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Wenceslas: The Eternal Christmas Story    by Geraldine McCaughrean & Christian Birmingham order for
by Geraldine McCaughrean
Order:  USA  Can
Corgi, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Since Good King Wenceslas has always been my favorite Christmas carol, I opened Geraldine Mccaughrean's picture book Wenceslas with anticipation. Christian Birmingham's splendid cover illustration of the monarch certainly adds to the interest, and he continues inside with gorgeous, blurred scenes - of the storm raging outdoors and firelit revels inside - as king and page brave ice and snow to take alms to a peasant.

It begins: 'Snow laid siege to the city. Winter, grim and grey, held the whole world in its grip. Only one thing to do: draw the curtains and lock all the doors.' Fires burned inside and everyone prepared - 'twelve days of Christmas feasting lay ahead, silly with song and dance.' Page Peter looks forward to all of it - 'minstrels and acrobats, jesters, pipers and magic' - and especially the storytelling. But then the King of Bohemia looks out the window. He points out a 'ragged, creeping figure' hauling firewood, and tells his page, 'let's go and share Christmas with him!' As the page prepares, everyone asks, 'You're going where?' and Peter can hardly believe it himself.

They brave the fury of the winter storm, and Peter grumbles. He's ready to give up, but his master encourages him to follow in his footsteps. They sing to keep their spirits up - and of course do reach their destination and spread Christmas cheer. The writing is lyrical, taking the reader out into the bitter cold with monarch and page. And the carol is printed at the back, along with a brief Story of Wenceslas, tracing its origins. Wenceslas, a splendid rendition of the story behind the Good King Wenceslas carol, is a must have for any holiday picture book collection.

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