If you don’t know the book, Room for a Little One, you should. It’s one of my favorite Christmas stories for, well, little ones.

You probably already know the author, Martin Waddell. He’s won all sorts of awards, including the Hans Christian Andersen award from the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). If you don’t follow book awards, you would likely recognize his books, which include the beloved Big Bear, Little Bear series.

He’s from Ireland – he was born in Belfast during a bombing raid – and he’s written serious books for older children and young adults about The Troubles. He says that he writes books for little ones for pure enjoyment. And his joy shines through.

There’s Always Room for a Little One

In Room for a Little One, Kind Ox welcomes Old Dog to his stable. Old Dog and Kind Ox welcome Stray Cat. And then, of course, Stray Cat, Old Dog, and Kind Ox welcome Small Mouse. We don’t see the lion lying down with the lamb, but we see Old Dog curled up with Kind Ox, and Stray Cat and Small Mouse nestled peacefully in the straw.

And when Tired Donkey arrives, the animals welcome him, with Mary and Joseph, and the Little One who is born that night.

It sounds sweet, and it is. But not the sort of holiday sweet that makes your teeth hurt. The language is full of warmth and safety, peace and welcome. And Kind Ox’s words form a refrain: “Come inside,” Kind Ox said. “There’s always room for a little one here.”

Illustrations by Jason Cockcroft

Jason Cockcroft’s beautiful, warm illustrations are a perfect match for the story. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you’ll know Jason Cockcroft as the cover artist for British edition of the last three Harry Potter books. He’s also illustrated many children’s picture books. The ones full of animals, like Room for a Little One, are my favorites.

In Cockcroft’s watercolors, the animals seem to breathe. Old Dog, in particular, seems so real that you want to bury your face in his fur and give him a treat.

There’s a sense of wonder in all the illustrations, a feeling that something strange and sublime is about to happen. I think Cockcroft creates this by spattering all the illustrations with lots of little dots – like you might have done in art class when you were little, by dipping a toothbrush in paint, then flicking the paint on the paper. That sounds dull and pedestrian, but the result isn’t at all dull. It’s truly marvelous.

Your little ones will love Room for a Little One. It’s a perfect story to read with them during the holidays, at the end of days that are too busy and too full. Or any day, honestly. It’s quite simply a wonderful book.

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Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow

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