This sweet picture book is a modern retelling of the story of The Little Drummer Boy, featuring an odd mixture of people and anthropomorphic animals. The illustrations are beautiful and the story about a small child who is used to being overlooked finding himself unexpectedly in a position of honour will probably appeal to most children.
In this version of the tale the drummer is a little mouse who is the smallest in his family. He finds it hard to keep up with all of his bigger brothers and sisters so his mother worries about him a lot. She makes him a little drum out of an acorn so that when he lags behind she will hear where he is. When his family and the other forest animals make fun of him for playing his drum he goes out at night to play to the stars instead. When the animals of the forest hear that a king is going to be born soon and the royal family will pass right through the forest they work hard on decorating the forest and organising a great feast. They are disappointed when the only people they see passing through are a peasant couple with a donkey but decide to have the feast anyway. Then when the little mouse is out playing his drum to the stars he encounters three kings who ask him if he saw where the couple with the donkey went. He directs them to a nearby stable then follows them there where he sees the baby king. He has no gift to bring but the mother and the baby are delighted with his drumming.
This probably shouldn't be the first book a child reads about Christmas. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are not named so the references to the Nativity might be lost on a child who isn't already familiar with the story so However, it is a lovely fairytale in its own right and the illustrations are gorgeous. There is so much detail that I spent too long looking at a couple of the pages, provoking an exasperated "just read, Mummy!" from my three year old. The little mouse's whole family is shown going about their daily tasks and it takes a moment or two to spot the young hero on each page. There are loads of cute little touches like a hedgehog's quills poking through his cap and a mouse version of the Mona Lisa on the wall.
All the animals are dressed in what look like Renaissance costumes and the depiction of Mary, Joseph and the baby mimic an Italian Renaissance painting. I know it's an artistic style thing but I think it's a pity that so much religious art and so many children's books misleadingly depict Jesus and his family as so European in appearance. Then again, since this book also features talking animals that might be an odd place to draw the line. I also tried to ignore the fact that while the forest animals are anthropomorphic the domestic animals are not, suggesting that in addition to enslaving them the humans force them to go naked and remain silent at all times, and the forest animals are apparently okay with this due to entrenched animal racism. It's a kids' book. It's probably best not to over-think it.
It's a lovely book that would be nice to bring out and read to a child at Christmas time each year until they're old enough to read it to themselves. Rated 8/10