For Christmas: the events leading up to the birth of Jesus--from the viewpoint of the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem. ""Assignees"" is a bitter rebel-donkey, soured by the foul ways of humankind, when he's bought by a kind, sweet, naive, generous, utterly good carpenter named Joseph. Still, as Joseph and pregnant Mary begin the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem, Assignees remains unimpressed, sure that Joseph is probably a hypocrite, or at best a fool. Indeed, Assignees must repeatedly save gullible, trusting Joseph from ruffians-in-disguise along the way: the donkey foils a mountain-ridge ambush, later retrieves Joseph's stolen purse (Ã la Lassie) from a pickpocket, even arranges for the villains to be arrested. (""'We been framed!' Caleb cried."") And eventually, after inspiring a doomed donkey-rebellion and leading Joseph and Mary to that Bethlehem manger for the birth of ""a really good-looking baby,"" Assignees is convinced that human beings are capable of genuine goodness: ""He wondered why he had ever been impatient with Joseph, why he had ever thought the man stupid or crazy. He wasn't stupid. He simply looked at things differently from other people. Maybe it was the other people who were stupid."" Less gooey (and less theological) than most Christmas tales, with some solid action and a little humor to texture the heavy moralizing; not all readers, however, will take to the portrait of Joseph (cartoonishly saintly) or the distractingly Runyonesque dialogue.