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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Christmas Tree for Pyn, written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea. Philomel Books, Penguin. 2011. $19.50 ages 3 and up

"While he was gone, Pyn cleared away and washed the dishes. She swept the floor, made the beds, and fluffed the pillows. Pyn poked the fire and added more wood. She wanted the cottage to be snug and warm when Oother returned from a cold day's work in the woods."

It appears that father and daughter have nothing in common:

"Oother was a big gruff man. He had a loud, booming voice, large, rough hands, and a bristly black beard. Pyn was a small, soft girl. She had a quiet, gentle voice, tiny, smooth hands,  and two bunches of hair bouncing off either side of her head."

They don' t even see eye-to-eye about a Christmas tree. Pyn wants her first Christmas tree more than anything else. Oother sees no need for one. Pyn has been secretly stashing treasures for decorating a tree, in the event that Oother changes his mind. He seems reluctant. While he works all day in the snowy cold of the woods, Pyn keeps their cottage neat as a 'pin' and prepares robust and invigorating meals for the two. A mother is not mentioned.

Then, one day,  Pyn decides that she must have that tree and she will surprise her father (who insists she call him Oother, not Papa) by cutting one down and bringing it home herself. The snow is deep and dangerous for a tiny girl on a mission, and Pyn does not sense the impending storm. When Oother finds her, he lifts her to his shoulders and agrees to make her Christmas wish come true.

Together, they find the perfect tree and haul it home. Once it is secured in a bucket, Pyn brings out the many natural items that she has gathered in her walks through the forest. She has birds' nests with eggs intact, hornets' nests, acorns and  red berries...everything needed to make their first Christmas tree a visual delight.

Then, it's time for Oother's surprise. He brings forth a small package and tells Pyn it had once belonged to her mother. It is the just-right finish to their glorious tree, and an occasion for happy celebration between father and daughter, despite its inherent sadness.

Olivier Dunrea creates another wintry world, where snow softly falls in every outdoor illustration. Thee illustrations, done in pencil and gouache on watercolor paper, are placed on white-space background interiors and foresty, hilly exteriors. He peoples his pages with dramatically different, yet equally appealing characters, including a tiny mouse that children will love to look for whenever the scenes revert to the warmth of the family home.

This is a book about the real joy of the coming holiday season.

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