on the wall
Who’s the silliest blogger
I am, on most days.
But haven’t felt silly and goofy lately.
Too busy and too tired!
Thank Goodness, it’s fairy tale Friday…TGIFTF!
Silly or not, I have a charming book to share with you on this Friday. It isn’t a fairy tale exactly, although it does have a few of the characteristics found in traditional fairy tales; this story contains an element of magic or the supernatural and teaches an important lesson.
December by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz has to be one of my favorite Christmas stories.
Years ago when I hosted my televised reading show, I featured December one Christmas. After sharing it on Come Read With Me, I began reading it every year to my students at Moye. And with each reading, the book grew more special to me.
The story is told through the first person point of view of a young boy who is homeless, living with his mother in a large cardboard box under the street lamp of a busy city thoroughfare. Simon explains that their house is one they made themselves. “There’s black printing on the walls and floor: DRINK COCA COLA, HANDLE WITH CARE, CLOROX”. [p. 1]
Simon explains that the house is small but large enough for all that they have. On that Christmas Eve, they have just a little more…the top of a fir tree the man at the Christmas tree lot gave them. The boy and his mother have decorated its branches with a shiny silver spoon and the beads from a broken necklace found on the sidewalk. Simon has recycled aluminum cans for money enough to buy two Christmas cookies. Arranged on their wooden crate “table” are Mary, the baby, a shepherd and a sheep. Simon tried to use a plastic toy soldier as a stand-in for Joseph but decided it didn’t look quite right.
A fat red candle remains always unlit on the table, too.
At night, mother and son snuggle close under a heavy coat that once belonged to Simon’s father. The only light they have is what shines in from the street lamp through the cardboard walls at night. On one wall they have hung a page from an old calendar with a picture of an angel they have named December. She serves as a kind of guardian over the pair as they sleep.
Mother says that December sings to them as they sleep. But try as Simon might, he only hears the garbage trucks or city buses at night, never the sweet voice of their angel.
On Christmas Eve, Simon is awakened by a thumping on their “door”, startling him; he worries that someone has come to insist they move their cardboard home from this spot on the sidewalk. The thumping continues until mother slides the door open and they see a stooped elderly woman, bundled against the cold in layers of raggedy clothing, a fake rose pinned to the old black hat on her head.
The old woman asks to come in from the weather and to sleep in the cardboard home for the night. Simon and his mother are leery but feel badly about turning her away. Their guest unpins the fake rose from her hat and adds it to the little Christmas tree, up close to the top near the star. The boy notices the woman eyeing the two Christmas cookies and a offers her his own, if a bit begrudgingly.
The three settle under the warmth of the old coat for cover. The woman comments how warm the little home is, “It’s warm with love”. [p. 17] Soon they are asleep.
When Simon wakes up on Christmas morning, the door is open and the old woman is gone. But standing in the opening is the angel December. Simon can’t believe his eyes. December remains on the calendar page on their wall and yet she is standing before him right outside their home.
Simon knows that none of this could be real, that he must be dreaming but he watches as the angel spreads her wings over the little home and begins singing. From that moment, his life begins to change.
Eve Bunting’s simple, poignant prose and David Diaz’s masterful collages mesh perfectly in the telling of this sweet story. The warmth of the love felt by the guest that evening envelopes the reader, melding the words and illustrations of this special book all the way through to its very satisfying, uplifting ending.
Despite their limited proficiency in English, my sweet, sweet Moye babies picked up on all of the subliminal and symbolic messages woven throughout the book. These former students of mine live in a community nicknamed The Devil’s Triangle, and are no strangers to poverty. But each time I shared this book with them, I was impressed with their insight and compassion and comprehension of the subtleties of the story.
December is written on a 2.9 (second grade, ninth month) reading level. According to Scholastic.com, the book has an interest level appropriate to lower grades, K-3, but I think its interest level is much broader. The title is among those for which quizzes are available through Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader program and is worth a half point. You can buy a copy of December, here, on Amazon.com.
I always like to share teaching tools for the books I review on my blog. I wasn’t able to find much for December, possibly because it is an older book. I did sign up for a 14 day trial at TeachingBooks.net and found a lesson plan there at TeachingBooks.net | December. An author study unit is available, here. I always had my students create their own angels after listening to the story. Often, we sent their angels to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, in hopes of helping to keep our troops safe.
Please find a copy of this Christmas story at your local library or book store to share with those you love. It is not wholly different from the original Christmas story and will leave you with a similar feeling of goodness.
Hugs and kisses,