Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Friendly Beasts: an Old English Christmas Carol by Tomie dePaola

Two years ago, I did a countdown to Christmas of some of my favorite carols.  I had a lot of fun doing it and wanted to make it a tradition, but last year life got in the way.  I've decided to resume the countdown this year, but focus on Christmas books.  There are thousands to choose from and I've decided to narrow my focus to books that aren't wildly popular, but are still beautiful.  Enough explaining, here goes ...

"Jesus our brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude:
And the friendly beasts around him stood.
Jesus our brother, strong and good."

When I was growing up, we had a collection of Christmas books that came out every year when we decorated the Christmas tree.  One little paperback was a collection of songs and poems.  I was so taken with "The Friendly Beasts"in the book that I memorized it and performed it on Christmas Eve.  Last year, I discovered that Tomie dePaola, one of my favorite illustrators had done a version of the book.  I bought it.

This book uses a technique that I truly love.  The words to the song are only on every other double page spread.  Thus slowing down the book and making the reader focus on the illustrations. With folksy illustrations, he draws a close up of the animal sharing his gift.  On the following page the animals engage with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  The verse of the doves is my favorite.  The birds sing the Baby Jesus to sleep.  Perhaps it is because I love calming my boys with song, that I love this simple gift. 

On the pages without words, a subtle story is being told.  Similar to the Bible version, Jesus and Mary arrive on a donkey.  Then the cow gives place for Jesus in the stable.  The sheep arrive with the shepherds as the story tells.  But then the illustrations diverge from the Bible telling.  When the doves give their gift of song, three women arrive to greet the Savior.  It is not until the following page that you see three men entering the tale.  The final double page show villagers, children, and carolers all arriving to worship the Lord.  

It is obviously not meant to be historically accurate, but it brings to mind "O Come, All Ye Faithful." They have all arrived to adore or worship the Lord.  This is a beautiful story of giving and faith.

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