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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Chanukah Noel, written by Sharon Jennings and illustrated by Gillian Newland. Second Story Press, 2010. $15.95 ages 6 and up

"But it was hard to keep quiet.
It seemed that every house and shop
was decorated with boughs of evergreens
and holly and garlands of white lights.
All we had was one small menorah
for Chanukah."

Everything has changed for Charlotte and her family...with a move to a new home in France. There are many new experiences to endure. The French language poses an obstacle and means that Charlotte's placement is a difficult one at school. Village life means new food, locally grown and made. The cheese and milk are funny-smellling and that is also upsetting to the young miss. But, she does love the chocolate-stuffed baguette!

As December arrives the village takes on a new persona. The streets are filled with light and color. The shops are bulging with gifts to be bought and wrapped in anticipation of the coming holiday. And the smells...oh, the smells! 

Charlotte longs to enjoy the many Christmas traditions that her Jewish family does not observe. She is sure that there must be a way to honor both. When she hears that Colette and her family are too poor to enjoy much of the season's best, Charlotte asks her parents for advice and begins to hatch a plan. She proposes it to Colette's father, Mr. Levert:

"I have a favor to ask. We are Jewish and we do not celebrate Christmas. But I would give anything to have a tree and decorations and all the special food." I took a deep breath. "And so, Monsieur, I was hoping that you would let my family do all the shopping and cooking and then bring it to you. Please, Monsieur Levert?"

That is the true gift of Christmas, isn't it? Giving, rather than receiving, has a very profound effect on each one of us.

The charm of the French village is evident in the warm and evocative paintings created by Gillian Newland. They evoke a simpler time, with deep tones and detailed images.

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