This affecting story--set in South Africa, home to both collaborators--concerns Seth, a kind, capable boy who stays at home with his grandfather while his pregnant mother goes off to join his father, employed at a faraway copper mine. Seth passes the time carving the figure of the Madonna out of a piece of driftwood. Then, on the day before Christmas, he sets out on a donkey cart to bring this present to his mother. On the way, the boy meets two strangers who leave him with small but important tokens. Aided by a giant oryx, Seth finally reaches his father's shack, where he finds his parents and his newborn sister, to whom he passes on the gifts. Haarhoff's elegant, hushed prose is laced with striking images and analogies (``Sometimes the sun sucked the water pools like a hungry baby at the breast.'') Through his somewhat primitive, black-and-white drawings, Vermeulen, making his children's book debut, conveys the strong bond among this family's members. Ages 5-8. (Oct.)
Set in the desert of Namibia, this picture book from South Africa evokes a strong sense of the place, and it universalizes the Christmas story. Seth is a small black boy who lives with his mother and grandfather in a community near the sea. He barely sees his father, who works inland at a copper mine. After Seth's pregnant mother leaves to have her baby in the village at the mine, Seth decides to join her there. With his grandfather's help, he prepares a donkey cart and sets off on his journey through the lonely desert. In time-honored style, he helps others and is helped by them. When he's lost, he removes a piece of barbed wire, like a thorn, from the foot of a giant oryx, who then shows Seth the way, like the evening star. On Christmas night, he finds his parents' shack in the mining village and welcomes his newborn baby sister. Some of the figures are awkwardly drawn, but the strong duotone illustrations in brown and white evoke the harsh desert landscape and the warm family relationships. Kids will enjoy the physical particulars of Seth's independent journey as well as the nativity story.