In the most stylish of this year's beast-based Nativity picture books, arresting, meticulously detailed ink-and-watercolor portraits of animals receive gold accents while varying fonts set off different aspects of the text. One by one, various creatures pledge their services to the baby Jesus sleeping in the nearby manger. Readers won't mind the few rough spots in Ward's (The Hare and the Tortoise) rhyming verse, inspired by a French Christmas carol with roots in the 12th or 13th century; they have plenty to admire in her finely wrought artwork. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Inspired by a twelfth century French carol comes lyrical verses that tell the Christmas story with an animal perspective. One by one the creatures approach the newborn child relating their particular gifts. "We, said the lion/ and the old brown bear, /Will stand guard outside in the cold night air/ To gently growl at the shadows/ that dare come too close, / said the lion and the bear." All verses have the feelings of a soothing lullaby as a myriad of animals-cows, moths, turtledoves, mongoose and many others describe their special gifts. The story is graced with rhythm and beauty, but the ink and watercolor drawings will be the ultimate appeal. Luminescent illustrations, many touched with gold, are a visual treat. Ward's magnificent work promises to be a family classic and would be inspirational for a nativity play. 2001, Millbrook Press, $23.90. Ages All. Reviewer: Laura Hummel
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 1-In an original tale based on the Christmas carol "The Friendly Beasts," lyrical verse describes the humble gifts brought to the newborn Jesus by the lion, the peacock, the camels, the ram, the woodworm, etc. The gilded double-page spreads are large and quite lovely, with the attention to detail that characterizes Ward's work. The Christ child is never seen, but on the last spread, all of the creatures are gathered together to gaze upon his radiance in the stable. There are several other fine versions of this carol, but the appealing verse and sumptuous paintings make this one special.-E. M. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The wise men were not the only ones who gave gifts to the newborn Jesus. From the smallest bee, who gives beeswax to light the darkness, to the gentlest donkey, who carries Mary to Bethlehem, the creatures each use their own special qualities to protect, shelter, warm, and calm the precious baby. Ward's (The Tin Forest, below, etc.) inspiration was the traditional French carol "The Friendly Beasts," the words of which can be found on the final page. Though she keeps the familiar format and rhythm of the verses (" ‘I,' said the donkey, shaggy and brown"), she includes animals that are not typically associated with the Nativity. Lion, bear, and mongoose watch over the child, peacock's bright tail guides travelers during the day, and woodworm ceases making holes in the stall where the baby lies. Oversized pages (11 x 11) allow Ward plenty of space to luxuriate in the glories of her art. The beautifully rendered animals seem capable of stepping off the pages-they have wonderful texture and emotional expression. The liberal use of metallic gold color adds an elegance and warmth to illustrations already rich in color. The two manger scenes where the beasts watch over the unseen child could almost be pages from an illuminated manuscript as they are filled with glowing light. The story is a gentle tribute to the animals' role in the Nativity, and a reminder that even the smallest and lowliest have gifts to give that are fit for a king. (Picture book. 4-8)