Old friends

AT THE LIBRARY

On the morning after Thanksgiving I took three old friends from my bookshelves, held them gently, and immersed myself in the rich story and vibrant illustrations in each book. It’s that time of the year when stories of miracles fill our souls with hope, grace, belief, and laughter. Do you have a favorite tale you revisit each Christmas?

I opened the first old friend, Robert Sabuda’s “The Christmas Story.” This book is a marvel of paper engineering, commonly known to most of us as a pop-up book. It’s a visual delight of intricate, three-dimensional, white silhouette images on rich background colors with gold details. The story begins “Long ago, in the town of Bethlehem, a child was born on a bright and starry night.” Each exquisite, double spread page offers the reader the opportunity to become part of the scene depicted.

If the story isn’t enough to engage you, the complex and multifaceted engineered construction will challenge even the most seasoned creative type. However does one put pieces of paper together and make an angel fly right off the page? Amazingly, this is a sturdy book that will endure through many readings and curious little hands who want to touch the images.

Every town and/or elementary school has a family just like The Herdmans, the main characters in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” by Barbara Robinson. You see, there are as many Herdman children as there are grades in school. “They are then absolute worst kids in the history of the world,” according to the story’s narrator. Even their cat is mean. When the Herdmans learn there are donuts in Sunday School and a Christmas pageant, too, this tale turns into an hilarious yet moving narrative that brings a new depth of meaning to “Hey! Unto you a child is born.”

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is a nearly perfect read-aloud. Oh OK, it’s not the literary masterpiece of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” but it is, in my opinion, a contemporary classic that will stand the test of time. I am usually pretty disdainful of the movie version of a book, but Loretta Swit (of M*A*S*H fame) is superb and the movie does a credible job of being true to the book.

And, finally, I picked up my third old friend and my thumb caressed the raised Caldecott medal on the front cover. Sighing in anticipation I opened the book and softly uttered, “‘The Polar Express,’ written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg.” Large oil pastel paintings engage readers in the tale of a young boy who travels to the North Pole and receives a bell from the reindeer’s harness. The text and illustrations are flawlessly integrated so the story flows as if one were a passenger on the train. A heart wrenching plot twist followed by a wonderful satisfying ending assures that readers and listeners of all ages will find new meaning and nuance to this story each year it’s heard.

Van Allsburg said, “The Polar Express is about faith, and the power of imagination to sustain faith. It’s also about the desire to reside in a world where magic can happen, the kind of world we all believed in as children, but one that disappears as we grow older.”

I hope that the bell rings for you as it does for all who truly believe.

Do you have favorite old friends you re-read each year? Maybe you’d like to find some new titles to read. Many of the most popular authors have written a Christmas novel in the past year. Yes, even James Patterson. Sigh.

Come on in. Find a Christmas book to read. Make a new friend.

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Molly S. Kinney is the director at the Mifflin County Library. She is currently reading “Skipping Christmas,” by John Grisham.

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