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Donn Kushner
Illustrated by Nancy Jackson Toronto, Annick Press, 1993. 72pp, paper, $4.95
ISBN 1-55037-289-0. Distributed by Firefly Books. CIP

Reviewed by Dave Jenkinson

Volume 22 Number 2
1994 March/April

Kushner's Christmas fantasy has the potential to become a seasonal classic.

Shortly after World War I, Brian Newgate, a parentless, thieving lad from London's streets, is sent to Canada as one of the "Home Children", who were put to work on farms short of adult help. After two unpleasant experiences on Ontario farms, Brian runs away and ends up Christmas Eve taking secret refuge in a church in the town of Merchantville, where he encounters two "talking" statues carved into wooden pillars.

The pair, Kings Caspar and Melchior, inform Brian that they were once part of a nativity scene carved twenty years before by Jabez Lignum, but that the other freestanding statues had been sold by the "pious" congregation because the now deceased Lignum had used real and "unsavoury" people from the community as models for his statues' faces. For example, Mary was an unwed parlour maid, while Joseph was a freethinking, evolutionary-teaching schoolmaster. Since the parishioners "never would have welcomed the originals in the church ... naturally they didn't want to look at the statues."

Brian's quest given him by the kings, is to reunite the nativity scene by ''stealing" the statues of people and animals, which are scattered throughout Merchantville. Aided by Lignum's "ghost," Brian is ultimately successful, and he is given the choice of leaving, or staying and learning how the carver does his work. As Brian was offered a choice, readers can choose between a prosaic or magical conclusion to the book.

Jackson's ten full-page black-and-white woodcuts, which are scattered throughout the work, perfectly mirror the story's mood and theme. A Thief among Statues can be enjoyed by a wide readership with younger readers simply appreciating the moving story-line and older readers recognizing and exploring the biting satire that flows through this slim volume. Kushner's superb use of language would also make the book a fine read-aloud. A must purchase!

Grades 3 to 8 / Ages 8 to 13

Dave Jenkison teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, Manitoba

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