Benny Lindelauf and Marieke Nelissen
They Had Counted Their Sheep
A warm Christmas tale with an original twist
Some years ago, a sentence from a Christmas song inspired Benny Lindelauf to create a musical performance for children. Last year, the book of the same name was published. They Had Counted Their Sheep is a warm Christmas tale for children of around seven and up.
While Lindelauf’s youth novels excel with their stylistic fireworks, this new story has a more classic atmosphere. Gili, a shepherd girl, accidentally lets a sheep escape one night, and she ventures out into the inhospitable desert landscape around Bethlehem to look for the runaway. She wants to prove to her father and brothers that girls can look after sheep, too. Since her mother died, she has been the only female in the family, and her relatives openly express their doubts about her ability to herd sheep.
Gili is very aware that she’s in danger of getting lost, falling into a ravine or being attacked by a wolf. The problem with getting lost is that you don’t realise until it’s already happened, Lindelauf writes with wry humour. Which he follows up ominously with: ‘There are plenty of stories about girls and wolves – and they usually don’t end well.’
But this is a Christmas story, so Gili passes a stable with a drowsy ox and meets a man and a woman on a donkey – and the only one who ends up in trouble during this night of adventure is the wolf.
The attentive reader will already have spotted the references to the Bible story. However, that does not make this a religious book. Joseph and Mary remain nameless figures, and Jesus is a bald baby bundled up in blankets. That means that this Christmas story can just as easily be read as a universal winter’s tale.
Marieke Nelissen’s illustrations are in line with the story: classic. Her colours are earthy, with a pink glowing desert and a dark-blue starry night. She subtly announces the arrival of the predator with wolf-shaped rock formations and a menacing shadow.