A holiday tale broadcast on the BCC has an enduring appeal
Father Christmas and the Donkey. By Elizabeth Clark. Illustrated by Jan Ormerod. Viking, 32 pp., varied prices. Ages 2 and up.
The story of the birth of Christ is at once poignant and joyful, and great Christmas stories – including Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol – reflect both aspects. One of the rare picture books that does this is the exquisite Father Christmas and the Donkey.
A donkey – old, lame and abandoned – finds his life transformed by helping Father Christmas deliver the last of his gifts in this timeless fable. The plot could have devolved into treacle. But Elizabeth Clark invests the story with real feeling by showing, in the subtlest of ways, how the old donkey yearns to be needed: “The sack was heavy, but donkey’s back was strong, and though his leg was stiff, it was wonderful how little it hurt.” And Jan Ormerod’s pictures enhance the deft blend of realism and magic that helps to make the story so appealing. Ormerod begins by using mainly tones of blue, gray, black and white accented with silver. As the donkey’s life begins to change, she adds others until full color appears in the last page.
More than a decade ago, the BBC broadcast Father Christmas and the Donkey, and it has had a well-deserved afterlife. Like The Polar Express, this is a picture book that many children will enjoy long after they have started reading longer works of fiction.
Published: 1993. Father Christmas and the Donkey first appeared in the collection Twilight and Fireside.
Furthermore: Elizabeth Clark (1875–1972) was a well-known author, storyteller and lecturer in Britain and the United States. In the 1920s she was a broadcaster on the BBC Children’s Hour program. Born in Australia, Jan Ormerod www.harpercollins.com/authors/17930/Jan_Ormerod/index.aspx?authorID=17930 is a well-known illustrator of children’s books. Her first book, Sunshine, won the Australian Picture Book of the Year Award and other honors. She lives in England.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.