A Certain Small Shepherd
Illustrated by William Pene du Bois
Best for ages: 5-9
Library of Congress Descriptor: Jamie, who cannot talk, is to play the part of a shepherd in the school Christmas pageant. He is disappointed when a blizzard cancels the pageant, but on Christmas morning, a miracle occurs.
Type of Book: Transitional/Fiction
Genres: Family Life, Rural Life]]
Jamie, whose mother dies soon after he is born, grows up with his father and two older sisters on their family’s rural farm. But though he is physically normal, he is unable to speak -- when he tries, he only makes grunting sounds. This causes him great frustration, and some ridicule from other children.
When he starts school in a one-room schoolhouse, his teacher isn’t eager to have a mute boy, especially when he sometimes acts out his frustration. But when she casts him as a shepherd in their Christmas play he is thrilled, only to have his hopes dashed when a blizzard forces the cancelation of the play. But a poor couple who appear out of the storm herald a different kind of Christmas than any of them had imagined.
Keep a box of tissues handy when you and your children share this one together. Though nothing sad happens (the mother’s death is handled matter-of-factly in one sentence right at the beginning), it is a tearjerker nonetheless. At any other time of year this might be too sappy for most tastes, but in December the rules change, and what once seemed mawkish now is moving.
The gentle magic of the story, told in simple, lyrical language, is matched in this modern age by the timeless rural setting, where people walk, children wear overalls, and farmers use horses to plow. The affectionate illustrations by renowned artist William Pene du Bois add a touch of humor as well. Unusually for an inexpensive paperback edition, they’re abundant and in color. This is a lovely little book to share with young children on a December night by the fire.
-- Matt Berman, Family Wonder and Common Sense Media
“Jamie, are you trying to make a string long enough to reach to the top of Pine Mountain?” asked Honey one night.
Jamie did not hear her. He was far away, on a hillside, tending sheep. And even though he was a small shepherd and could only grunt when he tried to talk, an angel wrapped around with dazzling light was singling him out to tell him a wonderful thing that had happened down in the hollow in a cow stall.
He fell asleep, stringing his popcorn, and listening.
Also by Rebecca Caudill
The Best-Loved Doll
Happy Little Family
Schoolhouse in the Woods
Up and Down the River
Schoolroom in the Parlor
A Pocketful of Cricket
Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley?
Behavior: Jamie behaves badly when frustrated -- tantrums, hair pulling, etc.