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
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)