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Certain Poor Shepherds by Elizabeth Marshall…
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Certain Poor Shepherds (1996)

by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

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Enchanting Christimas story. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
I found the treasure of this little book in my hometown library and the story has stuck with me even when I couldn't remember the name (that is the worst part about finding a good book for me). Fortunately I did re-find this book while my sister presented this book for me for Christmas so it is once more within my hands to enjoy and read to my heart's content.

I have seen a few comments where people have mentioned that this isn't "the Nativity story" or that parts of the book doesn't match "the Nativity story" but it wasn't meant to be "the Nativity story". In fact this gives another viewpoint of what may have been as well as giving an emotional side of a story circling around the more famous biblical time of the year.

The author does a beautiful job of portraying that animals even the docile sheep have feelings and are often affected by items in their environment that we may overlook. And within this story they are given a very deep emotional background such as when Lila the sheepdog compares the newborn Christ-child as being powerful and yet at the same time a precious innocent who needs protecting just as much as He needs to be worshipped.

This is definitely a good book for someone who likes animals and enjoys having a bit more details about what may have been. ( )
  flamingrosedrakon | Aug 26, 2015 |
Certain Poor Shepherds by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas; (3 1/2*)

Here the Nativity is told in an entirely new and fresh way. The story from the perspective of 2 animal shepherds, a dog & a goat, who see & smell the star that leads those who follow it to the stable where the Christ child lay.
They watch the star for several days and know that something of great importance is occurring beneath it's location in the sky.
They observe angels flying over and around them and see them come down in the very fields where their sheep are grazing. It seems the angels are hungry as well.
They observe a great caravan of camels and servants with wealthy masters traveling and when the caravan halts the dog & goat become aware that the masters have brought with them a great eagle and a cheetah.
Their master trusts the dog & goat to care for his herds and protect them. But as they watch the star in the East the dog can no longer keep at bay the urgings to follow. And so with one last look at the herd of sheep and her fellow shepherd, the goat, the dog at last obeys that urge and follows.
What follows in this lovely story is what occurs to the dog upon her travels, what she finds when she arrives at the stable and what occurs to her on her return trip.
This would be a wonderful book to read aloud to one's children at this time of year. I enjoyed it a great deal and gave it 3 1/2 stars. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Dec 18, 2013 |
12 Books of Christmas

#8 Simplicity

People who love animal stories, of course, have always loved the story about animals talking on the night of Jesus’ birth. According to the legend, Jesus was born on the stroke of midnight, and the animals in the stable – oxen, for sure, the donkey that had carried Mary, sheep and goats maybe, even chickens and geese and ducks – suddenly are given the power of speech. When the shepherds arrive, they fall silent again. Only Mary and Joseph and the baby hear them. And so the story goes that each Christmas Eve, precisely at midnight, our farm animals talk, praising God and rejoicing in the baby’s birth. Only children can hear them, and they only on the stroke of midnight.

People who love that story – who would like to believe it’s true – will be enchanted by Certain Poor Shepherds by Elizabeth Marshal Thomas (Simon & Schuster, 1996). Book collectors love the book too, for its painstaking design, and for its stunning illustrations, woodcuts by Andrew Davidson.

With masterful use of cross-hatching, superb control of light and shadow, bold realism though with hints of an ethereal presence, the illustrations almost carry the story. I am especially intrigued by the angel astride the goat, the magi on their camels, the winged angel in the branch of an oak tree, and the last illustration in the book (which I can’t describe without giving away the denouement). But the most majestic one of all shows the magi with Mary and Joseph (and the sheep dog) clustered around the manger. The semi-symmetrical design around the blaze of heavenly light speaks eloquently. Davidson is not quite as good with motion as with static scenes, and the dog confronting the angels is stretched out too far, but these are minor complaints. The overall impression is grand.

