Certain Poor Shepherds: A Christmas Tale

Certain Poor Shepherds: A Christmas Tale

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by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Alfre Woodard
     
 

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"On the first Christmas, so say the Christians, a redeemer was born to save our kind from the consequences of our greed, waste, pride, cruelty, and arrogance. No redeemer appeared for the animals; however, none was needed. The animals were much the same then as they are now, just as God made them, perfect according to his plan..."


So begins this

Overview

"On the first Christmas, so say the Christians, a redeemer was born to save our kind from the consequences of our greed, waste, pride, cruelty, and arrogance. No redeemer appeared for the animals; however, none was needed. The animals were much the same then as they are now, just as God made them, perfect according to his plan..."


So begins this resonant tale by one of our most gifted story tellers and most perceptive animal watchers, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. When an unusual star appears on the horizon one clear winter night, among those drawn to its bright promise are two shepherds- that is, a dog named Lila and Ima, a goat. Therein lies an adventure, and Thomas's departure from the familiar story treasured by generations. With their flock, the animals journey to Bethlehem and home again, witnesses to a redemption of which they have no need.


Yet as they make their way, encountering danger and opportunity, their journey becomes an extraordinary meditation, moving but unsentimental, on the nature of freedom and the state of natural grace in a world ruled by the power-and frailty-of humankind.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Marshall applies her knowledge of the animal world (The Secret Life of Dogs) and her fictional skills (Reindeer Moon) to a rich reimagining of the Nativity story. Her pilgrims are a wise goat named Ima and a huge warrior sheepdog , Lila. They are on the mountain guarding a herd of sheep when the star appears, and they immediately sense divinity in the air. Later, they see a flock of angels invisible to their master. Struck by inspiration, they follow the star to Bethlehem, where Lila witnesses the scene at the manger. Many other animals appear in the narrativecamels, a cheetah, other dogs, a gazellegiving Marshall an opportunity to represent natural creatures interacting and cherishing their freedom, which to animals is a form of grace. After Ima and Lila experience several dangerous adventures, an uplifting ending, in which they are rewarded by an angel whom Ima had saved from an eagle, probably will elicit some happy tears. The deliberately simple but well-honed prose makes this story suitable for family reading, and Marshall's attribution of human thoughts and emotions to her animal characters should delight sentimentalists. But the epilogue, in which Marshall muses that "perhaps our hope of redemption lies in the fact that we are animals, not that we are people,'' will not make this book a favorite of fundamentalist Christians. Simultaneous audio. (Nov.)
Library Journal
"On the first Christmas, so say the Christians, a redeemer was born to save our kind from the consequences of our greed, waste, pride, cruelty, and arrogance. No redeemer appeared for the animals; however, none was needed." So begins Thomas's thoughtful, deeply affecting retelling of the Christmas story from the animals' point of viewan approach that seems so natural, so delightful, one wonders why it hasn't been done before. Here, the "certain poor shepherds" are a dog and a goat who follow a bright, burning star to Bethlehem, encountering angels and human folly along the way. The animals behave with the utmost probityIma the goat helps cure an angel who has fallen sick from eating poisoned berries, for instance, and Lila the dog rescues Ima from the butcher's knife. They return home transfigurednot from their meeting with the baby Jesus, who seems frail and desperately in need of protection, but from within. Every once in a while, a clichd phrase will drop with a clunk, but this is ultimately a touching, simple, and challenging parable about our relation to the natural world from the author of the best-selling The Hidden Life of Dogs. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/96.]Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
From the Publisher
The prose is simple and elegant. Harsh elements are balanced by tenderness and gentle humor, and there is an uplifting ending for the dual protagonists. An affecting, well-spun tale that will especially resonate with animal lovers.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Not a typical Christmas story of a peaceful, silent night, but themes of friendship and duty shine through.
—School Library Journal

