Two words, Christmas spirit, can have multiple meanings depending on the context in which they are used. If we are speaking of the classic Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, ghostly visits figure into the discussion. There are those who express their enthusiasm for the season by decorating their homes, places of work and even their vehicles. They are apt to wear clothing and jewelry in keeping with celebrations. People will play, sing or hum music or songs to convey their holiday happiness.
Another indication of the Christmas spirit, which many reveal throughout the year, are acts of kindness and giving without any expectation of acknowledgement. Little Robin's Christmas (Nosy Crow, an imprint of Candlewick Press, September 10, 2019) written and illustrated by Jan Fearnley is indeed a tale representative of this holiday and its true meaning. Readers, especially readers residing in the state of Michigan, will instantly realize this as an origin story, too.
Once upon a time, there was a little brown bird. His name was Little Robin, and this is his story.
Little Robin had seven different vests to keep him cozy and comfy. It was seven days before Christmas. He intended to wear one each day.
On the first day he put on his white vest. Arriving at the pond to skate, Frog was found shivering with cold. Little Robin gave him his vest. Little Robin thought about the six remaining vests he had to protect him from the winter weather.
On each of the six remaining days Little Robin put on his green, pink, yellow, blue, purple and orange vests. Each time he donned these vests to keep him warm, he met a forest friend. Hedgehog, Mole, Squirrel, Rabbit, Otter's baby and a little mouse needed those vest more than he did. By the time Christmas Eve arrived Little Robin was far from home and he had no more vests.
Chilled with cold and huddled on a roof covered with snow, Little Robin fell sound asleep. He did not hear sounds only heard on Christmas Eve. Soon he found himself in the company of two people known to embody the Christmas spirit. One of them using thread from a special coat made Little Robin one final vest. He is still wearing it to this day.
When you read an origin story like Little Robin's Christmas, you can't help but wonder how author Jan Fearnley initially had the idea for this tale. What prompted her to write how robins have red breasts and link it to the giving associated with Christmas? To begin, her use of once upon a time sets a tone of storytelling magic.
She continues with establishing and maintaining a rhythm in the donning of the vests each day, having Little Robin wander to another part of the forest and of his generosity in giving away his vests to those who are cold. Each time another number, smaller, enters Little Robin's thoughts the pattern is reinforced. The mix of narrative and conversation invites us deeper into the story. Here are several passages.
"Brrrrrrr! The ground's too hard to dig,
and I'm chilly!" Mole complained.
So Little Robin gave his pink vest to Mole.
It was a little tight, but Mole didn't mind.
He was nice and warm.
Four vests left, thought Little Robin.
Even though the two scenes shown on the open and matching dust jacket and book case look like a winter wonderland, they radiate warmth. The warmth is found in the red vest Little Robin is wearing and in the tiny heart acting as a dot for the "i" in Christmas. On the front all the intricate lines are embossed in silver foil. It glistens like sunlight on snow.
To the left, on the back, an interior image is shown. The little mouse, now wearing Little Robin's orange and last vest, is embracing the compassionate bird. This illustration is more panoramic with rolling hills, topped with evergreens, in the distance.
On the opening and closing endpapers, the red shade seen on the spine patterned with snowflakes is repeated. On the initial title page, Little Robin wearing his red vest is flying to the right. On the formal title page, a double-page picture places Little Robin on a tree branch on the right side. He is singing without any vest and overlooking people and the forest animals engaged in winter activities.
Rendered in mixed media the illustrations joyfully depict each element of the story. Jan Fearnley changes the size of the pictures and their perspective to accentuate the pacing. The warmhearted nature of Little Robin is always visible as is the joy the other animals have for him when they are wearing his vests. And there is no doubt as to the cold each animal is experiencing before Little Robin gives them his vest. In each image the eyes of the characters truly shine with emotion. Readers will appreciate all the extra details Jan Fearnley includes in her visuals.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page. There is a liberal amount of white space surrounding a loose circular image. It is the inside of Squirrel's home. Squirrel, now wearing Little Robin's yellow vest, is sound asleep on a nest of autumn leaves. Acorns are scattered among the leaves. Little Robin is perched on top of Squirrel reaching out a wing in comfort. Behind Little Robin in the opening to the nest is a wash of blue hues with white snowflakes falling.
I have read Little Robin's Christmas written and illustrated by Jan Fearnley repeatedly. Each time I study the illustrations and discover some new tiny detail. I booktalked it to a friend today during a phone conversation and they loved it. This book opens the possibility of a variety of discussions and activities. I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Jan Fearnley and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog. In reading her blog, you will discover this book, in another form, was published twenty years ago. In the UK it is titled Little Robin Red Vest. Jan Fearnley has accounts on Facebook and Twitter. You can view interior images at Nosy Crow and Penguin Random House.