Saturday, December 6, 2014

Felix Navidad!

Nope, that's not a typo. Janet Denison's recent Christmas book really is titled !Felix Navidad! not feliz Navidad (Spanish for "Merry Christmas") - because the story revolves around a donkey named Felix.

Felix is the beloved pet to twins Natalia and Hector, who live in Puerto Rico. Natalia's just been cast as Mary in the school Christmas play, which will be filmed and aired live by a local news crew. Hector, the more reserved of the two, is disappointed to "only" be cast as a shepherd, but proud that his prized donkey will also be featured in the play. Felix is a miniature Sicilian donkey - the type with a dark cross on his back. Legend has it that this is the type of donkey Jesus rode on Palm Sunday - and when it couldn't bear to see Christ on the cross, it turned away, the shadow of the cross falling across its back, where it remains to this day. Hector grooms Felix carefully, but doesn't neglect his neighbor, Dona Maria, who's baby will be born any day. He helps her bring her groceries home.

On the day of the play, it storms. Hector must walk Felix to the play, and he's disappointed his beautiful donkey becomes wet and muddy in the blustery rain. When they approach the location of the play, Hector hears a woman shouting to him. It's Dona Maria. She's about to have her baby, but the pouring rain has washed out the bridge that would get her to the hospital. Hector helps her onto Felix and he leads the pair to the school where the play will be performed.

Practically the whole town has turned out for the Christmas play - including a doctor. The doctor leads Dona Maria into another room. The film crew says they must start the play - it must go on the air right in a few minutes. And so the children - and a rather bedraggled Felix - get into positions and begin the play.

When the play ends, there is great applause - then silence, as the crowd hears a baby's cry coming from another room. The doctor appears and lets everyone know the baby's name: Jesus Hector Gonzales - named for Christ, and the young man who helped Maria. The cameras turn onto Hector and Felix, and the reporters call them heroes. Then one reporter says they should give the donkey a new name: Felix Navidad. Everyone laughs.

That night, Hector confesses to his mother that he wanted to play Joseph so he might be noticed by the crowd. He feels badly now that he was so selfish. His mother replies, "Today God chose you to play the most important part. He wanted you to be a friend to our neighbor and her new baby." Hector replies, "I am glad I was chosen to be a shepherd. God chose the shepherds to see the Baby Jesus before anyone else and I am happy God chose me to help today."

What I Like: This is a sweet, well written story that reminds us of God's great command to love and help others. My children and I enjoyed learning about the legend of the Sicilian donkey, and throughout, Rachel Everett's illustrations brought to life the vibrant Puerto Rican location. 

What I Dislike: For those of us who didn't take Spanish in high school, it would have been nice to have in-text pronunciation guides for the Spanish words sprinkled here and there. (There is, however, such a guide on the last page of the book.)

Overall Rating: Excellent.

Age Appeal: I'd say about 4 - 10.

Publishing Info: Kings Time Printing Press, 2012; ASIN: B00AMNKGZO; digital, 30 pgs., $2.99

Buy at Amazon for just $2.99

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