Thursday, December 13, 2007
Book Report/What Child Is This? A Christmas Story, 1997
If you want to buy one seasonal book this Christmas, for yourself or as a gift, What Child Is This? A Christmas Story by Caroline B. Cooney would be an excellent choice. We've owned it for years, and this is the second time I've read it. What a good, good idea for a book, one that focuses on foster children at Christmas time. And while the spotlight is on these two children, we also get to know the children who surround them; those with families, those who decorate, those who believe in Christmas and the Baby born in the manger, and those who don't. The chapters shift between different characters. And Caroline Cooney does a beautiful thing by putting just a few words at the top of the page as the chapter title. The font is different, and the message is from Christmas carols, and is a perfect fit with the action in that particular chapter. Some examples are: The hopes and fears of all the years; Great kings have precious gifts and we have naught; Peace on earth, and mercy mild; and the book title, What child is this? An incident we see in one place, comes up again later, and only we know that the viewer has it all wrong. Isn't that how life is? We imagine the way someone else lives; we do not know. That family who looks so good may not feel so good. It seems to be a lesson we must learn over and over again. Don't judge anyone, especially by appearances. Look deeper. Really get to know another person.
This is a book to make the reader think and feel, as we put another log on the fire or shop for the treasures our children are hoping for. These are children without families. They don't have laps or hugs or schoolwork put up on the refrigerator. Little Katie, eight years old:
was still up. She was coloring at the kitchen table. Nothing would make her go to bed before everybody else. Up to the last possible moment, Katie wanted company.
And this "company" was watching the History Channel and doing work on the computer. These were her foster parents, doing their best, but they were "no longer young and were tired of being foster parents."
Yet we also see that even in the "perfect" houses and families, there is sorrow and longing. A baby has died, people are cynical, a girl aches to know what Christmas is really about.
And this book brings everyone together. E. M. Forster's words, "only connect" come to mind. These people do connect. They grow and change and become better people because they don't stay separate. What a message for the world.
What Child Is This? had a special meaning for me this year. At church, there was a tree, a "caring tree" with names and gift ideas hanging from it. I chose one, and this is what it said:
Tag #15. Jean [a very lonely woman who spends most of her day roaming the streets.]
* A calendar with photos of baby animals.
Such a few words, but they make me cry. Who is this woman? Have I seen her? Did I notice her as she "roamed the streets" and walked past me. Why did I need to draw her name from a tree to find out about her? What more can I do, must I do, not just for Jean, but for others in my small community?
This is a young adult book, not a children's book. There are themes and references that may be too intense and too adult for a young child. And it is a book for we grown-ups. We can all learn from it, and our lives may even be changed by it.