Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Christmas in October
While shopping for candy corns in Target two weeks ago, my boys started shouting, "Look! Look at the light-up reindeer!" That made no sense, as it was early October and I was standing next to Halloween costumes, but I followed the sound of their voices (not a difficult task), and what to my wondering eyes should appear but Christmas decorations. There was a story about this phenomena on the news that weekend. It seems the marketing people have pushed the Christmas merchandise out early in an attempt to deal with the situation of the American economy being so deep in the toilet. What's good enough for the people at Target is good enough for me. I'm not even trying to sell anything; I'm just going to tell you about some lovely Christmas books.
As I'm sure you know, there are hundreds of holiday board, picture, and chapter books in print. I kind of love them all because they combine two delicious acts, anticipation with reading, often with good illustrations. Perhaps my favorite Christmas book of recent years is my favorite because of its gorgeous illustrations, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, illustrated by P.J. Lynch and written by Susan Wojciechowski. I read it to my children at Christmas, and they love it, so last year I read it to the fourth grade CCD class I teach, and my students hung on every word and wanted to discuss the plot and pictures long after I was done reading. It tells the story of a widow and her son who come to ask a woodcarver, Jonathan Toomey, to carve a new creche for them. It is the kind of book that you read and immediately think of people to whom you will give it as a gift.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that P.J. Lynch has illustrated another holiday classic, O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. We all know the story of the married couple Della and Jim who sell their most prized possessions in order to afford Christmas presents for each other. She sells her hair to buy a chain for his pocket watch, and he sells his pocket watch to buy combs for her hair. This story is taught in so many English and writing classes. I think this version would be particularly nice for high school students to visualize the time and place. Lynch's warm illustrations bring their humble flat and turn of the century New York City to life.
Finally, I'll mention the book I plan to give my eleven year old niece at Christmas. It is not a Christmas book and it's not illustrated by P.J. Lynch, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway as it does relate to my Christmas shopping. It is Patricia Reilly Giff's Nory Ryan's Song about the Great Hunger of 1845-1852 in Ireland. This fictional account of a twelve year old girl and her family's love and suffering is well written and moving. Written for a middle school and young adult audience, the book condenses time a bit and clearly explains the situation of the potato blight and English rule without ever getting pedantic.
Now that I've given you some holiday books to think about, and there will be more in the weeks to come, get back to carving your jack o'lanterns!