A Certain Small Shepherd

Common Sense Media says

Mute boy's Christmas play becomes strangely real.

Age(i)

2
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Jamie behaves badly when frustrated -- tantrums, hair pulling, etc.

Violence & scariness
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there's nothing objectionable here. It's a religious story, so parents may want to read it first to see if it conflicts with their own beliefs.

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Kids say

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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?

QUALITY
 

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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Rebecca Caudill
Illustrator:William Pene du Bois
Genre:Family Life
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
Publication date:December 11, 2005
Number of pages:48
Publisher's recommended age(s):5 - 7
Read aloud:5
Read alone:7

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
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Adult Written byKaren W. G. April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age
QUALITY
 

Text Combined with Illustrations Make a Moving Story

This story can be understood on many different levels. Very young children can relate to the little boy's frustrations and feel empathy for him. They can vicariously feel his joy at the end. With adult discussion, they can begin and continue to grow in understanding all the other levels of interest in the text and illustrations as the book is read and reread each Christmas season.

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