25 Days – Book 8: The Friendly Beasts

Day 8 is a sweet book adapted from an old English carol. It is a story about the first Christmas as the animals await Mary and Joseph and their newborn baby. It is a unique version of the carol, with an expanded story and vibrant, unusual colors. Check out The Friendly Beasts by Laura Nelson Baker, illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov, 1957.

I have always had an odd relationship with “The Friendly Beasts” carol. At times I find it adorable and fun to sing, and other renditions are annoyingly repetitive in melody. Because of this, I love that Baker has reimagined the context of the carol. She begins by telling the story of the animals in the stable and how all creation around them is whispering of something special coming. The beasts had seen the great star and heard about the Christ Child to be born. As they think about him coming, they ponder what to give him.

When they hear the heavenly hosts and their angel music, the matter is settled in their minds and they each sing their song about what to gift the babe.

The size of this book is small, a detail that I adore. The narrative built around the song is charming. But most surprising is the style and color palette chosen by Sidjakov. Never have I imagined orange and hot pink as colors around the manger! I love the rough edges of Sidjakov’s drawings – a varied, chunky black line giving unique outline to the scenes. And the solid shapes of color add such amazing interest. This is a style that strongly conjures mid-century design to me and I love that he used it with an old English carol about a traditional, religious story. Sidjakov was an artist from Latvia who studied in Berlin, Switzerland, and later Paris. His art is so striking and brings a unique beauty that definitely speaks to his international training and work in the art world. I appreciate books like these that reimagine and bring a freshness to a familiar story.

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