________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006


One Christmas in Lunenburg.

Amy Bennet. Illustrated by Don Kilby. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2004.
24 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 1-55028-868-7.

Subject Headings:
Lunenburg (N.S.)-Juvenile fiction. Christmas stories, Canadian (English).
Brothers and sisters -Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

***½ /4



Rachel woke with a start. At first she thought it must be early morning - Christmas Day! But then she heard the sound of church bells and saw the stars in the dark sky through her window. All along the South Shore church bells were chiming for their midnight service. It was midnight on Christmas eve.

Rachel slipped out of bed and into Nathan's room. "Nathan," she whispered, shaking her brother gently. “Come with me." Nathan rubbed his sleepy eyes. He signed the word "Santa."

"He won't get to Lunenburg until later," Rachel said. "Let's go see the animals. Quiet, though. We have to tiptoe."


Nine-year-old Rachel has a question. And, like any typical nine-year-old, her burning curiosity, her eagerness to know the truth, makes her quest for an answer all-consuming. Her question is this: is it true that at midnight on Christmas eve, all the animals from all over the world are able to talk to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus? This is the story upon which their annual Christmas pageant is based, the pageant in which she and her younger brother Nathan are both taking part. Yet no matter how many adults she asks, none seem able to provide a definite answer. "Maybe it's one of those things that we're not supposed to know for sure," suggests Rachel's father. Miss Tanner, their Sunday school teacher, thinks that "maybe the most important thing is that it's a story we all love to hear." Even their next-door neighbour, Mr. Heisler, has never heard any of the animals on his farm talk, not in real words anyway. Reluctantly, Rachel begins to think that perhaps she'll just have to accept that it really is just a lovely story, nothing more.

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     However, when the midnight church bells ring out through the frosty night, she knows that she must search for the truth, once and for all, herself. She wakes Nathan, and the two children quietly make their way to Mr. Heisler's barn. There, amongst the barnyard brood, Nathan provides Rachel with an unexpected answer to her question, and a very special gift.

     Bennet has crafted a sweet and lovely holiday tale, a story that families will look forward to sharing each year at that special time. She has done a fine job of capturing Rachel's relationship with Nathan: the banter and teasing as well as the obvious affection and close sibling bond, although she could perhaps have dealt with the issue of Down's Syndrome and its effects on Nathan's life a little more thoroughly. The book could have provided young children with an opportunity to learn a little more about this condition, but it is so briefly alluded to that it is less likely to inspire much discussion. Also, if Nathan's situation were a little clearer, the story's climax might have even greater impact and poignance. That observation notwithstanding, Bennet also provides an accurate portrayal of Rachel's dogged determination to know the truth about this one thing and, in the process, Bennet creates a timeless tale of Christmas wonder which is perfectly and beautifully complemented by Don Kilby's rich and lustrous illustrations. He captures the magic of lovely Lunenburg and the South Shore of Nova Scotia so exquisitely that he will no doubt inspire homesickness in readers who have gone away. This book deserves a place in family libraries as well as on school library shelves.

Highly Recommended.

Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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