Certain Poor Shepherds ($15.00; Nov. 1996; 128 pp.; 0-684-83313- 1): An instant classic, quite likely the best Christmas book of the season, by the anthropologist author of The Hidden Life of Dogs (1993), etc. This one is even more convincing as to the inner lives of animals. Lila, a large dog, and Ima, a goat, guard and care for the sheep of a shepherd near Bethlehem. One night a large star begins rising above them, then angels appear. The sheep, dog, and goat follow the star and the angels, meeting many dangers along the way. To be sure, Lila eventually sees the Christ child and is certain that the child is divine, but the Nativity gives Thomas's story only its immense aura, not its subject, which is Lila's loyalty to her sheep as she protects them from a cheetah, a lynx, an eagle, and other shepherds who want to eat them. Nothing is likely to prepare you for this utterly unsentimental tale. It never falsifies the animal nature of every creature involved. Hosanna in excelsis!