A Christmas story for every child who needs to feel special

Who's the best for the job? Not who you might think

Who is the best for the Nativity job? Not who you might think

I love all kinds of books, especially children’s books. They have great plots. If you want to learn how to plot, grab some kids’ books from your local children’s library.

Children give up on any book that doesn’t hold their attention. This one will. I found it tucked away in the public library – I’m sure you could find it. The story also has a nice extra theme running through it.

The Lion, the Unicorn and Me needs to be read to every child who has felt he or she isn’t special. There is a little grey donkey out there who knows exactly how you feel. He’s an ordinary donkey who turns out to be not so ordinary after all. Quite special, in fact.

The Donkey’s Christmas Story – the book’s sub-title – is a funny book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has some lovely twists, but I won’t spoil the plot – the following is not really a plot spoiler.

Our modest little donkey finds himself in a contest to select the right animal to help the soon-to-be-born Baby Jesus and his family. The competition is tough – and not above some verbal jostling either. The lion whispers that the donkey is sure to “make an ass of himself”.

“I did. I am. A proper ass,” responds our honest, sweet-natured little beast.

Of course he wins the coveted job.

This is a Scholastic Children’s Book. I have some reservations about Scholastic and the quality of its books, and this one isn’t perfect. The illustrations are charming but not quite top notch. They do have a delicacy about them though, and children will enjoy the gentle colours and bit of sparkle provided by the touches of gold. But it the story that really shines. It is both unusual and poetic. The words and sentences have a lyrical quality, almost the rhythm of a poem.

However, there are some complex words and ideas that parents of younger children might like to skip over – the unicorn being “known to be good with virgins” is an example. This means it isn’t quite clear what age the book is aimed at, and whether it is for reading to children or for independent readers; probably a bit of both.

But the charm of the story and the idea that a modest, self-effacing donkey can shine at such an important job is a good message to convey to any child, and especially the less confident child. Our donkey lists not being important or clever, or beautiful among his weaknesses but ends up shining in many ways.

So poetic and amusing was the book that I read it several times.

The Lion, the Unicorn and Me – The Donkey’s Christmas Story is by Jeanette Winterson, with illustrations by Rosalind MacCurrach. I found it in the public library, but as my edition was published in 2011 it should be easy to buy. Could be worth putting on the Christmas buy list, if you start planning in September like me.

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