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Prairie Christmas    by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk & Ronald Himler order for
Prairie Christmas
by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk
Order:  USA  Can
Eerdmans, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Kerrily Sapet

As the winter snow softy covers the Nebraska prairie a rider comes through the night. He arrives at the doctor's house, asking her to visit a distant neighbor who is giving birth on Christmas Eve. The year is 1880. The doctor hitches up her horse and buggy, and she and her eleven-year-old daughter Emma head out into the dark and cold night. Emma is disappointed that their Christmas plans are ruined, as she will have to wait until her mother's work is done. It will be a long and lonely night.

So begins Prairie Christmas by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, a gentle frontier story reminiscent of a night long ago when another baby was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Emma sits and rocks while her mother works. She soon begins to talk to the two children who are worried about their mother, and who have also had their Christmas interrupted. Emma leads them in scavenging for decorations to decorate a fir tree and in making Christmas porridge. Then three neighbors arrive bearing gifts for the new baby. They are worried as the birth is taking a long time, but in the end the baby is born and all celebrate together with a warm and happy joy.

Van Steenwyk does a wonderful job of quietly paralleling Christ's birth. The soft watercolor illustrations paint the pages with beautiful muted colors, adding rich texture to the story. In the end, Prairie Christmas also tells the tale of Emma's growing up on Christmas Eve. Through her actions, she learns that helping others is sometimes the best way to make one's self feel better. Both children and adults will enjoy this gentle holiday book, as it offers glimpses of life in the 1800s, and shows heartwarming family spirit.

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