________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006


Listen, Said the Donkey: Tales of the First Christmas. 

Jean Little. Illustrated by Werner Zimmermann.
Toronto, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada, 2006.
38 pp., cloth, $19.99.
ISBN 0-439-95782-6. 

Subject Headings:
Jesus Christ-Nativity-Juvenile fiction.
Animals-Juvenile fiction.
Preschool-grade 5 / Ages 3-10.

Review by Ruth McMahon. 

**** /4 


"He is a king," said the lamb. "The angels said so. They said, 'He will be Saviour of the sheep.' He's not just any baby." 

"It wasn't angels," snorted the camel. "Trust a lamb to get it wrong." 

"I would have done it for any baby," said the donkey softly. "I know how it feels to be cold." 

After the coming and the going of the Wise Men, there is finally room for Mary, Joseph and the baby in the Inn, and this situation gives the animals in the stable a chance to talk and share their experiences of the holy birth and the events that followed. Donkey, who was rescued from ill-treatment by Mary, is the first to share his tender story of love and devotion. Lamb is next with its story tinged with youthful naïve egocentrism. Camel, who has been interrupting the others' stories and thereby demonstrating his bravado and arrogance, gets the next chance to tell a story. His story is rendered null and void by Cat's interpretation of their journey with Melchior. Cat, a Persian, travels in the folds of the Wise Man's robes on their quest following the Star. The last animal to share its story is Dog. Dog escapes from his abusive mistress and hides in the stable. The only human who is aware he is there is the baby.   

internal art

     After Joseph's dream, which sends the Holy Family fleeing Herod' soldiers, Donkey and Cat journey with the Holy Family while Lamb is returned to his owner. Dog plays the pivotal role of throwing Herod's soldiers off the trail of the Holy Family by allowing himself to be captured and returned to his abusive mistress. That leaves Camel, who has undergone a believable change of disposition to one of humility and understanding, alone in the stable with a mouse who is delighted the cat is gone. The mouse says: "'What was it you were all talking about?' 'Listen,' said the camel. 'Listen, mouse. I have stories to tell you.'" 

     Listen, Said the Donkey is an exquisite rendering of the Christmas story from the point of view of four animals. Each animal has an authentic voice (complete with flaws and attributes) and a convincing story. These stories come together to make this tale more than the sum of its parts. It is one of the best retellings of the Christmas story which is often deemed the best story ever told. When reading it aloud, be prepared for the catch-in-your-throat touching resolution. 

     Zimmermann's watercolour illustrations, sometimes powerful, sometimes full of awe, sometimes tender, are the perfect partner for Ms. Little's words. He illuminates the stories and characteristics of the animals yet keeps us focused on the underlying fundamental plot line.   

     Listen, Said the Donkey is a must for libraries, classrooms, and families, and the book got the two thumbs up from our daughters. 

Highly Recommended.  

Ruth McMahon, of Lethbridge, AB, is a professional children's librarian, storyteller, co-chair of the Rocky Mountain Children's Choice Book Award, and the mother of two young children.  

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

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