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Good King Wenceslas

Elizabeth Hunter
Elizabeth Hunter

Author: John M. Neale
Illustrator: Tim Ladwig
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2005

Here’s a book you can read or sing with children. In Good King Wenceslas, award-winning illustrator Tim Ladwig (also a frequent contributor to The Little Lutheran) brings meaning to the text of the beautiful, familiar Christmas carol. Each gorgeous painting helps explain a line or two of the song to children ages 3 and up.

book coverWritten by Anglican pastor John M. Neale in 1853, the carol tells how a Christian ruler and his page shared what they had with people living in poverty. Neale hoped to inspire children and families to be generous.

Ladwig’s choice of warm, golden hues for the insides of Wenceslas’ castle and the poor man’s cottage stands in stark contrast to his cold blues, grays and purples for the winter night that the ruler and his page brave, together with their dog. Children can see from Ladwig’s paintings how the king’s castle is overflowing with cheerful abundance (smiles, Christmas foods, breads and wood for the fire). Yet the snug cottage of the poor man who Wenceslas visits is rich in love and family. As the carol says, Wenceslas and his page find a blessing for themselves in blessing the poor.

The sheet music for the carol is included in the book. There is also a historical page that tells children about St. Stephen’s Day, Neale and Vaclav Wenceslas, the 10th-century Bohemian royal who inspired the song. We learn that it was Wenceslas’ grandmother who nurtured his Christian faith. When his father died, Wenceslas, at age 13, wanted to be a fair and compassionate leader.

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