Animals' characteristics are somewhat human in 'Tales from the Manger'

Monday, November 29, 2004

Written with children ages 4 through 8 in mind, Tales from the Manger is a delightful story of animal characters, some with aspects of Biblical characters, as they come to realize God's Son has been born in their manger.

The authors are Christian comedian Chonda Pierce, and her husband, David, a mystery writer and fisherman.

That something is taking place at the stable is first observed by Mary and Martha, a pair of mice who decided to have a party for the rest of the animals.

That the baby is God's son is first revealed by Saul, an ill-tempered ox, to Peter, a sheep that is the best wool-grower and an excellent follower.

Zacchaeus, the oppossum, leaps from a donkey's back to hang from a beam to better see what is taking place, and also sees Mary Magdalene, a scaredy cat who has never purred. Trying to leave the excitement that is building among the animals, Mary Magdalene sneaks toward a hole in the wall only to be picked up by a man, apparently Joseph, who begins to clear a place for his young wife in the manger.

The baby boy takes his first breath, and the animals begin to crowd in closer. The ox marvels that the child is "so tiny, so helpless, so loud." The ox calls to the sheep, who marvels at the catch in the ox's voice as he states that the baby is the animals' creator. Deciding the baby must be a shepherd, the sheep begins to sing.

The oppossum, hanging by his tale near a sleeping rooster, can't believe what he is seeing. The baby stops crying and smiles at the cat, who purrs for the first time.

Thomas, the rooster, finally wakes up, puzzles over what has taken place "You try to sleep in one morning and the place goes crazy," he thinks. The ox tells the rooster the baby is God's son, and the rooster crows the loudest and longest he ever has, as the two mice dance on the hay.

All the animals have changed.

Tales from the Manger; by Chonda and David Pierce; illustrated by Matt LeBarre; paperback; 93 pages; Zonderkidz; $9.99.

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