December 25 – Christmas Day

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About the Holiday

Christmas is anticipated all year round for the joy of giving, the fun of receiving, and the message of hope the holiday gives. Honoring the birth of Jesus, Christmas is a religious observation celebrated with hymns, special services, prayers, and remembrance of others. Incorporating long-held traditions from around the world, the holiday also welcomes Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Papá Noel, Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost” in Russian), Julenissen (“Christmas Gnome” in Norway), and many other names, who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve. The day inspires family dinners, home baking, parties with friends, and togetherness.

The Christmas Cat

Written by Maryann Macdonald | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

 

“Jesus was beautiful, like all babies,” but on the night he was born he cried and cried. Mary tried everything to comfort him—a warm blanket, feeding him, rocking him—but nothing soothed him. Looking on, the other animals longed to help. “Doves fluttered down from the rafters, settling on the creaky stable door.” Although their coos were soft and musical, the baby did not stop crying.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, courtesy of amyjunebates.blogspot.com/

The gentle brown cow tried next, lowing the lullaby she used on her own calf, but Jesus cried louder. And even though the donkey meant well, her braying “made Jesus cry loudest of all.” Then from a hiding place a little kitten crept “step by careful step” toward Mary and Jesus. Leaping lightly onto Mary’s lap, the kitten “nuzzled Jesus’s neck. Then he began to purr, a calm, contented purr that came from deep inside.” Jesus gazed at the tiny kitten, and as he touched the soft fur his crying quieted. The barn grew silent and the new family and all the animals slept soundly.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, courtesy of amyjunebates.blogspot.com/

As time passed and the kitten grew into a cat, he and Jesus became close companions, playing together under the fig tree. When it was naptime, “it was the cat’s turn to watch over the baby and purr him to sleep.” But one day their peaceful life was shattered. Jesus’s father, Joseph, learned through an angel that King Herod was looking for Jesus. Harod had heard rumors that Jesus would grow up to be king one day. “Herod’s soldiers, the angel said, were racing toward Bethlehem, hoping to find the baby Jesus and destroy him.”

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus hurried to leave their home, packing everything they had to go now—in the middle of the night—to escape detection and flee to Egypt. With all their goods piled onto their donkey, Mary and Joseph were ready to leave. But where was Jesus’s cat? “Mary and Joseph combed through the tall grass, searched the shadows near the fire and looked high in the branches of the fig tree. But the cat was nowhere to be found.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

It was much too dangerous to linger, and so, sadly, the family left Bethlehem without their beloved pet. In the chill night air, Jesus was uncomfortable; he missed his cat. “He clenched his tiny fists and screamed.” Joseph worried. Were the campfires on the horizon Herod’s soldiers? Could they hear Jesus crying? Both Mary and Joseph missed the calming influence of their cat. Suddenly, Jesus heard a familiar wail. Out of the basket tied to the donkey’s flank popped his companion. Jesus reached out for him, and the cat leaped into his arms.

After the two had greeted each other as long lost friends, they fell asleep to the cat’s tender purring as “the donkey carried them far away from Herod’s soldiers and their terrible swords, far away to the safe land of Egypt. Love had saved them.” As the two grew older together, they loved each other as only a pet and it’s child can. “They were meant for each other…from the very first Christmas night, in the bright starlight.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, courtesy of amyjunebates.blogspot.com/

In her Author’s Note following the text, Maryann Macdonald reveals that her story is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of La Madonna del Gatto or the Madonna of the Cat, in which the baby Jesus is depicted holding and playing with a cat as he sits on his mother’s lap, as well as legends of a cat that lived in the stable where Jesus was born.

Maryann Macdonald’s gentle story of the baby Jesus soothed by a kitten on the night he was born and saved by this same pet on his flight to Egypt will captivate young children. The focus on the child-animal bond will delight little ones with pets of their own and makes the Christmas story immediately accessible. Macdonald’s lyrical language beautifully portrays the emotion and setting of the story, and she establishes the danger faced by the family with age-appropriate suspense.

