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Joanna Cole. Illustrated by Michèle Lemieux.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 1989.
40pp., cloth, $14.95.
ISBN 0-921103-59-X. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Francis, of Assisi, Saint, 1182-1226-Juvenile literature.
Crèches (Nativity scenes)-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8

Reviewed by Anne Kelly.

Volume 18 Number 2
1990 March

Saint Francis was born eight hundred years ago in Assisi, Italy. He was born into a wealthy family at a time when the rich were very rich and the poor lived in abject poverty. Saint Francis rejected his father's wealth and roamed the countryside in rags, caring for the sick and poor and teaching about God's love. One winter evening he saw shepherds watching their sheep and was reminded of the Christmas story. He wanted to share his vision with others, so with some of his followers he staged the first nativity play. Today the crèche, or nativity scene, is a common sight at Christmas - our gift from Saint Francis.

This book is beautifully written and illustrated. Joanna Cole's soft language and flowing sentences capture the gentle spirit of Saint Francis. The medieval-style illustrations, painted in muted earthy colours by Michèle Lemieux, provide a sense of time and place while adding to the serenity of the story.

The book has two flaws. First, the text fails to capture the excitement and joy felt by both Saint Francis and the people at seeing the nativity scene. Joanna Cole tells us that "a shout of joy went up from the crowd" but does not actually show us. She could perhaps have allowed us to hear the exclamations from the children who later sing a lullaby to the Christ child.

Second, despite the publisher's claim that A Gift from Saint Francis is a "picture book for all ages," it is much too difficult for most pre-school children. The text is too long and complex to keep the interest of active three-, four- or even five-year-olds.

In spite of these two drawbacks, A Gift from Saint Francis is a delightful book.

Anne Kelly, YM-YWCA of Dartmouth, Dartmouth, NS.
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