CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 18 . . . . January 13, 2012
Story-telling is an ancient art which, in this time of easy access to books, films, DVDs and television programs, seems to be dying out. Renée Englot's collection of stories set in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of the Christ child proves that a gifted story-teller can find enough interesting material in legends and folklore to engage young listeners in the 5 to 8-year-old age range.
Englot's research turned up many Christmas folktales, some of which were no more than what she calls "tantalizing tidbits" comprised of a couple of sentences beginning with "According to legend." Once Upon a Bethlehem Night features 13 stories, a beautifully sung rendition of "The Friendly Beasts" by the Edmonton Young Voices Children's Choir and a haunting melody, "Under the Bethlehem Sky," written and sung by Jodi Penner. Beginning with the story of Carter and Bridie, a tale harkening back to a legend about St. Brigit and the Celtic goddess Brigid, Englot moves on to give listeners the medieval legend of Christus Natus Est, wherein the animals speak their reaction to the birth of Jesus in Latin. "Sparks" is a tale of how Robin got his red breast protecting the babe from sparks from the fire, while, in "Troublemakers." Englot focuses on the animals whose personalities and behaviour brought trouble to the holy family that night in the manger, including stork, mule, owl and cat. Many of Englot's stories feature animals, including one called "The Littlest Camel." about a camel youngster struggling to keep up with her elders in the wise men's journey to Bethlehem as well as her last offering, "Story for the Dog".
Englot's expressive, clear articulation wonderfully enhances the telling of her stories of the first Christmas. The language she uses is simple, yet never condescending to her audience of young listeners. Jodi Penner's playing of the penny whistle to accompany "Cradle Song" and her performance of "Under Bethlehem Sky" provide perfect musical interludes in the CD which has a running time of about an hour and a quarter.
Because the collection is set in Bethlehem with the birth of the Christ child, its contents and theme are, understandably, Christian. Libraries in a secular school system may not feel comfortable purchasing Englot's collection of stories and adding it to their shelves, however, for those in other settings, as well as for parents and grandparents, Once Upon a Bethlehem Night will provide an engaging and worthwhile option in our consumer-oriented Christmas season.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.