Saturday, December 15, 2012

On the Feast of Stephen: Good King Wenceslas illustrated by Omar Rayyan

From a tall, narrow window, King Wenceslas watched the sun hang on crimson clouds and die away. There, against a row of shadowy trees was a dark speck--a man, perhaps, stooped and serching for wood to warm his family.

"Come quickly, lad," called the King. "Look! Do you see him?"

"Is he one of us?"

"No, Sire," said his page. "None of us would be out there!"

On a mission to teach his young page the meaning of Christmas, King Wenceslas takes him out into the snow and darkness to bring food and cheer to the home of the peasant they see from the window of the king's chamber. This newly illustrated version of the familiar carol, often heard but not so often sung in its entirety.  Good King Wenceslas (Deseret, 2012), is retold by Jane Seymour and extravagantly illustrated by Omar Rayyan, both narrative and lyrics  illustrating the old carol's evergreen message:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Seymour's stately retelling and Rayyan's sumptuous medieval-style illustrations make this one more than just another holiday story, augumented as it is by text boxes explaining the history of knights, castles and pages and with an accompanying CD of actress Jane Seymour's reading and the music of the carol performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Each Christmas brings its own beautiful book, such as Newbery authors Kate DiCamillo's Great Joy and Linda Sue Park's The Third Gift, both coincidentally and exquisitely illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Good King Wenceslas, with its glorious illustrations and timely retelling of the blessings of charity, seems to be that book for this season.

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