A donkey's-eye view on Christ's birth

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • December 1, 2006
Ruben The Donkey booksBRANTFORD, Ont. - Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, meet Ruben the Donkey.

This Christmas season some radio stations in Ontario will be adding a new Christmas jingle to their play list: "Ruben" sung by Belle River, Ont. country singer Gabe Gagnon.   

"Once my song will come onto the radio, I think that Ruben will become a Christmas personality. But I don't want to take Rudolph away," said author/songwriter Ernest LePalme, 72, from Brantford, Ont.   

"Ruben" is a theme song to accompany LePalme's children's book released in 2004, Grandpa Jacob's First Christmas Donkey. It is the first in a four-part bilingual children's picture book series about the donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus. The second book in the series is Ruben: My Friend Jesus is Lost in Jerusalem. The third book Ruben: My Friend Jesus is Baptized, will come out in the spring.

In the first book, the donkey tells his grandchildren about the experience travelling back to Jerusalem three years after Jesus' birth to meet his grandparents Ann and Joachim, Jacob and Timnah for the first time.   

A white star on Ruben's forehead guides the holy family safely on their journey, parallelling Rudolph's red nose. 

"I tell them it's OK to have a good time at Christmas because it's a birthday, but don't forget the true meaning of Christmas, the Ruben side of Christmas. Now you have two reasons to be happy at Christmas: Rudolph and Ruben," said LePalme, a retired teacher of 28 years.  

When LePalme's 10-month-old granddaughter Melanie saw the nativity display in LePalme's basement 21 years ago he started to tear up.

"I felt so sad all of a sudden because for the first time as a grandfather I felt totally left out of the Christmas scene," said LePalme.

Maybe grandparents don't have a place in the manger, but they should be part of the Christmas story, he said.

LePalme complained every Christmas for 14 years until finally his daughter suggested he  write a book about it.

LePalme signed a four-part book series with Novalis, a Catholic book publisher. He waited four years for Novalis to find a co-publisher to help finance the book to no avail. Finally, Novalis gave him his book back and encouraged him to self-publish, so he did, partnering with Volumes Publishing in Kitchener. 

LePalme promotes his own book, travelling to various schools and churches in Ontario, Michigan and Florida, where he keeps a winter home. Of the 66 readings he performed last Christmas, a stop at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Flint, Mich., stands out. Six hundred grandparents and children attended the reading for "grandparents day."

"It really gave me the encouragement to keep my readings going."

Schools and churches in Brantford, Ont., and Fort Myers, Fla., respectively, have even turned Ruben the Donkey into a play that has been performed at Christmas. 

The Ruben: Grandpa Jacob's First Christmas Donkey comes with a three-track CD pasted to the back page, including the "Ruben" song, the recorded reading of the book and a musical soundtrack for the kids to sing along with.

Visit www.rubenseries.com for more information.

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