In simple, evocative language, Herman (Labyrinth) dovetails two different yet parallel Christmas Eve journeys. A lost, pregnant cow named Martha searches through bitter cold and snow for a place to give birth. Simultaneously, an expectant Mary, with Joseph, also seeks shelter and a potential birthing place. By book's end Mary, Joseph and Martha find haven in a hay-filled shed and comfort one another during a night that brings a miracle and new life. Full-page watercolors awash in nighttime shadow and starlight focus mainly on Martha, while on the opposing pages small sepia-toned watercolor vignettes, resembling somewhat hazy woodcuts, follow Mary and Joseph. The art suggests a Northern farm rather than Bethlehem, but a hushed, solemn mood prevails. Ages 4-8. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
On the right-hand pages a large black and white cow seeks shelter as snowflakes fall more and more thickly. Martha is pregnant; she hopes to find a warm barn and human help. When the snow stops, an extra-bright star in the darkening sky leads Martha across the snowy landscape to a small shed where a donkey and a young man and woman are sheltering. On the left side of each spread, smaller illustrations reminiscent of woodcuts show the parallel journey of the young couple. As Martha begins to give birth, the man, whose name we now learn is Joseph, comforts her, but soon his pregnant wife needs him, too. We are not shown her delivery, merely told that a small cry signals the birth of Mary's son, just as Martha brings forth her calf. The Dillons use watercolor and pastel to present the cow, the young couple, and the winter landscape (definitely not Bethlehem) with rounded, heightened realism. The smaller woodcut-like pictures achieve distance and focus more on the legendary story, as reindeer and other animals approach the shed, with the star shining above and three tiny figures riding in from the left. Some might say that this tale looks at the nativity from a universal perspective; others might object that the cow and calf are more important than the baby Jesus. Still, the simple, gentle story emphasizing the kinship of all creatures may be welcome in families of faith as a contrast to more traditional nativity tales. 2003, Philomel, Ages 4 to 8.
Barbara L. Talcroft
K-Gr 3-A cow lost on a cold and snowy night searches for a safe place in which to give birth. When she finally finds a stable, she is welcomed by a young couple who have also taken shelter there. Predictably, both mothers-human and bovine-give birth to "two glorious babies on one winter's night." A lyrical narrative and radiant watercolor-and-pastel illustrations lift this parallel Nativity story above the more hackneyed versions that are widely available. The Dillons present the cow's story in full-page naturalistic paintings on the right side of each spread while the journey of the human couple is pictured in monochromatic pictures resembling woodcuts above the text on the left. This is a good choice for read-alouds in family and church settings.-V. W. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In this poetic Christmas Eve tale, Martha, a young cow about to give birth, seeks shelter, just as Joseph leads Mary, who's in the same condition, on the same quest. After similar treks through a snowy night, mothers-to-be and parallel plotlines converge in a small shed for the timeless double miracle. Alternating monochromatic vignettes that resemble old-style etchings with larger scenes done with softened lines and muted colors, the Dillons elaborate on hints in the text to set the episode on an abandoned New England or Midwestern farm--relatively recently, to judge from such sparse, small details as a padlock and a cast-iron stove. Herman elevates the tone with occasional flights--"All was blackness. Darkest night. The winds fell from the four corners and shook the earth. Only the icy fire of the stars, distant and brilliant, kept watch in the darkness"--that complement the quiet strength of the illustrations. An old story, in an unusual setting. (Picture book. 6-8)