Shepherds to the Rescue by Sister Maria Grace Dateno

Author: Sister Maria Grace Dateno, FSP

Illustrated: Paul Cunningham

Published: Pauline Books and Media.

Age Range: 6 – 10 years.

Why weren’t there books like this around when I was young? This is such an interesting little book that your kids will love reading.  Shepherds to the Rescue is the first in a series of ‘time trekking’ books in which three children travel back in time to explore significant Gospel events. In the first book, Hanna, Caleb and Noah are transported back through time to meet the shepherds who were present at the birth of Jesus. 

What a great idea!  A group of time traveling children who find themselves on the outskirts of Bethlehem with a group of shepherds!  No time is wasted as we are plunged into the adventure.  By page three the children have already been transported back in time. Young readers will easily accept the premise of time travel.  I found myself quickly turning the pages to see what would happen next.  The pacing is good, with time taken to get to know each of the characters and a steady build up to the climax of the story.

This little book will appeal to both boys and girls.  The main narrator is a boy, and he enjoys learning about how to use sling shots and use traditional tools.  Some cultural diversity is explored as Benjamin explains the differing roles of boys and girls.  There is also reference to the Jewish passover festival. Interesting details are included to make the story and its characters more authentic.  Attention is given to how people dress, tools used, customs of the time and the landscape. 

Illustrations are cheerfully large and lush, although in black and white, and will help readers identify the characters and better understand the story. The illustrations are strategically placed and help bring the story and setting to life.

Sister Maria Grace Dateno

On the surface the story is straightforward – children travel through time, meet shepherds, have an adventure, learn about the birth of Jesus and come home. But there are themes running through the story that add interest and depth.  The idea of “The Good Shepherd” is beautifully portrayed.  Each shepherd knows his sheep by name and goes to great lengths to protect each and every one of his sheep. The children experience firsthand the devotion and care, as well as courage, of the “the good shepherds” that they meet.  The final battle with wolves, throwing stones and pushing ahead through danger to bring the sheep to safety will appeal to every young (and older!) reader.

Before we know it, the children are suddenly transported back home again.  I like that time is taken at the end for the characters to reflect on the real Christmas story, and to explore the biblical sources of the story. I recommend you buy this book for your children or your class library.  It hits the mark!  It accomplishes what it sets out to do.  It is entertaining, informative and brims full of Christian messages

Teacher/Homeschool Resources. 

  • This would be a great read-a-loud for the family or class.
  • Discussion topics could include:

Differences between then and now (no school, becoming a shepherd from a young age, clothes, working with dad and uncles, food, weapons, life without tv)

And

Similarities:  wanting to do your best in your role, caring about each other, taking responsibility  

Hands on Activity:

  • making a sling shot
  • a leather (vinyl) bucket
  • building a sheepfold (either life size or using icy pole sticks and blocks)
  • Plenty of ideas on pinterest for making a sheepfold
  • The ‘where is he/she game’.  The child who is ‘it’ closes their eyes. The whole class sits down on the floor, one child goes outside.  ‘It’ must work out who is missing. Reread John (10: 11-16) on page 67 of the book.

Geography, Life Learning:

  • A trip to a modern day sheep farm – what is the life of a modern day shepherd (a sheep farmer – has motor bike, sheep dog, moves sheep less often, needs good fences, dams, occasional sheep dip, medication, shearing, selling off for meat) 

Children can then write down the differences between the shepherd boy in the book and a modern-day sheep farmer.  Younger children could draw pictures and talk about their ideas.

Religion/History/Culture:  

  • Explore the Jewish passover.: Explain the tradition and story behind the Jewish passover. 
  • Bake and share unleavened bread. 
  • Perform a class play with the youngest child asking questions about each of the foods or asking about the story of the Passover.

Writing/English:

  • What would you like to ask Benjamin?  Would you ask about his life, his favourite sheep, his most interesting day? Write out some questions that you would like to ask him.
  • Now, imagine you are Benjamin.  Write down the answers to the above questions.
  • What would you like to ask the shepherds about Mary, Joseph, Jesus or the Angels? Write down some questions that you would ask.  Discuss these questions in a small group – what might some of the answers be?
  • Is there anything in your life that you have responsibility for? (younger sibling, a pet, being on time, homework, chores – what are they?) Write down the things that you have responsibility for. 

Let’s write a prayer:

  • To Jesus the good shepherd asking Him to protect you, to stay near, to lead you and guide you to safe places.
  • Ask Jesus to help you when you need to be responsible, courageous or caring.