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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Carpenter's Gift, written by David Rubel and illustrated Jim LaMarche. Random House, 2011. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"It had been the best day that Henry could remember, and he didn't want it to end. He stood before the decorated tree, enchanted. The streetlamps had just come on, and the tin cans glittered in their light. If ever there was a magic moment, Henry thought, this is it." He decided to make a special Christmas wish."

Henry's wish is for a warm home for his family, and that is the lovely premise of this heartwarming and informative holiday tale. It's the Depression and December 24, 1931. Henry and his father are off to a nearby evergreen grove to cut down the trees, and then to take them to New York where they will sell them to people who have money enough to decorate their homes. When they arrive, they set up their stall near the Rockerfeller Center construction site and garner success at this new venture.

A few trees are left; and so, they give them to Frank and the other construction workers who have offered them a spot to sell their trees and helped them unload them. One of those trees becomes the first Rockerfeller Center tree, decorated with love by the men at the site. 

"Because it was Christmas Eve, the workers were having a little party. Frank and the others took the tallest of the trees that Henry and his father had given them and decorated it with whatever they could cobble together: paper garlands, cranberries threaded onto string, and even a few shiny tin cans. Henry added an ornament of his own, made of newspaper that he folded into a star."

David Rubel gives readers a chance look at the future when Henry picks up a pine cone that has fallen to the ground, and puts it in his pocket. Off they go home, where Henry is tenderly put to bed, with the pine cone on his pillow.

A surprise is in store for the family on Christmas day. Three lumber-laden trucks are pulled up to the house when Henry wakens. They are driven by Frank and the men from the construction site. In quick time, and with the help of gracious and giving neighbors, Henry's Christmas wish comes true. But, that's not the end of the story!

As any attentive listener and watcher will know, we met an older Henry as the story began. Once the house is built and a spring potluck dinner organized to celebrate and thank all those who worked so diligently to build Henry's family a new home, Henry receives another very special gift from Frank.  Being aware of the many blessings in his life, Henry wants to pay the magic forward and he does so.

The rest of the story follows Henry's life from his boyhood, to the older man he has become. After returning to his family home to live out that life, he is able to offer his gift of 'magic' to Rockerfeller Center, and to a little girl who comes to watch the tree lighting ceremony.

David Ruble includes a note in back matter that tells his readers this: since 2007, Tishman Speyer, the company which owns Rockerfeller Center, has donated the tree to Habitat for Humanity to be milled and used to build new and affordable homes.

If you are as enamored of the beautiful artwork that Jim LaMarche creates time and time again, you will really appreciate seeing him working on it, and hearing what he has to say about this very special book."

It is a gift in the most wonderful sense of the word.

What a Christmas celebration for your family this year!

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