Mining the Classics: A Traditional Tale, Re-Worked
Charles Tazewell's venerable story of a homesick and at-loose-ends little angel began almost accidentally in 1939 as an emergency script commissioned hurriedly to fill in a gap in movie production, and of course has gone on to become a standard Christmas tale.
Paul Micich's gorgeously illustrated The Littlest Angel perfectly satisfies the emotional nature of this old-fashioned tale without ever lapsing into the maudlin execution of some earlier editions. His little angel is boyish without being too cute, and his heaven is lovely without lapsing into hackneyed portrayals. Those final words, as the young angel's rough box holding the beloved treasures of his earthly life, are presented to welcome the Christ Child, still stir the soul:
Of all the gifts of all the angels, I find that this small box pleases me more. Its contents are of the earth and of man, and my son is born to be king of both. They are the things my Son, too, will know and love and cherish and then, reluctantly, will leave behind him when his task is done.
I loved this story as a third grader, so much that I practically memorized it word for word. When my teacher, a former librarian, discovered that I could recite the story from memory, she quickly volunteered me as a storyteller to the other classes on my grade. I was a hit, probably because my classmates were only too happy to put aside their busy-work Christmas crossword puzzles and their teachers were glad to give their voices a rest for a few minutes while we all waited for the final bell. Since then I've always had a soft spot for The Littlest Angel, and Paul Micich's sweetly lovely but unsentimental illustrations breathe new life into this old midcentury staple.