________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 18. . . .January 14, 2011.


Jack and the Manger: A Christmas Jack Tale.

Andy Jones. Illustrated by Darka Erdelji.
St. John’s, NL: Running the Goat Books and Broadsides, 2010.
40 pp., pbk. & hc., $17.95 (pbk.), $26.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-9737578-9-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-9866113-0-8 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Christmas stories, Canadian (English)-Newfoundland and Labrador.
Tales-Newfoundland and Labrador.

Preschool and up / Ages 4 and up.

Review by Alison Mews.





So the shepherds goes into the stable, and, well, Jack figures he’ll sneak off now, home to the Pearl. But he’s hardly out of the door when, lo and behold, he meets three fellas decked off in king costumes! Oh, my! He figured they must be mummers. But guess what? Turns out they are kings, and they’re after coming from the farthest corners of the earth...

And Jack shows the b’ys into the stable, and he notices each of em got a lovely gift with em, a Christmas box I guess you’d call it now, and Jack, he figures he’ll slip away without sayin a word, but he takes one last peek inside. And, oh my, oh my, oh my, what a lovely sight. As pretty as a picture, it was, like a Christmas card - the mother and the father, a crowd of animals, a fair flock of shepherds, three kings, donkey, and a lovely baby who is, by all accounts, eventually gonna guide us all towards peace on earth.

The Christmas nativity story has been set in Canada before - notable examples are The Huron Carol and Kurelek’s A Northern Nativity - but never has it been combined with a folktale character, set in outport Newfoundland, and served up with such cunning craft. Storyteller and performer Andy Jones has invented a convoluted back-story in which a young Caesar Augustus correctly guesses the number of gumballs in a jar, which piques his curiosity about counting things like chickens in a henhouse. His lifelong obsession finally results in the census that brings Joseph & Mary to Bethlehem, and it is on this journey that Jack meets the couple and travels with them. On the way, he overnights with them in a gravel pit camp, hears about the angels’ visitations and foretelling of Jesus’ birth, and assists in finding the stable where the baby is born. Jack is an eye-witness to all the events and filters it all through his unique world-view with deadpan hilarity.

     Jack and the Manger is the second of a planned series of Jack tales in which Andy Jones adapts oral stories featuring the traditional third son named Jack. As in Queen of Paradise’s Garden, Jones has captured in print the cadences of Newfoundland colloquial dialect and inserted humourous asides; thereby lending his storyteller’s voice to anyone reading it aloud. Although a decidedly secular retelling of the nativity, it is respectful of the New Testament story. For the last two years Andy Jones has read this story to mixed audiences of adults and children at Christmas concerts in St. John’s churches to enthusiastic reception and convulsive laughter. I am delighted that this picture-book version, with its infusion of the illustrator’s own whimsical humour, can now bring this off-beat Nativity story to a much wider audience.

     internal artAlong with illustrating the story in her spare folk-art style, Darka Erdelji has created a parallel story in her page decorations. Using a gumball motif (based on Jones dubbing Caesar Augustus "Gumball"), the busy little birds going about their business act out a visual story. On the first page, the birds are aghast that gumballs have spilled from a jar, and, on successive pages, they try to gather them up, along with anything resembling gumballs - amongst them snowballs, the pom-pom on someone’s cap, and even the sun. By the story’s end, the jar is again full, and the gumballs are shared with the book’s characters pictured on one side of long table, reminiscent of the Last Supper. Angels figure prominently in the story, and sharp-eyed observers will note that in one picture village children make a snow angel and in another the shadow of a bird creates an angel image. Although, the landscape does not resemble Newfoundland and Labrador geographically, the combination of the language and the pineclad snowscapes give it a northern setting.

     Once again, the creative team of Andy Jones and Darka Erdelji, along with designer Veselina Tomova and small press publisher Marnie Parsons, have created an essential purchase for schools, libraries and folktale collections.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is a recently retired librarian who lives in St. John’s, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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