Listen to the Silent Night, by Dandi Daley Mackall, paintings by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher (2011)
For this seventh review, I’ve chosen a book that puts a focus on the sounds of the first Christmas…and it wouldn’t have been all that silent!
Each spread of this book features a five line stanza of poetry with an ABBBA rhyming pattern. The first line of each stanza is “It was not such a silent night,” followed by a line introducing the new sound. Most of the sounds are onomatopoeic and repetitive, like the flut-flut-flutter of angel wings and the swish, swish, swish of desert sand as the camels hurry through. The story goes from Mary and Joseph on the road and all the way through the shepherds and wise men starting on their way to the eventual birth on that “miraculous Christmas night!” Because of the focus on sound, there is also a lot of focus on activity, so there are a good variety of verbs in use. My only reservation as to the content is that it mentions crowds of “the faithful” on a “festival night,” and I don’t know exactly to what it intends to refer since the gathering and crowds were due to a census, not a celebration. Maybe it just rhymed better…
The illustrations are full-spread paintings with a lot of implied movement to go with the active content. Different perspectives (from above an owl swooping over the heads of Mary and Joseph as they travel to looking up slightly from ground level as the shepherds run toward Bethlehem) and a variety of patterns and colors in the clothing of the characters add interest and excitement to the pages. In fact, the prints on the fabric often give the feel of collage images. My favorite part of the illustrations is the depiction of the starry night sky with its dappled blues and greens and tiny tips of white. The illustrations walk the line between realism and cartoon, sometimes leaning further one way, sometimes the other.
BoyChild’s Reaction: Apart from being a little critical of the fact that Baby Jesus had a blanket and pillow in the manger (“It’s a folded up blanket, [BoyChild]! Mary and Joseph would have brought blankets with them!”), BoyChild seemed to enjoy the story. I wondered as I read it if he was understanding some of the words, but with a familiar story and strong pictures for cues, there’s no harm in a little unfamiliar vocabulary that gets picked up in context. Overall, a good read-aloud for preschool and up and for independent readers in early elementary (with good decoding skills or a decently broad vocabulary).
(The author has a good number of titles for different ages under her belt, many of them with Christian themes. Check out her website here.)