Manger / edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illustrated by Helen Cann. 7.10.2015

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780802854193

PRI PS and up Rating: *5

According to oral tradition, God graced animals with the ability to speak at midnight on Christmas Eve so they could welcome the baby Jesus. Compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Manger is a collection of 13 poems and one carol that capture what those animals might have been inclined to say.

With insight, cleverness and awe, the animals interact with Jesus, Joseph and Mary. The owl offers his “secret of wise,” the spider spins a “cobweb crown,” and the horse feels too stirred to speak at all. The contributing poets have imbued their creatures with the emotions of joy, wonder, and reverence for the Christ child. The simplicity of the titles (“Sheep’s Whisper,” “Mousesong,” “Curious Cat”) invites even the youngest readers and keeps the focus on what each gentle poem reveals.

Helen Cann’s full-page artwork of watercolor, collage, and mixed media integrates the poetry and gives each animal its moment in the spotlight. The various creatures come together in several scenes, most notably on the final pages devoted to a verse from the traditional carol, “The Friendly Beasts.” The soft illustrations of varying scale evoke the nostalgic timelessness of folk art.

Manger is a delightful call to experience and reflect on the birth of Jesus, at any time of the year. What a gentle, visually lovely, and spirited book for families to share and treasure!

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

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