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Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey (2000)

av Robert Byrd

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Saint Francis, who loves all animals, explains to a sullen donkey why his kind have always had to work hard, but also tells him of a donkey's role in the first Christmas.

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Walking in the woods one winter's day, Saint Francis of Assisi comes upon a disconsolate little donkey, and asking this fellow what the matter is, discovers that his asinine friend is discouraged by the fact that his kind are given the hardest work, and are ridiculed for the way they sound. Appealing to the saint, the donkey asks why they are treated this way, and is in turn regaled with the story of how his kind came to be: how the first donkey angered the other animals with his criticism and scorn, and how they retaliated, leading to his current appearance; and how God, angry at his ingratitude, made hm a beast of burden. Further cast down by this tale, the donkey is comforted by the next portion of St. Francis' recitation, learning how one brave and true little donkey bore Mary and the unborn Jesus on their journey to Bethlehem, winning a role at the birthplace of the savior, and comforting him as an infant child with his sweet breath...

Pairing a lovely folkloric story with beautiful illustrations, Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey is an immensely appealing holiday picture book, and is the fourth title I have read from author/illustrator Robert Byrd, following upon his Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife, The Hero and the Minotaur, and his edition of the Brothers Grimm tale, The Bear and the Bird King. Legends concerning St. Francis of Assisi and his kindness to his animal friends are abundant, something made clear in the author's extensive afterword here, although I don't believe I have encountered the specific tale regarding the donkey's origin before. I'm more familiar with the story in which the saint preached to the birds, or tamed the wolf, although I have also heard the tale in which the saint's own donkey wept at his deathbed, upon being thanked for his trouble. I would be curious to know whether the creation story presented here, explaining the donkey's braying and his status as a working animal, comes from the St. Francis tradition, or whether Byrd took it from some other source, feeling it fit the narrative, and then paired it with the better-known story of the donkey who bore Mary to Bethlehem. I have not read about St. Francis extensively, so I am unsure on that point, although I do think it's fascinating that the saint apparently referred to his own body as "brother donkey," when denying himself comfort. Could this point to a sense of affinity between the state of the donkey, and the human sinner, in Francis' world view?

Leaving these questions aside, this was an enjoyable story, with a gentle, contemplative end. The accompanying artwork was lovely and expressive—I think I preferred Byrd's animals to his human figures, but overall I found the visuals here appealing. Recommended to picture book readers looking for retellings of the Christmas Story that also features some folkloric elements. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Dec 29, 2023 |
This book tells a story of saint and his ability to communicate with animals. While on the field he runs in to a donkey who feels misunderstood and that no one appreciates all the hard work he does. Then saint Francis tells him the story of creation of animals, and how special each animal is. Later on in the story he tells the donkey had very special job, or more importantly had one very special gift, that he carried baby Jesus and his mother Marry. ( )
  saeedchaar | May 5, 2019 |
This was a good little story or folk tale if you were, about how donkeys came to be in our world. It is about St. Francis, who is the patron saint of ecology. He was a lover and helper of all people, but he had a special place in his heart for animals. this story is telling us a story about St. Francis, telling a story to the donkey and how he got his funny sound and why he is the shape he is. It is a nice little story that I think kids would enjoy because who doesn't love reading about animals. ( )
  christian.mehalic | Mar 6, 2013 |
If you would like to share your joy in this book, please Click here
  societystf | Mar 26, 2016 |
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Saint Francis, who loves all animals, explains to a sullen donkey why his kind have always had to work hard, but also tells him of a donkey's role in the first Christmas.

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