Cassandra Spellman reviews two Christmas-themed picture books. Enter to win these books to enjoy with your family.
Our son made his first holy Communion this past spring and a family member gifted him a couple of books by Anthony DeStefano. The beauty of the illustrations and the richness of the Catholic content embedded within the engaging narrative impressed me. So, when I had the opportunity to review The Beggar and the Bluebird and Joseph’s Donkey by DeStefano, I eagerly seized it!
The Beggar and the Bluebird tells the story of a little bluebird who has stayed a bit too long in the city and, with a winter storm approaching, needs to make an imminent flight south to a warmer climate. However, before the bird can leave, a beggar sitting on a nearby park bench enlists his help to aid three different people: a homeless man in need of food, a widowed mother in need of money, and a sick, hospitalized boy in need of hope.
The bird agrees to help, albeit a little more reluctantly each time. As the winter storm nears and the bird’s window of escape narrows, the sacrifice to give becomes greater and greater. But this is the definition of sacrifice, isn’t it? It needs to hurt and inconvenience us in some way. The bird, like each of us, did not have to help anyone. Yet, he exercised his free will to choose to do what was right, despite the growing cost of doing so.
As a Christmas story, The Beggar and the Bluebird certainly teaches the theme of giving and sacrificing to help others in need — a welcome message in our culture of consumerism, which often becomes heightened during the Christmas season. DeStefano’s book also brings out rich Catholic themes. The homeless man needed food: aid to the body; the widowed mother needed comfort and support in her mourning: aid to her spirit; and the sick young boy needed the consolation of Christ on the cross: aid to his soul. We are called to help those who suffer, both in body and in soul.
My children (who range in age from four to ten) all enjoyed this book and agreed that their favorite aspect is the surprise revelation that the beggar is more than who he appears. While many Christmas stories may end with a joyful morning unwrapping presents or the family gathered around the table for Christmas dinner, this ending points to the whole purpose for which God the Son became incarnate: to redeem us for the most perfect of happy endings.
With a powerful message and realistic, stunning illustrations, I am excited to make this story a tradition each Advent and Christmas season! I hope you will as well!
The second book by Anthony DeStefano that I have the joy to review is Joseph’s Donkey. The story begins with the hardworking St. Joseph, who is looking for a similarly hard working donkey to aid him in his carpentry. He finds the right match in a quiet donkey who looks “brave and strong and silent” — adjectives one could easily use for Joseph himself.
The story proceeds to follow the Biblical narrative, with some creative details to flesh out the story more fully, such as the young child Jesus riding the donkey into the desert in order to pray in silence. The familiar Biblical events are all here, from Our Lord’s Nativity to the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt to the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. However, it is a wonderfully imaginative retelling of these events, through the eyes of the donkey who accompanies and supports the Holy Family.
One of the best ways to pray with the Gospels is to picture yourself present there in the scene: what do you hear and see? What are Jesus, Mary, and Joseph feeling and what would you say to them? Joseph’s Donkey is a beautiful example of this, placing the reader right there in the midst of these events, enabling him or her to be another participant in the scene.
My children all remarked on the exquisite illustrations by Juliana Kolesova, which are truly breathtaking in their beauty, color, expression, and realism. DeStefano’s narrative, which is written in poetic, rhyming prose, engaged my children and captured their attention. We also enjoyed how DeStefano sprinkled some symbolism and allusions in his story, such as when the aged donkey falls three times, pointing of course to Our Lord’s falling three times under the weight of the cross.
In the Year of St. Joseph, this book about a donkey, whose virtues mirror those of its owner, is a prayerful reflection on the saint who is the Head of the Holy Family. The donkey is a powerful image for all of us. In fact, St. Josemaría Escrivá even had this as a nickname for himself: “mangy donkey.” He used to envision himself as a humble beast of burden, working for the Lord without seeking personal glory. Such is the donkey in this inspiring and heart-warming story; so may we be in our lives.
Would you like to win both of these books to read with your children?
To enter, leave a comment on this article answering this question:
Which of these Christmas stories are you most eager to read with your family?
This contest is open to CatholicMom.com readers in the USA. One winner will receive a copy of each of these two books. The giveaway is open through 12:01 AM Tuesday, October 19. The winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to claim their prize. Unclaimed prizes are awarded to alternate winners.
Copyright 2021 Cassandra Spellman
Image: Canva Pro
About the Author
Cassandra Spellman is grateful to God for the gift of her Catholic faith and her vocation as wife and mother. She and her husband co-wrote a Christian dystopian novel, In the Shadows of Freedom, which they recently published. They blog about faith, marriage, philosophy, and literature at SpellmanBooks.com.