The Friendly Beasts
An Old English Christmas Carol
By Tomie de Paola
Do children carol in the streets anymore? I sure do wish some group of eager young faces would troop up to our front door during the holiday season, with their frosted breaths visible in the night air. What I wouldn’t give to hear those clear, young voices poured forth, singing the carols that have been sung for generations at this time of year. I remember reading “Little Women” as a child and recalling the scene where the March sisters gathered around the “pianny” as the March cook, Hannah, referred to the instrument, with the girls singing familiar songs of the season.
Why not restart the tradition of caroling with your kids? There are lots of picture books that feature a carol or a series of them that parents can teach to their young children. One of my favorite classic ones is the same title of this book by the loveable Tomie de Paola who looks forward to Christmas each year with the unbridled enthusiasm of childhood.
Children LOVE animals so this is a great book to introduce the classic carol of The Friendly Beasts!
The simple strains of this old Christmas melody are superbly reflected in the graceful, delicate, yet strong images that de Paola brings tothe page…A Christmas remembrance to be long treasured.
Booklist (starred review)
Tomie’s book is an ALA Notable Book, A Boston Globe – Horn Book Honor Book, a Booklist Reviewer’s Choice and an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists! How’s that for praise for a picture book about an English carol put to words in the 1920’s by one Robert Davis and may be heard in many Christmas pageants today.
The narrative in the carol is the setting of the manger in Bethlehem and a full entourage of animals are present to soothe the Baby Jesus, each in his or her own distinctive way.
The shaggy and brown donkey does the carrying of the expectant Mary to Bethlehem town, the white and red cow donates his hay for a pillow for the baby’s head, while the curly horned sheep’s wool fashions the newborn’s Christmas morning blanket. Not to be outdone, the dove “from the rafters high” coos the infant to sleep along with her mate. I have a special spot in my heart for the dove, as my youngest daughter sang those lines in a pageant when she was about six. I had a devil of a time fashioning a dove costume, but I must admit her pure white downy headpiece was a wonder; still have it, and the wings were great! Plus she sang without a hitch. In fact she was mouthing the words of everyone else’s lines!
The feel of the book is medieval in flavor and the mood of the book is simple, yet with a deft, strong coloration palette that befits the birth of the King of Kings! At the end of the reading is a note from the author, mentioning that the original art for the book was painted on handmade watercolor paper and the type for the story, Mr. de Paola hand lettered!
I mentioned starting a Christmas picture book time capsule for your young readers in an earlier blog, and this is certainly a book I would suggest adding to the mix of choices for this or any year.
Maybe you can even inscribe the date of the day you went caroling with your young readers on the inside cover of the book and sang The Friendly Beasts as part of your repertoire!
The Friendly Beasts is a carol worth singing and Tomie de Paola’s picture book version of the carol is a book worth sharing with your young readers!
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