cover image THE DAY THE ANIMALS CAME: A Story of Saint Francis Day

THE DAY THE ANIMALS CAME: A Story of Saint Francis Day

Frances Ward Weller, , illus. by Loren Long. . Philomel, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23630-3

One of the most awe-inspiring, crowd-pleasing events in New York City may well be the Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, which corresponds to the Feast Day of St. Francis in October; unfortunately, the occasion receives somewhat tepid treatment here. Weller's (Riptide) tidy plot centers on an immigrant child, Ria, who is brought to the service by her neighbor Mrs. B (two Yiddish expressions early on point to Mrs. B's own background), where the girl marvels at the astonishing mix of people and pets (and later at the farm animals, camel and elephant that are led in procession into the cathedral). When a friendly official at the cathedral sees Ria's homesickness for the pets she left behind, she assigns Ria the task of carrying in a duck to be blessed; as the bishop blesses the duck and the other animals, Ria sees that "if all creatures were her family, then maybe all the world was home." The neatness of the story line blunts its impact, and readers are unlikely to assimilate Ria's lesson themselves. Long's (I Dream of Trains) stylized paintings reflect knowledge of the cathedral and the ceremony, but his distortions of scale and elongated forms distance the audience from the emotions of the celebrants, including Ria. Endnotes add information about St. Francis and the cathedral. Ages 5-9. (Sept.)