The story is simple and engaging (as much as I despise the word as a generic adjective, I almost want to say sweet). The shepherds of the title, as you may have already guessed, are a sheep dog named Lila and a nanny goat named Ima. It is their responsibility to herd the sheep for their master. They are close companions, but each is lonely for others of her kind. One night they espy a strange new star in the sky – and you can imagine how the story proceeds from that point on. It has its suspense, its dangers, its twists and turns, and (rest assured) its “happy ending.”

Because Thomas herself is an anthropologist, the daughter of an anthropologist, and because she consulted another anthropologist who knows the Near East well, I am sure the characteristics attributed to the sheepdog and the goat are authentic – perhaps exaggerated a bit, but credible. The author has appended an afterword, which attempts to answer the question, “Do animals sense divinity?” I wish she had also commented on the sheep herding versatility of the dog and the goat and their collaboration. Is this a common practice? Is it rare, but genuine? Or does it edge toward anthropomorphism?

Be forewarned, too: the angels are hardly the stereotypical, otherworldly creatures we are accustomed to. Lila and Ima have seen them before on the mountain crests, but never so many at once. They are elfin creatures with wings, male and female, large and small – and they are hungry. They forage with the sheep and shake acorns from the oak tree.

Thomas adjusts her prose rhythms adroitly to fit the action. Let me close this review with two examples, one from the everyday life of the flock

”At the edge of the cultivated land, their master stopped. He had brought his animals to a wheat field by a grove of olive trees. The wheat and the olives had long since been harvested, but plenty of rich stubble remained on the ground. He whistled again, a signal for the dog to release the sheep so that they could graze there. . . . Whistling to his dog to tell her not to follow him, the master turned to leave. So the dog sat down to watch him walk away.” (p32)

Notice the everyday, prosaic language – just the facts, ma’am. But the other passage focuses on the “shepherds’” sensitivity to the angelic presence, and their master’s insensitivity. Immediately it strikes a different tone.

“[The master] would not investigate the scent-mark of a dangerous lynx, so he would not look at angels even though they were all around him. As far as he was concerned, they weren’t there. ¶ But sounds too high or low for human ears are nevertheless sounds; odors too faint or pure for human nostrils are nevertheless odors; and beings invisible to human eyes are nevertheless beings. Her master’s dense oblivion dismayed Lila. She watched him walk so near a crouching angel that he almost knocked her over. Insensible, he walked to the edge of the field and vanished among the olive trees.” (p34)

Note the poetic parallelism of the sentence about the angels and Lila’s dismay at her master’s “dense oblivion.” But then note how the language lapses back into the prosaic ordinariness as the master departs. Thomas’s style is never subtle or convoluted, but it matches the straightforwardness of the story. ( )
  bfrank | Dec 31, 2010 |
This book is a little treasure and one of my favorites. It's the story of the night of Christ's birth as perceived by the animals. It is told with great sensitivity by reknowned animal lover Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and as such it is filled with eye-opening empathy and poignant beauty. It has an interesting take on angels as seen by animals, showing them to be very non-human and free of human stereotypes. Perhaps our perceptions of ourselves do color our perceptions of angels as well. It taught me a lot about the way animals might perceive the strange, crude doings of humans and helped me view my relationships with animals with more thoughtfulness. In that sense alone, it is a worthy addition to any library and especially to a holiday collection. I love this book very much. ( )
1 vote Treeseed | Feb 19, 2008 |
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Epigraph
Come thou, Einion's Yellow One,
Stray Horns, the Particoloured Lake Cow,
And the hornless Dodyn,
Arise, come home.
--From The Stray Cow, A Welsh Folktale
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To Sy
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On the first Christmas, so say the Christians, a redeemer was born to save our kind from the consequences of our greed, waste, pride, cruelty, and arrogance.
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The story of the Nativity as seen by animals. The protagonists are two sheep dogs and a goat who follow the star to Bethlehem where they are joined by more animals. The novel describes the adventures on the way--they save an angel--and gives their reaction to the birth of Christ.… (more)

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