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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gifts of the Heart, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. G. P. Putnam's, Penguin. 2013. $19.00 ages 5 and up

"Kay Lamity made us a fine dinner that night. All the cooking had fallen on Grampa after Gramma died, and now Momma didn't get home till late. We'd been living on scrambled eggs! Kay Lamity made fried chicken, gravy and mashed potatoes, with some corn that Gramma had canned last spring. Dessert was best of all -scrumptious bread pudding!"

There will be no more Christmases at the farm. Grampa won't stay now that Gramma has died. The family is missing her presence, and no one wants her replaced by Kay Lamity, the new housekeeper. Kay is, however, pretty good at what she, caring for and comforting with wise words:

"And I play the meanest game of checkers this side of the sweet Mason-Dixon Line!"
"Bet you can't beat me," Richie whispered.
"Can too!" she countered.
"Can not!" he challenged with a slight smile.
"Well, slap my face to the side of a hog and let him roll in the mud.
Let's go on downstairs and see if'n you can." That was the beginning
of one sweet friendship."

Missing Gramma doesn't change. The children, their mother and Grampa ache their way through each and every day; but Kay Lamity brings a sense of order and strength when it is most needed. Richie and Trisha are familiar characters for fans, and it is good to see their spirits intact despite their loss.
Christmas traditions rise to the forefront as the children happily anticipate Santa's arrival and the gifts he'll bring. Kay has something to say about that, too:

"A gift of the heart ain't opened by pullin' on a fancy bow or rippin'  pretty paper off a box. It's about openin' your heart...and givin' what's inside. That's the greatest gift of all!"

Of course, there is turmoil. Richie is the big brother after all. He knows much more about Santa than Trisha does, and he's willing to spill the beans. It takes some careful thought and quiet guidance to figure out how he can make amends.

I am such a fan of Patricia Polacco's family stories. Her art is quickly recognized in the scenes she creates showing the siblings peeking in the toy store window, wrapped in Kay Lamity's warm embrace, together in the snow and star watching. She creates perfect winter scenes, shining at night and in daytime light. Her characters are familiar and wear their emotions on their sleeves. Kay brings a calming spirit to the household and wraps each of its members in a warmth that helps to soothe their aching hearts.

The magic of Christmas? I think so!

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