One afternoon at play practice, Miss Creech said to the boys and girls...'Remember that you are Mary, and Joseph, and an angel, and an innkeeper, and a shepherd, and that strange things are happening in the hollow where you live."" And Jamie began to live his part in the Christmas play. The story starts on the night Jamie was born and his mother died. Simply, with great economy, the author brings the boy, who was mute, up through the years, teased, frustrated and lonely, until he is old enough to go to school. When he was given a performing part as a small shepherd it symbolized something for Jamie, mercifully left unstated here, and he lived in and for his role. The story is set in the Southern Mountain territory where the winters are hard. It snowed a blizzard on Christmas Eve and Jamie's silent heart-break at the calling off of the play comes right off the page. The only distraction was a young couple who asked for a night's lodging. The woman looked at the smallness of the house and the presence of Jamie and his sisters and asked to stay in the barn. On Christmas morning, she and her husband were in the much warmer church. One glimpse of the tableau they formed and Jamie flew to play his shepherd role, offering all his meager Christmas gifts to the newborn baby. Of course the necessary miracle happens -- Jamie speaks. This is a beautiful story, sensitively illustrated in color. It is a Negro couple who are shown. The fact that this is not mentioned in the text is exactly right for this book and not an avoidance. The year's best Christmas book, the best in a long time.