Publisher’s Weekly Review of The Donkey’s Song

SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT. Publishers Weekly, 00000019, 9/12/2022, Vol. 269, Issue 38Database:Academic Search Elite

REVIEWS: Children’s/YA

Picture books interpret the nativity.

Season of Light

Jess Redman, illus. by Ramona Kaulitzki. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-31460-6

Redman sets gifts and treats in the context of lasting values in a celebration of Christmas anticipation. In rhyming quatrains, loosely scanning verse broadly details a seasonal activity (“After red and green dreams/ We wake up before the sun./ We’re counting down December days/ But savoring each one”), then categorizes each as part of a temporal moment (“This is a season of joy”). Including wonder, faith, and light, each concept downplays gratification and underscores generosity. Via soft digital art that foregrounds connection and light, Kaulitzki creates wide-eyed characters, portrayed with various skin tones, arranging a domestic creche, gathering for a meal, participating in a church nativity, and caroling outside an assisted living facility. It’s a community-focused look at simple holiday joys. Ages 3–6. (Sept.)

The Donkey’s Song: A Christmas Nativity Story

Jacki Kellum, illus. by Sydney Hanson. Doubleday, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-37505-1

The humble donkey that transported Mary to the Bethlehem stable describes the sights, smells, and sounds it experiences in this peaceful imagining of Jesus’s birth. Using short rhyming stanzas and reiterative phrasing (“A bit of a manger,/ a bit of snug hay,/ a bit of a soft, silent night”), debut author Kellum creates an understated tone matched by Hanson’s pastoral scenes, which are gently washed in light. Friendly-faced farm animals—including the largeheaded donkey and a kind, sprightly mouse—fill most of the spreads, leading in closing pages to the donkey’s moving song: “I lifted my head/ above His hay bed…// …and sang of this morning of grace.” A sweet and gentle introduction to the nativity story. Ages 3–7. (Oct.)

Brown Baby Jesus

Dorena Williamson, illus. by Ronique Ellis. WaterBrook, $15.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-23638-3

Williamson composes a story of faith across generations and locales, twining Jesus’s upbringing with pivotal biblical tales. The story begins not with the manger, but with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus having fled from Bethlehem to Egypt, where they hope to escape King Herod’s wrath. There, the family—portrayed with brown skin in Ellis’s slick, portrait-focused art—avoids soldiers and walks along the Nile, as Mary spins wool into yarn. Mary and Joseph also detail Bible stories that interweave like “colorful threads that make a beautiful cloth”: of Moses and the Israelites and Rahab and Jerusalem, among others. Across all the tales, the text posits, “God kept showing up for His people,” and “made His home with humankind when Jesus entered the world wrapped in the brown skin of a newborn baby.” Though the stories’ intersections may not be clear to those not already in the know, they successfully portray a many-stranded family tree for a much celebrated child, whose “wooly hair and bronze skin are a beautiful part of how God made You.” Ages 3–7. (Sept.)

Little Bird Finds Christmas

Marianne Richmond, illus. by Janet Samuel. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $10.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-72825-445-6

Little Bird, an expressive scarlet songbird with a pink breast, looks forward to Christmas despite not knowing what it is in this nativity-focused picture book. Flitting from the Big Store to the Food Market to the Post Office, Little Bird regards the bustling, queuing human community, portrayed with varying abilities and skin tones, but concludes that the seasonal errands don’t constitute Christmas. In saturated hues and slick textures, Samuel’s digital illustrations mix scenes of a world in preparation—the birds alight, the smiling humans, and a squirrel family decorating for the holidays. When Little Bird and her mother fly to a snow-covered chapel, Richmond’s text turns to revelation, defining Christmas as “the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is the son of God,” as well as an observance found “in all the grateful, giving hearts.” Little Bird’s curiosity makes her an engaging protagonist in a message- forward book about a busy holiday brought close to the nest. Ages 4–6. (Oct.)

The Good News of Christmas: Celebrating the Glory of Christ’s Birth Story

Rousseaux Brasseur, illus. by Sian James. Harvest Kids, $19.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7369-8609-0

Between an opening note assuring readers that “this book you hold is just the/ middle chapter/ In God’s plan” and a closing message proclaiming that “although miraculous, this is the one true Christmas story,” Brasseur offers a fervent but bumpy retelling of the Christ child’s birth. Familiar elements of the account appear—Mary and Joseph tucking newborn Jesus into a humble manger, angels appearing to shepherds, and the wise men’s arrival—but the earnestly reverent, rhyming text relies on awkward phrasing (“for he knew the child was not his own which his fiancée carried”). James portrays the cast of emotive, variously brown-skinned figures against the sun-bleached “Israel of old” and hilly, starlit Bethlehem, gently foregrounded luminescence that befits the story’s content. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

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