Yesterday while writing and thinking about nativity stories, I realised how many there were where the narrator was an onlooker at the birth of Jesus and how often this was an animal. This is an interesting way to add some new interest to a well-known story. It allows the reader to look anew, to move their focus and to see different perspectives of an event.
I particularly like Michael Foreman's Cat in the Manger. I love the illustrations and the way they move the focus. I love Foreman's use of the colour 'blue', not a colour that you necessarily think of when you think of the nativity story and I like that the narrator is a cat, not the donkey, a sheep or a cow, animals you expect in the stable.
But there are others:
• The Witness: A Christmas Story by Robert Westall and Sophy Williams is also told from a cat's point of view. Here the cat is looking for somewhere to have her kittens and she finds a stable, the one where Mary is about to also give birth. The cat witnesses the birth and forms a bond with the family.
• On This Special Night by Claire Freedman and Simon Mendez. Here a mother cat and her kitten are asleep in their own barn when they are visited by other animals who are travelling to see a bright star in the sky. They too decide to set off to see what the star is for and they learn that it is indeed a special night.
• Room For a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell and Jason Cockcroft. Here Kind Ox invites all weary travellers to share the stable, including Old Dog, Stray Cat, Small Mouse and Tired Donkey who is carrying Mary by saying, "There's always room for a little one here."
• The Ox and the Donkey: A Christmas Story by Gunter Spang and Loek Koopmans. Here there is a lazy ox who eats more than his share of the food and a gentle donkey sharing the stable. When Mary and Joseph arrive, their kindness transforms the ox into a decent caring animal and the protagonists who were enemies, inspired by the miracle of Christmas become friends.
• Home For Christmas by Sally Grindley and Karin Littlewood. Unlike the others, here the focus is on a homeless child who sees Mary and Joseph at a market in the village and he wonders what it would be like to experience the warmth of a family. During the night he is awakened by a crying child and a bright light. This story explores the themes of home, family and belonging in more than one way.
While none of these books offer anything amazingly new, they are all by well known and revered picture book authors and illustrators, they do offer a different slant, a more personal touch for readers to connect to, each is specifically designed for a very young audience and each has very beautiful artwork which adds to the specialness of the event.