When you recently acquire the twenty-sixth title written and illustrated by the same individual it might be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it's a signature illustrative style, full of animated characters, lively colors and charming warmth, bringing richness to each book. It could be because within each narrative the line between truth and fiction becomes blurred; the stories reach out, surrounding you, touching your heart and becoming a part of you, always to be remembered. Possibly it's due to the beautiful blend of the illustrations and the writing; readers knowing one more special piece to the puzzle known as this extraordinary person's life are being shared.
How fortunate for we readers author illustrator Patricia Polacco has released another seasonal title. Gifts of the Heart (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.) is a story of a Christmas past not soon to be forgotten. When you least expect it, but need it the most, magic happens.
Richie and I huddled together and pressed our faces into the cold glass of the Hudson's store window. Everywhere we looked was a dazzling array of wondrous toys for Christmas.
We stand with two children peering into a display window, their minds sending Christmas wishes to unseen ears. After this single page introduction preceding the title pages, the story begins as they ride down a country road with their Grampa in his Model A. They see a woman standing by the back door to their farmhouse.
They are expecting someone from the Agency to come to care for the children since their Mom has taken a teaching job away from home. Their beloved Gramma has recently died. The farmhouse...will be sold in the spring.
The woman's accent and demeanor suggest she is not from the North. Her name is Kay Lamity. Yazoo, Mississippi is her home. She aims to be the best housekeeper this family has ever seen. Grampa, Momma, and Trisha welcome her immediately but Richie is feisty and not a little bit rude.
She has a talent for making children, even those rude ones, fall under her spell. It's when they are putting up the Christmas tree and hanging ornaments, that a most interesting conversation takes place. Kay Lamity believes
"You know, they's gifts, and they's gifts."
Both children are surprised to hear this. It's a favorite phrase of their late gramma.
A shopping trip to the village, Santa Claus handing out Hershey bars and an outburst by Richie at home, threaten to take away a little girl's Christmas joy. Nighttime chats and a star-studded sky do much to heal. Cornstalks, a woman's creativity, and open hearts are the right ingredients for making perfect gifts.
On the way home from the town's parade on Christmas Eve those in Grampa's car see an astounding sight. Bells, thumps, and bumps in the night and treats under the tree, send spirits soaring. Images in the new-fallen snow and a surprising discovery make a memory which will last a lifetime.
Every time you open a cover of a Patricia Polacco book, you can feel a sense of anticipation and peace settle over your soul. With her words she spins tales of wonder, delight and truth, the kind which take you into their space, leaving an imprint on your reader's heart. As surely as her artist tools make pictures to see, so do her words. She can take you to unforgettable places meeting people you will never forget. Here are a couple examples of her writing.
Our warm breath made misty clouds on the window.
"Boy," she said, "where I come from, we cook yard-long night crawlers in green bugger gravy! And fer dessert, blister-pus puddin' with black widow garnish."
Richie looked up from his pillow.
I wept silently as we chugged down Dunks Road on our way home to our farm. "I didn't see him," I said, sniffling.
Kay Lamity turned and looked at me. "Baby dear, can you see the wind as it blows? Can you see how a flower smells in the springtime? Can you see how much your momma and grampa love you?"
Using markers and pencils, Patricia Polacco welcomes us into the story of a Christmas Trisha and Richie will never forget. On the matching jacket and cover she introduces us to Kay Lamity, her warmth and comfort for the children radiating outward. In the introductory text we see the children, eager and excited from the perspective of inside the store. Polacco continues on the two title pages with the same scene but this time we are on the outside looking inward; we are seeing the back of Trisha and Richie, the toys spread out on display.
All of the remaining pictures cross the gutter as two pages visuals, with the exception of one. Her illustrations create an added atmosphere, an accompaniment for the text. Fine details on her characters' faces make us feel as though we've known them for longer than this book. One illustration which truly captured my heart is of Kay Lamity and Richie looking upward out his bedroom window at the night sky. Behind them through the open doorway we can see the crackling fire and the tree aglow with lights. Their facial expressions, the layout and design of the illustration with the text are beautiful.
Gifts of the Heart written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco will be placed on the shelf next to Welcome Comfort, Christmas Tapestry, and An Orange for Frankie; a Christmas title to be cherished for the magic spell is casts. I consider Patricia Polacco to be an extraordinary storyteller. Her books are gifts of the heart. We thank you Patricia Polacco and we wish you the best, most marvelous time during this Christmas season.