A dog, a goat, and their flock follow the sight and scent of a star in a beautifully illustrated, keenly observed Nativity story.
The story begins on a cold upland pasture where coarse grass and scrub cedar grew. The hour was midnight. The day was the first of winter. And the year of our Lord was not 1900 or 1600 or even 100. It was 0. On that night a white goat, Ima, and a huge, gray short-haired sheepdog, Lila, were keeping watch over a small flock of young sheep.
Bright and dazzling, a star appears behind the cedars on the eastern skyline. It is big and powerful, and it has a pure, clean scent, like something halfway between honey and water. Lila, the sheepdog, and Ima, the goat, are compelled to follow the star on a journey to a humble manger in Bethlehem, a journey beset with danger, adventure, and love. In a story alive with insight and grace, best-selling author Elizabeth Scott Thomas brings us a striking portrait of the Nativity story from the captivating point of the view of the animal kingdom.
** From Candlewick
What I liked: The imagery in Certain Poor Shepherds is wonderful! The reader spends their time throughout these pages in the lives of the animals. It’s so much fun to see what they think, see, and smell. But especially, how humans confuse them.
What I didn’t like: I really wanted to love Certain Poor Shepherds, perhaps too much. While I enjoyed aspects of it, I just couldn’t picture who would read Certain Poor Shepherds. It’s a very mellow book with little action, plus some of the Biblical aspects were a bit “off” for me. I can’t see younger children sitting still for it to be read to them (at least none I know) and I can’t see middle-grade readers staying interested long enough. Hopefully, you know some who enjoy low-key books.
from Chapter 1 of my ARC
She could also tell who else had used the trail.
Her master’s scent, for instance, still hung heavy from his walk up the hill. Despite the cold, he had been perspiring; his sweat smelled of the curds he had eaten before he came. She also found the scent of the food he had carried. On its way up the hill, it had perfumed the bushes. Lila sighed, feeling a little sad to think that this food existed no longer but had already been eaten, that only its scent remained. A bit farther along, she found the musky odor of a fox. Lila knew him—he had a den on that hillside. He was too small to bother the sheep, but even so, Lila didn’t like him and would chase him when they met. She looked at the back of her master’s head and shoulders as he plodded down the trail. He didn’t seem interested in the fox, but she had expected that. His indifference to the odors they passed had long ago ceased to surprise her.
A bit later, she caught the odor of another fox. A stranger! Lila was just beginning to study this fox when suddenly her nostrils filled with another new scent, which raised the hair all along her spine. Streaming across the trail on the cold east wind was the acrid, frightening scent of a full-grown male lynx! Lila’s eyes flew wide as she caught his sign very strongly on one of the bushes. He had sprayed it! He had claimed it! Worse yet, he was still nearby.
Surely the master would react to this, thought Lila. Surely he would not ignore such a dangerous, proud animal claiming a place so near his sheep! Surely the master would want her to learn more about the big cat, to find him, to chase him up a tree and keep him there where she could show him her long teeth and much ferocity, so he’d see that the sheep were protected. But the master didn’t notice even this terrible thing. Head down and shoulders sagging, he plodded onward, passing right through the threatening stream of lynx odor as if nothing was wrong.
The goat noticed, though, and shot Lila a worried glance just to be sure that the dog was still there to protect her. And the sheep noticed. These youngsters didn’t know much, but they knew enough to be frightened by the strong odor of a large wild cat. With anxious bleats they crowded into one another, looking nervously over their shoulders. Lila had to nip some of them to keep them from going too fast.
But even this her master didn’t notice. Lila saw that he was going to do nothing about the lynx except to ignore him, to let him prowl and spray wherever he liked. And so the group walked steadily downhill, the master leading, Ima fearful, the sheep confused, and Lila deeply disappointed and a bit angry at her master for preventing her from doing what was right.
||Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Jonathan Bartlett (Ills)
|Publisher & Date:
||September 22nd 2015 by Candlewick Press
||Children’s Christian Fiction
||0763670626 (ISBN13: 9780763670627)
|This Counts for these Challenges:
||2015 Let Me Count The Ways Reading Challenge, 2015 New Authors Reading Challenge, 2015 Women Challenge, 2015 NetGalley Reading Challenge
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is the author of The Harmless People, a non fiction work about the Kung Bushmen of southwestern Africa, and of Reindeer Moon, a novel about the paleolithic hunter gatherers of Siberia, both of which were tremendous international successes. She lives in New Hampshire.
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