Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: Amahl and the Night Visitors adapted by Frances Frost, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin (1952)

Amahl, a poor shepherd boy who uses a crutch to walk, has an active imagination, and he has often told fibs to his mother, telling her of fanciful things he claims to have seen or heard. One night, though, when he sees a huge bright star in the sky, followed by three kings knocking at his own front door, his mother has no choice but to believe him. As the kings speak of the Child to whom they wish to bring beautiful gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Amahl's mother laments the fact that no one brings such precious items to her own child. Meanwhile, Amahl asks nosy questions and wonders whether such powerful kings might have a cure for the condition which cripples him and keeps the family poor.

This book is a narrative adaptation of Gian Carlo Menotti's 1951 opera, which I first learned about by watching the 1978 film in music class when I was in elementary school. Using all the original dialogue from the opera and her own beautifully written descriptions of the characters' actions, Frances Frost retells the story of Amahl and the three kings who visit his home, giving young readers a chance to experience the story either instead of or in preparation for seeing the opera. Illustrations by two-time Caldecott Medalist Roger Duvoisin supplement the text with full-color spreads and black-and-white line drawings depicting key scenes.

Leading up to this past Sunday's Feast of the Epiphany, my four-year-old daughter and I  read the book and watched the 1978 film together. I found the film on YouTube divided into 5 parts, so I also divided the book accordingly, and we read and watched a small section each day of the week. Because the show is only an hour, and it's in English, it's really a perfect first opera for a preschooler, and this book made it even more accessible. Reading each scene ahead of watching it helped my daughter understand what was happening and what to anticipate,  and if she had a question after the fact, it was easy to find that spot in the dialogue without having to watch and re-watch the YouTube videos.

Though the music is an integral part of appreciating this story, the lyrics and plot are almost as important, and this book is about as a perfect a non-musical adaptation of the opera as one could hope to find. I plan to make reading and watching Amahl and The Night Visitors a yearly Epiphany tradition in my family, and I would encourage other Christian moms to do the same!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm going to make a note in my calendar to do this next year for Epiphany!