79. The Christmas Village
by Melissa Ann Goodwin
juvenile fiction, 2011
second children's book for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge
Jamie Reynolds and his mother are heading off from their home in Virginia to her parents' home in Vermont for the holidays. They simply must get away from the gossip and unkind treatment they have received because of Mr. Reynolds' monetary misdeed, and his subsequent disappearance.
So off they go to the country, where Jamie begins to relax a bit.
It felt good to be outside, and to be here in Bell's Crossing, where no one knew about his dad or what he had done. …But soon enough, Jamie realizes that even people here know about what happened, and from overhearing his grandparents' conversation learns how depressed his mother is about the whole situation. He himself has had some terrible nightmares about being chased. It thus becomes very natural for the poor boy to want to escape, and that escape takes the form of a little Christmas village his grandmother sets up. Jamie imagined how good life would be in a perfect little village like 1932 Canterbury. His heart ached to live in such a place, where nothing ever changed. "I wish I could live in Canterbury," he whispered. As the days go on, Jamie daydreams about the inhabitants, and his mother tells him stories about them.
The warmth of the house and the smells of coffee and freshly-baked biscuits instantly embraced him.
"I wonder which house they live in."Well, that's all I needed to draw me right into the story. I think many of us might admit that we imagine lives lived in Christmas villages or dollhouses. I know that Tom and I delight in setting up our London Christmas village each year. He places the buildings and I place the people. I decide which ones are heading home with the Christmas tree, which ones have just come out of the bookstore with packages, and which ones are caroling or going off to church. Jamie is awakened by the clock striking midnight. He hears whispers and then laughter coming from the direction of the Christmas village. He walks over and watches mesmerized as the brother and sister skate on the pond.
"Who?" Mom asked.
"The boy and girl on the skating pond. Do you think they are friends, or brother and sister?"
Mom hesitated, then played along. "Oh! You mean Kelly and Christopher! They're brother and sister. He's twelve years old like you, and Kelly is ten. They live in that big house up on the hill - the blue Victorian with the fancy porch and gingerbread trim."
Jamie realized that he was holding his breath. It occurred to him that if he reached out, he could pick up the pocket-sized Kelly and Christopher with his fingers … Jamie stayed perfectly still, barely even breathing, afraid that if he moved or made a sound, he would break what seemed to be a spell that had made the village of Canterbury magically come to life.After watching them for a while, his eyes move over to Miss Ida's Boarding House and he listens to the talk going on there until he hears a crack of the ice and a cry from Kelly. She has fallen through and is drowning. Jamie reaches across the table and grasps Kelly's hand, and is brought right into the scene. From then onward, Jamie is a living participant in the life of this place so many years ago.
The Christmas Village is reminiscent of two of my favorite children's books, The Indian in the Cupboard which I haven't written about in my letters, and Tom's Midnight Garden which I reported on here. I wondered if the author may possibly have meant The Christmas Village as a sort of homage to Tom's Midnight Garden. There are a few charming connections between the two books.
The tale is beautifully told. There is friendship and kindness, but there is also treachery and suspense in the new life Jamie literally falls into. And for him there is the added question of how can he get back to his 2007 life. This book has a particularly satisfying ending. I absolutely loved the way Melissa Ann Goodwin connected these two places and times. When I wrote to the library and asked if they could get it through Inter Library Loan, the librarian wrote back and said she thought it sounded so good that she was going to buy it for the library. And I enjoyed it so much that I am going to buy my own copy to read again during some other Decembers. I highly recommend it for you and for any child in your life.
I read this for the Visions of Sugar Plums section of The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge, and in fact, the Christmas Spirit blog is where I first heard of the book. Please go over and visit, and meet the author in this interview.
The writer's blog is here, and a blog dedicated just to The Christmas Village is here.