Never doubt the significance of first impressions. I am not saying they are always right. Upon closer examination, those initial perceptions may need to be altered. With that being noted, sometimes when you read a book for the first time your reaction is exactly as it should be. What you need to do next, after enjoying it multiple times, is to decide why the book left a mark on your heart.
Is it the text which made a connection? Are the illustrations such they will cause a sensory experience? Is it a beautiful blend of narrative and images? Upon first reading The Christmas Boot (Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 18, 2016) written by Lisa Wheeler with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney I was visibly moved. You will be too.
Deep in the forest on Christmas morning, Hannah Greyweather gathered bundles of kindling wood. For her, this day was no different from any other.
Hannah has adapted to her aloneness by chatting out loud to the surrounding flora and fauna. They, of course, are silent in their replies to her commentary. Arms full of wood; she spies something out of the ordinary in the pristine snow. It's a black boot.
It looks so comfortable and cozy she slips her left foot inside. Compared to her feet wrapped in rags and numb with cold, this feels downright divine. Hannah is more than a little surprised when the large boot quickly conforms to the size and shape of her foot. Hannah cannot believe her good fortune. As she climbs into bed that night she speaks aloud her desire for the matching boot for her right foot.
What you need to remember is this is Christmas Day. There is a great deal of magic in the air on Christmas Day. Hannah is shocked to see two boots next to her bed the following morning. Having warm feet as she goes about her business in the forest gives her a new outlook on life. On this second night she chats aloud to the left boot about her wonderful good luck. She remarks how much happier she would be with two warm mittens.
To her utter surprise a pair of mittens, one each inside each boot, awaits Hannah in the morning. This fantastic happening has her wondering if she should wish for more; a comfy bed, delicious food and a large home. She does not but goes outside to gather some chestnuts. She is so thrilled with her warm feet and warm hands; she makes a snowman before setting off for home.
What she sees in place of her humble house is astounding. Inside the sights are even more remarkable. As nice as all of this is, something feels a little strange to Hannah. While she is thinking about this, there is a knock on her door. Her visitor believes she has something belonging to him. After an evening of conversation, he winks and leaves her with two gifts and an even more welcome surprise in the morning.
There is a specific storytelling rhythm established with the writing of Lisa Wheeler in this book. It connects Hannah to her surroundings and us to Hannah. With each of her observations said aloud, Wheeler has a reply:
The mountain didn't answer.
The forest remained silent.
The walls did not reply.
This technique reinforces Hannah's aloneness setting the stage for the final two surprises.
Wheeler's mix of dialogue, mostly Hannah talking out loud, with the narrative also contributes to the story's pacing. We feel a genuine relationship developing between us and this woman. Here are two consecutive passages. (only a portion of the second one)
"Glory be!" Hannah said to the right boot. "How did you get here?"
The boot didn't say.
Then Hannah Greyweather placed both her feet into those warm black boots. They fit most comfortably.
As she went about her wood-gathering, Hannah had a spring in her step that hadn't been there for years. She danced in the spruce grove, skipped along the creek bed, and even made snow angels on the hillside.
How is it that every book illustrated by Jerry Pinkney causes you to feel like you are holding a living, breathing marvel in your hands? Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers are greeted with an entire winter wonderland scene which extends to the edge of the flaps. Notice the shifts in perspective from the close-up of the boot with the holly draped over the top and the animals curiously looking at it and then to the mountain in the distance with Santa Claus in his sleigh and his reindeer crossing in front of a full moon. To the left, on the back, the body of the weasel continues. A snowy white hare watches from the bottom. Toward the top tucked in among the spruce trees is Hannah's tiny, one-room home, lights glowing from the windows. One of the shades of blue from the jacket and case covers the opening and closing endpapers.
In a beautiful snowy scene with Hannah leaving her home for wood-gathering, footprints marking her path, the title, author, illustrator and publisher text has been placed. Rendered in
pencil, Prismacolor pencils, and watercolor on Arches cold press watercolor paper
the illustrations are stunning in their eloquent detail. The lines and brush strokes convey the crisp chilly air, the silence of the soft snow on boughs and branches, the sound of birds chirping greetings and Hannah's breath making fog and her voice ringing out wherever she may be. In each picture outside there are animals with Hannah. They feel a kinship with this woman of their world.
The interior of her home conveys the simplicity of her life; cooking over an open fire, a bucket of water nearby, light from a kerosene lamp, a bed made of birch branches and homemade quilts to keep Hannah warm at night. The patterns on all her clothing are bright, cheerful and intricate. Hannah's face is lined with life. The depictions of the animals are so real you expect them to leave the page and join you. Jerry Pinkney alters his image sizes from double page to single page to two pictures together on a single page or a smaller picture inserted in a large visual. Every page turn is a delightful surprise.
One of my many favorite (I love all of them.) illustrations is wordless. It covers two pages. Hannah is lying on her back making a snow angel, laughing. One hare is next to her right hand raised in happiness. Another hare has its front paws on her left boot. Birds are singing next to her left leg. Another bird has come to rest on her outstretched left hand. The weasel is watching from the far right-hand corner. This is true, pure bliss.
If you are looking for a new Christmas book for your personal or professional collections or to give as a gift, I highly recommend The Christmas Boot written by Lisa Wheeler with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. This is a title to be treasured for years and years to come. And I promise you the ending will cause you to sigh or shed a few tears. Please share this book repeatedly.
To learn more about Lisa Wheeler and Jerry Pinkney and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. You can get a sneak peek at the inside at the publisher's website. This title is celebrated at PictureBookBuilders with an interview of Lisa Wheeler. Enjoy the book trailer.