Anna Marie Eloise Hernandez's O Holy Night
illustrated by Julie Freeman
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A nativity scene comes to life
A discarded rocking horse finds himself unwanted in an alley in the dead of winter, hoping for rescue but not expecting it.
An aging fiddler, blind in one eye like the rocking horse, finds the poor creature. He takes him home.
The fiddler is nearly as discarded as his new friend. The old man's own friends have died, and now his loyal dog. His worn-out appearance keeps him from getting the work he craves in the downtrodden village he lives just outside of. Even the church turns him away.
He still has something that gives him meaning, though. He keeps a magnificent nativity scene which he grows over time. Not just baby Jesus and his parents, but camels and elephants, sheep and shepherds, kings and angels.
So why not a rocking horse?
The old fiddler fixes up the old horse, making him fit for the procession to Bethlehem, but there's no fixing up the old fiddler. He returns from looking for work every day more dejected. The woodpile dwindles, the pantry grows empty. The old man's self image reaches the same kind of depths the rocking horse felt alone in that alley.
Feeling the fiddler's pain, the rocking horse prays to the infant in front of him.
Save my master from misery.
The rocking horse's prayer has a magical - perhaps miraculous - effect. A star brightens and bears down on the nativity. The other beings come to life.
Soon pilgrims are coming from far and near to see the old man's living nativity. The pilgrims bring food and money, but it isn't only the fiddler who benefits. The nativity brings to the village itself rejuvenation (and work for the fiddler).
Ms. Hernandez's text is earnest and sweet, as are Ms. Freeman's illustrations.
The setting for the story is the lead-up to Christmas, a timeless Christmas that could be a thousand years ago, or a thousand years from now. The village's carolers can be heard throughout the story. Their carol, O Holy Night, lends the story its tone while its lyrics lend it its theme.
There are some minor problems with punctuation and pronoun use (this is a self-published book that could have benefited from another edit), but none likely to affect anyone's enjoyment of the story. O Holy Night is a heartfelt effort, full of Christ and not Claus, a delightful aid for remembering the reason for the season.
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