Children's Literature - Greta Holt
Theirs is a lonely life. Because they can consume grasses, the sheep and Ima (a white goat) have enough to eat, but loyal Lila (a large sheepdog) must wait for the master to give her food. She is always hungry. Ima and Lila are shepherds. They keep watch over the flocks by night—and suddenly, the angels of the Lord are upon them. No matter how hard Lila tries to get his attention, the master cannot see or smell them, but the shepherds can. Rather than singing a chorus or proclaiming, the angels swoop down, fold their wings, and begin foraging for acorns. The angels do not say much, but they kindly offer some of the acorns to the shepherds. Of course, as in the Biblical telling, the shepherds follow the angels to Bethlehem. At first, readers may find the anthropomorphism a bit uncomfortable; but by carefully restricting the animals’ personalities to an approximation of what they might think and feel, Thomas leads readers into the story with a sure hand. Readers worry about the shepherds’ safety, when they might eat again, and what is around the next corner. The wise men are kings with slaves and captive animals; there are scavenger dogs in Bethlehem; human beings are uncaring and unaware of their brother animals’ needs. Thomas pulls at readers’ heartstrings without being maudlin. Lila is strong and responsible; and Ima does her duty, although she wouldd gladly give up tending sheep. The text was first published in 1996. This new edition contains Bartlett’s striking, full-page illustrations, which evoke an earlier style, reminding one of pictures in Childcraft books of the mid-20th Century. This is a fine Christmas story for families to read together. Reviewer: Greta Holt; Ages 9 to 12.
School Library Journal
10/01/2015
Gr 4–6—Rather than the expected humans and their crooks, the certain poor shepherds of this story are Ima and Lila, a goat and dog, respectively. Ima, the nurturer, tends to the flock by guiding them to safe paths and finding the good plants for grazing. Lila's large size makes her the ideal herder and protector from predators. Both share lonely, melancholy pasts of being separated from their own families, as well as a powerful urge to follow a host of angels that arrive with a scent emitted from a star that appears in the sky. The rest of the Nativity serves more as a plot point, as Ima and Lila meet some harrowing adventures on their journey to Bethlehem with the flock in tow: from encounters with angels, who are portrayed less as divine and celestial and more as winged beings prone to hunger and sickness, to dealings with the caravan of the Three Kings, one of whom travels with huntsmen. Illustrations, similar in style to that of printed prayer cards, appropriately capture the story's tone. VERDICT Not a typical Christmas story of a peaceful, silent night, but themes of friendship and duty shine through.—Joanna Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-06-10
A tale of friendship between a dog and a goat interweaves Nativity mythology and scientific animal facts. "On the first Christmas, so say the Christians, a redeemer was born to save our kind from the consequences of our greed, waste, pride, cruelty, and arrogance. No redeemer appeared for the animals," begins the prologue. It goes on: "There were, however, a few animals who were profoundly influenced by the events in Bethlehem….This is their story." Ima the goat and Lila the dog were both torn from their animal families and drafted into service as shepherds for the flock of a poor, rough man and his family. The man barely notices a new, dazzling star, so evident to the canine and hircine shepherds. When Lila feels compelled to follow the star, loyal Ima and the sheep follow. The animals' sensitive noses tell them that angels—portrayed as humans with enormous, birdlike wings—smell partly of star, and the dog eventually detects the scent of amniotic fluid in a stable. The story is far from sentimental, with unflinching demonstrations of the human faults listed in the prologue, including poor treatment of animals and humans. The prose is simple and elegant. Harsh elements are balanced by tenderness and gentle humor, and there is an uplifting ending for the dual protagonists. An affecting, well-spun tale that will especially resonate with animal lovers. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780671574383
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date:
11/01/1996
Edition description:
Abridged, 1 cassette, 1 hr. 30 min.
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.76(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is the best-selling author of The Hidden Life of Dogs and several other successful works about anthropology and animal behavior. Her book on cat behavior, The Tribe of Tiger: Cats and Their Culture, was an international bestseller. She lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Jonathan Bartlett earned his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work has been featured in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Atlantic, among many other venues. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

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Certain Poor Shepherds: A Christmas Tale 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
BookwormND27 More than 1 year ago
I received this book from a friend for Christmas 1996. Found it in my library recently and re-read this charming and poetic look at the time of the Nativity through the eyes, ears and hearts of two creatures through whose voice we get a new perspective on this Holy Season. it is not for anyone who has a narrow view of the Creation, the role of animals in it or a strict adherence to only biblical text on this subject. If you, in your heart, have a love of animals and the spirit of adventure you will find this small treasure a gift to enjoy and share at every Christmas. It could be read by or read allow to children of any age. The prose is lyrical and the images crisp and either harsh or delicate as the scene dictates. I highly recommend this brief narrative and the other works of this author. A nice contribution to the family library and a great holiday gift for friends and family. Thankful to my friend Rod, who loved this tale enough to share and knew how it would delight my senses.. .