The catalogs have started to come. The displays are starting to edge out Halloween and dwarf Thanksgiving.
And the Christmas books are rolling out, beginning with
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
review copy compliments of Candlewick Press
This is a simple story of a girl who wonders about and worries about the organ grinder and his monkey who show up on the corner of the street below her window. She questions her mother, Where do they sleep? How do they stay warm?, but her mother is too busy getting the girl's angel costume ready for the Christmas play to give her a satisfactory answer. On the way to the church for the Christmas play, the girl puts a coin in the organ grinder's box and invites him to come to her play. The story holds its breath when the little girl takes the stage to deliver her angelic lines. She surveys the crowd, but does not see the organ grinder. When he enters the church, she shouts, "Behold, I bring you tidings of Great Joy!"
Like I said, it's a simple story. It's a story that mirrors the story of the Nativity -- of the poor outcasts who are invited to be witnesses to the Great Joy. Of the angel who invites all to share in the joy.
The illustrations are what gives this book layering and depth. The setting is WWII. You can see it in the cars, the hair and clothing styles, the fact that there are no young men in the church. The girl's father is in the Navy. His picture is on the dresser. (Is his absence the reason Mother is distracted?) Every picture in this book glows, is radiant, is luminous. Every face in this book is a particular face, every person seems to be caught mid-gesture. After the story is over, you can't help yourself -- you go back and look at the pictures, again and again.