Certain Poor Shepherds: A Christmas Taleby Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Andrew Davidson (Illustrator)
So begins this
"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.
—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
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
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)
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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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.. .