adapted from a French legend and illustrated by Barbara Cooney
I posted about my favorite Christmas picture books last week. Later, I read this treasure aloud to my family and realized I should have included it. I didn't think about it at first because I read it aloud to the family outside of our picture-book-a-day activity. Some of the pages have a lot of text for a picture book, but there are illustrations on each page, black and white alternating with color, and no page without any illustrations.
There are many versions of this tale: a juggler who performs for the Virgin Mary or the Christ child as his Christmas gift because he knows nothing else, though he does so in secret for fear of being cast out of his only home. It's a marvelous tale in which the smallest most meaningless talent is given gratefully and joyfully to the Lord, and appreciated.
This particular version is far and away my favorite. First of all, there are the ever-wonderful illustrations by Barbara Cooney. Her text is also excellent, leading us to care for the poor boy left on his own. Best of all, the young juggler does not die at the end; I can read this aloud to my little ones without fear they will be too distressed.
It is quite Catholic (though I'm not sure Cooney was) in that Barnaby dances in a little chapel before Mary and the Christ child. In some versions of the tale, Christ himself blesses the juggler, but in this one, Mary comes down to tend him surrounded by angels.
It's very sad that it's out of print. Even more distressing, our library has only one copy they keep stored at the extension building so no one could discover this treasure. I'm tempted to keep checking it out every once in a while even though I recently purchased a copy of my very own.