Review Blog

Oct 23 2014

One night by Penny Matthews

cover image

Ill. by Stephen Michael King. Scholastic, 2014. ISBN 9781742990279
(Age: 3+) Recommended. Christmas. Animals. One of the tales emanating from the story of Christmas, is that of the first Christmas Eve, when animals were given the gift of speech. Penny Matthews has used this story as the basis of this book, in which she celebrates the role of animals on that first Christmas Eve. The folk tales of this occurrence are concentrated in northern Europe and many people in Germany and Poland still tell the story of the animals speaking on Christmas Eve, and in telling this tale this new book gives a different viewpoint from which to discuss Christmas with younger readers.
In her modern version, Matthews has a farmyard of animals remembering what happened on the first night, listing all of the animals and what they did to help Mary and Joseph, and the newly born baby. From the donkey which took them to the stable, the sheep that gave its fleece for a blanket, the mice which chewed the straw for the crib, each animal had a part to play on that night. The story Matthews tells outlines many of the images we have about Christmas, and will provide a firm standing point from which to discuss Christmas and the customs surrounding that event in the western world, with children, as well as telling a gentle story of nurture.
King's illustrations render the story in tender understated images of the animals in awe at the birth of Jesus, and surprised at the roles they took on the first Christmas Eve. His pencil and water colour pictures glow on the pages, melding the perspective from two thousand years ago with that of today, linking the past with the present through his illustrations. I love his depiction of the two stables, the one in the past having nothing but hay on the floor, the one in modern times with its range of equipment, buckets, things hanging from the overhead beams and the bicycle. Each image King presents begs a question to ponder, a thought to pursue with the readers. This little known story is a lovely addition to the books being produced for Christmas, and adds to the range of stories that surround the event.
Fran Knight

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