Can it be True by Susan Hill and Angela Barrett

It was Christmas Eve and twelve of the clock, when the message was heard, on the wind in the trees, on the air, underground and humming through wires and slipped into dreams.’

Can it Be True? follows the news of the birth of the miraculous child. From the blood beaked owl and the scurrying shrew to the fox and the wolf watching their flocks, right down to the lowly earth worm, the news reverberates across the land.

The Word spreads far beyond the shepherds and their sheep, far out to sea where a whaler and his prey stop their dance of death. The whale playful as a puppy pulls the boat toward the infant. Hunters and warriors of all kinds are filled with the spirit of Christmas, putting their differences to one side for one night.

There’s a great sense of playfulness here; the tiny shrew scampering over a plump duvet to interrupt the dreams of the general’s dreams of war;

Even the wooden soldiers amassed downstairs come to life and join the pilgrimage to the beaming newborn. The message of peace and goodwill is brought firmly to the fore.

Like Tomie dePaola’s Night Before Christmas, artist Angela Barrett wraps her gorgeous paintings up with borders giving the whole thing a the look of a glittering illuminated manuscript

Susan Hill, best known for her ghost stories, does a fine job of transposing the nativity story into a not quite modern setting. Her inspiration is Thomas Hardy’s classic Christmas poem The Oxen.

‘If someone said on Christmas Eve,

“Come; see the oxen kneel,

In the lonely barton by yonder coomb

Our childhood used to know,”

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so.

Can it be True? is having a bit of a moment, with a brand new edition illustrated by Valerie Greeley just out and a competition on BBC Radio 3 to find the best carol based on Susan Hill’s poem. You can hear the finalists work, performed by the BBC singers and vote for your favourite before December 23rd.


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