For a little different twist on the familiar Christmas story, The Little Shepherd Girl by Juliann Henry is an attractive choice.
Richly illustrated by Jim Madsen, The Little Shepherd Girl introduces us to a little girl from biblical times asking - once again - if she can tend the family's flock of sheep that night. "No, Sarah," her father says. "Daughters are meant for weaving and baking flat cakes. Only sons can protect the flock from a hungry wolf. That is just the way of things." Not long after, we find Sarah pretending to shepherd a flock...but her father calls her home to perform more feminine chores. Then one day Sarah's father - who clearly loves her a great deal - decides he'll let Sarah tend the flock with her male cousins. Sarah is thrilled, and works harder than the boys that night, enjoying every moment.
But as she lives her dream of tending the sheep, something wondrous happens. Stars begin falling to the ground...then speak! "Gloria! Peace on earth!" They are angels, and they announce the birth of Jesus Christ. Sarah tries to find her cousins so she, too, can see the Christ child, but in the confusion of the angels' announcement, they have run off, forgetting her. All alone, Sarah takes the sheep into town, trying to find Jesus. Just as she's about to give up, Sarah spots a bright star directly over a stable. When Sarah's cousins finally arrive, they see Sarah holding the baby King.
Dawn breaks, and Sarah heads her sheep home. Sarah's father has been worried, but he rejoices in the news of Jesus...and he's certain one of those stars that turned into an angel lead his little shepherd girl safely home.
What I Like: Madsen's illustrations are beautiful. They do a terrific job of showing a little girl's frustration, determination, confusion, and joy - and her father's great love for her. The story is unique in that a female character is central. In an interview with Novel Journey, the author said: "I wrote this story so that young girls would find their place in the biblical story. As a child I remember grumbling to my mother that I didn’t like Bible stories because 'all the good parts are taken by men.'"
What I Dislike: Nothing, really, although the author's note at the beginning of the book confuses me. She writes that contrary to popular modern belief, girls were frequently shepherds during biblical times. This is an interesting fact that I didn't know...but it does make me wonder why the protagonist in The Little Shepherd Girl is struggling to break into an occupation the story itself claims was for males only.
Overall Rating: Very Good.
Age Appeal: According to Amazon, 9 - 12, but I'd say more like 2 - 10.
Publishing Info: David C. Cook, 2007, ISBN: 0781445132; hard back, $14.99.
Special Info: Read an interview with the author at Novel Journey, and receive free coloring book pages and Sunday school lessons at the publisher's website.