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Holiday Gift Guide – The Christmas Cat by Maryann MacDonald

Could a cat have become baby Jesus’s pet?
Find out in this engaging picture book perfect for Christmas.

The Christmas Cat cover image

The Christmas Cat by Maryann MacDonald with illustrations by Amy June Bates, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013.

You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to find something special about The Christmas Cat (Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 3-5) by Maryann MacDonald with illustrations by Amy June Bates. All that’s required to be swept back in time to the nativity is to love cats, crave an imaginative tale and desire dreamy artwork. “Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of La Madonna del Gatto, which show Mary cuddling both the baby Jesus and a cat,” MacDonald has crafted a story that will captivate the hearts of little ones while introducing them to the nativity and the power of love bonding a baby to his pet.

On the night that Jesus was born he cried like every baby does. All the animals in the stable tried to quiet the infant, from cooing doves to lowing cows. Even the donkey brayed a lullaby to no avail. Joseph and Mary fretted, wondering how to settle the child. But it wasn’t until a tiny kitten made his way onto Mary’s lap and nuzzled baby Jesus’s neck and let out a “calm, contented purr” that the newborn’s crying began to wane. As time passed the two grew close and the kitten became a cat, always at Jesus’s side to help him fall asleep.

When an angel alerted Joseph that a jealous King Herod might harm this baby destined for greatness, Joseph knew he, Mary and young Jesus had to flee. In the rush to leave Bethlehem there was scant time to find Jesus’s beloved cat. “We can’t leave him behind!” cried Mary. She knew her baby would be inconsolable without his pet. Joseph and Mary tried to quietly cross the desert to Egypt to avoid Herod’s soldiers, but a screaming baby Jesus could bring harm to the three travelers. Nothing, not his mother’s warm, soft embrace nor the donkey’s “rocking gait” could lull him to sleep. But a clever cat had hidden in the side basket and baby Jesus’s wailing woke him up. With the crying now subsided, Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus and an adorable, devoted cat could safely make their way to Egypt. “Love had saved them.”

Could the legend of a kitty being born on the same night as Jesus possibly be true? You decide. I know Bates’s beautiful illustrations will stay with me long after Christmas ends and it will be hard to see a nativity scene and not search for a little kitty in a corner somewhere.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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With a Mighty Hand, Adapted by Amy Ehrlich

With a Mighty Hand: The Story in The Torah, (Candlewick Press, $29.99, Available on audio, All Ages) adapted by Amy Ehrlich with paintings by Daniel Nevins, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

With a Mighty Hand adapted by Amy Ehrlich with paintings by Daniel Nevins

With a Mighty Hand: The Story in The Torah adapted by Amy Ehrlich with paintings by Daniel Nevins, Candlewick Press, 2013.

The High Holy Days or Hanukkah are ideal times to introduce children to Amy Ehrlich’s With a Mighty Hand. This reader-friendly adaptation of the Torah covers the first five books of the Hebrew Bible; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  But you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this beautiful volume. Christians, who refer to the Torah as the Old Testament, will also enjoy the carefully constructed through line Ehrlich’s worked hard to convey in what is a seamless series of stories to come back to again and again. 

Whether you choose to start at the beginning with “Let there be light!” or skip ahead to “I am Joseph, Your Brother” in Genesis, you’ll be pulled into the biblical tales not only by the beautifully wrought words, but by the stunning and evocative artwork Nevins has designed with paint on wood.  Together they manage to make the reader feel in awe, that they are holding something special, something to be cherished. They honor the original text in a re-telling that makes the Torah accessible for first timers or for individuals with a lifetime of biblical knowledge.

With a Mighty Hand is so much more than just the story of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Moses. It’s about “genealogy, law, and ritual.” It’s about faith. About struggle. It’s about a people who to this day still question the Torah’s writing since there is so much contradiction, confusion in parts (sometimes due to translation) and mystery. That is why, as Ehrlich states in her introduction “it is ever new.” As a companion to our synagogue visits, not just on holidays but throughout the year, With a Mighty Hand will provide my family with a wonderful reminder of our rich heritage while also serving as a resource for countless conversations in the years to come.

 With a Might Hand Includes: 

• an introduction by the adapter 

• a Torah genealogy 

• a map of the region 

• annotated endnotes 

• a bibliography 

• an artist’s note 

Click here to read Amy Ehrlich’s enlightening introduction to the book.

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