Review: The Stable Rat and Other Christmas Poems

Grade 2 Up–Engaging verses describe the Nativity from the animals point of view. In „A Sheep Speaks'“ readers learn about the reactions of the sheep in the fields to the passing of the Wise Men; „Hymn to Joy“ encourages the various creatures to add their voices to the celebration. Cunningham’s poetry is sometimes humorous, often powerful, always vivid, and filled with feeling. Lobel’s distinctive watercolor and black pen artwork is the perfect complement. Her animals are totally involved in all that is happening, resonating awe and joy. Many of the interconnected poems would lend themselves nicely to performance or recitation in a holiday program, making this a potentially useful selection for teachers–M.A.

Most of these nine poems celebrate the birth of Christ from the points of view of the animals that were present, from mouse to rat to sheep to crow; the remainder are joyful odes to the unheralded birth that would change the world. Cunningham’s verse is replete with the surprise of well-chosen language, her turns of phrase both evocative and apt. The poems concentrate on the impact this birth will have on subsequent centuries; the added weight of hindsight anchors the poems captured moments and balances the lighter but still worshipful reactions of the witnessing fauna („What a gathering it was,/ A chorus of caws,/ voices all giving out/ with hoarse Hosannas“—„Crows on a Certain Evening“, „Give greatly of your grunts, O pig!! Scratch deeply of your joy, O hen!! Sing out in choired squeaks, O mouse! To herald in the boy. Amen“— „Hymn to Joy“). Lobel’s line-and watercolor illustrations maintain the same graceful balance between joy and reverence: smiling lions lie down with lambs, and cities tremble under the „weeping face of night.“ Lush floral touches , swirling stars, and comfortingly solid angels rendered in a substantial rich palette will make this title a vivid presence on the holiday and poetry shelves. JMD

In this attractive volume, all lowly creatures become respected equals, transformed by the joyous arrival of the Christ child. Art and design merit a look, along with Cunningham’s (Drop Dead!) evocative free-verse poems. The language is sophisticated and stirring {„I am a shadow, gray, gray, gray,“ begins the eponymous poem), and each work nestles cozily within the rustic textures of Lobel’s (On Market Street) dark-hued-ink-and-watercolor compositions. Gently smiling animals, angels, and shipyards behold the miracle within their midst. Ages 4 up (Oct)

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