Even today another opportunity presented itself to add further veracity to the power of wishing and wishes coming true. The original wish in question involved people without homes. The Christmas Eve Tree (Candlewick Press, September 18, 2018) written by Delia Huddy with illustrations by Emily Sutton brings two lost beings together.
stretching over the hills.
That's where the story begins.
A fir tree, not planted correctly, grows crookedly into another neighboring tree. It's unable to increase its size. One year in December the trees around the small fir are harvested as Christmas trees. Still woven into the branches of the other tree, the small evergreen makes an unplanned trip to the city.
One by one all the trees disappear into large venues and homes until only one tree is left; the tree with the tiny fir wrapped in its branches. An eager shopper wants the last tree and the clerk removes the unwanted fir. About to toss it with the other rubbish, a small child still in the store makes a request. The tiny fir is now his tree.
Rescuing a cardboard box from the trash, the boy scoops up mud along a shore and plants the fir inside the paper container. Locating another larger cardboard box under a railroad bridge, the boy settles in for the night in his makeshift home. The tiny fir nearby believes its luck is shifting.
I belong to someone now, it thought to itself.
Fortunately, someone walking by the boy tosses a coin to him. Rather than use it for food, he buys candles and a box of matches. Soon the candles fastened on the tree cast a glow to others arriving to spend the night in their cardboard boxes. One of them begins to play his accordion. A Christmas tune serenades people on their way home or to events or simply enjoying the sights. A policeman is unable to control the happy crowd which brings traffic to a standstill.
Now you might think after this night filled with the wonder of the Christmas season, things would be different for those living under the railroad bridge. The child leaves the area and the tiny fir tree. Oh, dear readers, this is not the end. Real Christmas magic lasts for more than a season, it goes on and on and on.
Thirteen years ago, author Delia Huddy worked on the text for this story at the end of her life. She ties every seemingly unconnected incident together beautifully. It is a descriptive flow of what-if-this had not happened. Inserting the thoughts of the fir tree into the narrative adds an intimate touch. Here is a passage.
The candles burned steadily
and the old man played, and still the people sang.
The little fir tree felt it would burst with happiness,
because clearly the boy had forgotten
that tonight he would be sleeping in a cardboard box
under the railway arch, and that tomorrow
he would eat not turkey but soup in a soup kitchen,
if he was lucky.
The smaller trim size (5 5/16" x 6 1/8") of this edition is perfect to hold in younger readers' hands, tuck under a pillow or to bring children close for a cozy read aloud. The scene on the front (right) of the opened book case extends to the left on the back. The buildings' windows are glowing with light and many of them have special Christmas light outlines on their walls. Looking at the boy we know he's on a mission and he seems to have a homeless furry friend keeping him company. The title text is in silver foil.
The opening and closing endpapers in shades of pale blue and white feature the cityscape above the railroad's arched bridge. Beneath the text on the initial title page is the fir tree alone except for a bird. A rabbit joins the bird, now on a branch, on the formal title page.
Emily Sutton's delicate watercolor illustrations on double pages, full pages or gathered together on a single page display a world window brimming with intricate details. The name on the store where the boy gets the tree is D. Huddy & Son Department Store. The store window is a vision in Christmas toys and decorations. The scenes along the railroad arches are realistic and poignant. We feel as though we can step into the story and hear the singing.
A stunning fold-out, double page picture surely will have readers gasping. Several layers move from the path along the arches, to the bridge above and the buildings beyond both. A star-studded night sky provides the background.
One of my many favorite pictures is on a single page. We are close to one of the bridge arches. The boy is standing outside his cardboard box. The fir tree in its box is being adorned in small red candles. Two of the homeless residents are watching; the elder is seated on an upturned box playing his accordion. The small black dog watches. Three passersby have stopped to listen or sing.
This new edition of The Christmas Eve Tree written by Delia Huddy with illustrations by Emily Sutton is a gem. Without a doubt this story will prompt discussions about homeless persons, the interconnectedness of moments in all our lives and the spirit of Christmas. Whether you have this title in your professional and personal collections already or not, you will want this edition. It's utterly lovely.
To learn more about Emily Sutton and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. At the publisher's website you can view the interior image matching the above-quoted text. Emily maintains an account on Instagram. At The Guardian Emily shows readers how to draw a Christmas Eve tree.