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A Certain Small Shepherd
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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What's the story?
Jamie, whose mother dies soon after he is born, grows up with his father and two older sisters on their family's rural farm. But though he is physically normal, he is unable to speak -- when he tries, he only makes grunting sounds. This causes him great frustration, and some ridicule from other children.
When he starts school in a one-room schoolhouse, his teacher isn't eager to have a mute boy, especially when he sometimes acts out his frustration. But when she casts him as a shepherd in their Christmas play he is thrilled, only to have his hopes dashed when a blizzard forces the cancelation of the play. But a poor couple who appear out of the storm herald a different kind of Christmas than any of them had imagined.
Is it any good?
Keep a box of tissues handy when you and your children share this one together. Though nothing sad happens (the mother's death is handled matter-of-factly in one sentence right at the beginning), it is a tearjerker nonetheless. At any other time of year this might be too sappy for most tastes, but in December the rules change, and what once seemed mawkish becomes moving.
The gentle magic of the story, told in simple, lyrical language, is matched by the timeless rural setting, where people walk, children wear overalls, and farmers use horses to plow. The affectionate illustrations by renowned artist William Pene du Bois add a touch of humor. Unusually for an inexpensive paperback edition, they're abundant and in color. This is a lovely little book to share with young children on a December night by the fire.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Jamie's behavior -- why does he act out and throw tantrums? Why isn't he able to talk? Why might a teacher be reluctant to teach a child who can't talk? The ending is also worth discussing: What does Jamie do that causes the miracle, and is it indeed a miracle?