cover image Certain Poor Shepherds: A Christmas Tale

Certain Poor Shepherds: A Christmas Tale

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas / Author Simon & Schuster $15 (128p)

Marshall applies her knowledge of the animal world (The Secret Life of Dogs) and her fictional skills (Reindeer Moon) to a rich reimagining of the Nativity story. Her pilgrims are a wise goat named Ima and a huge warrior sheepdog , Lila. They are on the mountain guarding a herd of sheep when the star appears, and they immediately sense divinity in the air. Later, they see a flock of angels invisible to their master. Struck by inspiration, they follow the star to Bethlehem, where Lila witnesses the scene at the manger. Many other animals appear in the narrative--camels, a cheetah, other dogs, a gazelle--giving Marshall an opportunity to represent natural creatures interacting and cherishing their freedom, which to animals is a form of grace. After Ima and Lila experience several dangerous adventures, an uplifting ending, in which they are rewarded by an angel whom Ima had saved from an eagle, probably will elicit some happy tears. The deliberately simple but well-honed prose makes this story suitable for family reading, and Marshall's attribution of human thoughts and emotions to her animal characters should delight sentimentalists. But the epilogue, in which Marshall muses that ""perhaps our hope of redemption lies in the fact that we are animals, not that we are people,'' will not make this book a favorite of fundamentalist Christians. Simultaneous audio. (Nov.)