Amy June Bates enhances the story with gorgeous traditional paintings of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, the stable and its animals, and the nighttime journey to Egypt. Her watercolor, gauche, and pencil illustrations glow with warm ambers, greens, and midnight blues. The barn animals are sweetly gentle and earnest in their attempts to soothe the crying baby, and the realistic portraits of the family demonstrate their love for each other. Children will especially like the images of Jesus and his pet cat cuddling and playing together. The final illustration of Mary, Jesus, and their cat echoes the drawing by Leonardo da Vinci that accompanies the Author’s Note.

For pet owners and animal lovers, The Christmas Cat would make a meaningful addition to their holiday collection.

Ages 3 – 6

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013 | ISBN 978-0803734982

To learn more about Maryann Macdonald and her books, visit her website!

To view a portfolio of artwork by Amy June Bates, visit her blog!

Christmas Day Activity

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Cute Christmas Cat Coloring Page

 

This cute kitty is all decked out for the holiday! Have fun with this printable Cute Christmas Cat Coloring Page!

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You can find The Christmas Cat at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 24 – It’s National Umbrella Month

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About the Holiday

The rainy season is coming—do you know where your umbrella is? March, with its unpredictable weather has been designated National Umbrella Month to commemorate those useful objects that keep us dry in the rain and shaded from the sun’s rays. Invented in China over 4,000 years ago, the umbrella underwent many changes before becoming the pocket-sized helper it is today. To celebrate this month, check on the condition of your umbrella or treat yourself to a new one!

The Big Umbrella

By Amy June Bates | Cowritten with Juniper Bates

 

A red umbrella sits at the front door, waiting…. “It is a big, friendly umbrella.” No matter if raindrops or sunshine or even autumn leaves are falling, the umbrella is ready to go to work. “It likes to spread its arms wide” and offer shelter to whomever needs it.

Under the umbrella there’s room for four—and more. The umbrella welcomes anyone, no matter what you look like or what you’re wearing or “how many legs you have.” And if it seems crowded, don’t worry—there’s always room for more. So come on under! You’ll be amazed at what you find!

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

In Amy June and Juniper Bates’ sparing text, there’s a world of freedom and welcome. Amy June’s gorgeous watercolors of a rain-soaked day complete the story as a walk down a city street creates a microcosm of life under the umbrella.

The sweet, red umbrella smiles at every one who comes by  looking for shelter, always stretching to accommodate another. When a ballerina and a runner need protection from the pelting rain, they easily join two already under the umbrella with room to spare. The very tall webbed creature the four meet next doesn’t even fit on the page, but it does fit nicely under the umbrella. And the cute hairy guy who’s carrying a briefcase and is as tall as the bus stop sign? Sure! There’s plenty of room!

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

As the group continues on its way, readers can see the legs of young and old, cowboys and roller skaters, dogs and chicks all walking together and protected by the ever widening umbrella. Children will like to predict what will happen when the umbrella passes a crowded crosswalk. In a double-page spread the sun begins to peek out from behind the clouds just in time for this diverse group to enjoy an afternoon at the park—all shaded by the red umbrella.

When readers turn from the mottled blue and green rainy-day pages where the faces of the fellow travelers are hidden onto Bates’ final light and bright two-page park scene, they can’t help but smile and feel their heart lift even more. As the individuals are revealed, the sense of inclusion is heartening and affirming. The park, dotted with daisies, bustles with kids and adults of all ethnicities, abilities, and personalities playing, talking, biking, painting, and gathering together.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

The Big Umbrella is an uplifting and inspiring story that children of all ages will respond to. The book would be an excellent choice for classroom libraries to open discussions of inclusion and a sweet addition to home bookshelves for rainy day or sunny day story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1534406582

To learn more about Amy June Bates and see portfolios of her art and books, visit her website.

National Umbrella Day Activity

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Find the Matching Umbrellas

 

These umbrellas and raincoats were mixed up in the wind! Can you find the matching pairs? Look carefully! How will you match them up?

Rainy Day Mix Up Umbrellas Matching Puzzle

Picture Book Review