her house where she could carry the Baby over the wall and into her backyard. No, the wall was too high. She could climb herself, but not with the Baby. She talked to him. "Will you help me, little Baby?" Will you help me?"
He did. He told her in her head to throw the Baby over the wall and recover him on the other side. That was hard. She threw and threw and he wouldn't go over till she threw the third time and over he went.
"Mother o' God!" said Little Angela's mother. "Is that the Baby Jesus from St. Joseph's?"
When everyone said "'Tis," Little Angela stayed silent.
Her mother turned to her. "Angela. Did you put that Baby in the bed? Tell the truth because if you tell a lie in the presence of the Baby Jesus it's worse than any sin in the world."
Little Angela wanted to cry, but she didn't. There was something in her head that told her crying was useless at a time like this.
"I did," she said.
"And why, for the love of God?"
"He was cold in the crib and I wanted to warm him up."
After tea she was allowed to sit by the fire listening to the talk of her family. She always wanted to say something, but she was told she was too young and to shush up. She was only six, so what could she ever say that was important?
Tonight she didn't mind one bit. She had a big secret: Baby Jesus above in the bed nice and warm. It was hard for her to keep that secret, but she could not say a word or they'd all want to see him and play with him like any old doll. She had a doll once which she still cried over when she remembered how her sister, Aggie, pulled its head off and laughed.
Her family laughed again when Pat told them how he'd see Angela with the Baby Jesus in her arms out in the backyard, but when they laughed, he cried, "She have God in the bed, so she do."
Then the terrible thing happened. When she climbed up and looked into her backyard, there was no sign of him. Now what was she going to do? Where did he go? She was only six, but she knew how serious it was to lose the Baby Jesus. If she didn't find him, he'd be cold and calling for his mother.
Ah, there he was, all white in the dark, lying in the backyard of the blind woman next door, Mrs. Blake.
Now, perched on the wall, she talked to him sternly. Here she was trying to help him and there was no excuse for the way he was behaving, flying around like a bird and landing in a backyard where he wasn't supposed to be. She told him, "Baby Jesus, I have a good mind to leave you there in Mrs. Blake's backyard." But she couldn't. If God ever found out, he'd never let her have a sweet or a bun for a whole week. She told the Baby, "When I throw you over the wall, you're not supposed to land in Mrs. Blake's backyard. You're not supposed to be flying around like an angel."
She climbed down to Mrs. Blake's backyard and picked him up. This time, in one throw, he went over the wall into her own yard and that proved he was paying attention even if he had the same smile. She loved the way his hands and arms still reached out the way they did in the crib. She climbed into her own backyard, told him he was a good Baby for going where he was thrown, and hugged him to warm him up in that cold dark December night.
Excerpted from Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt Copyright © 2007 by Frank McCourt. Excerpted by permission.
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