Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays - Children of Christmas by Cynthia Rylant

76. Children of Christmas
by Cynthia Rylant
juvenile fiction, 1987
first children's book for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge
finished, 11/27/11

Instead of one short story this Wednesday, I'm going to write about a collection of six children's stories for Christmas by a most wonderful writer, Cynthia Rylant.
These are stories for the older school-age child, but are interesting and heart-warming to an adult reader as well. I have read them more times than I can count, both with my children and by myself. They are little vignettes, glimpses into the lives of six people. As I read them again this year, I thought that just perhaps I've not read anything quite so fine, so clear, so full of quiet description.

The Christmas Tree Man is about Garnet Ash who has lived all by himself since his parents died many years ago. He runs a Christmas tree farm, and that is the only time of year he sees people, other than when he goes into town for supplies. This may sound deeply sad, but it really isn't. Just as in all of Cynthia Rylant's tales, characters aren't terribly unhappy even if they live lives outside the norm. They have times of true happiness and contentment, which is what each of us hopes for.

Halfway Home is about Frances and her father who have stopped to eat at a diner after shopping on Christmas Eve. There are only a few people inside, as you might expect on such a night. And then a cat appears.

For Being Good is about eleven-year old Philip who hasn't seen his grandfather for many years. The grandfather comes to visit for Christmas from Florida, and each receives an unexpected gift.

Ballerinas and Bears is a story of young Sylvia in New York City who walks and walks to escape the terrible loneliness in her apartment; her home where her mother never is, and where there is no food or comfort for a child. She feels a sense of peace only when she walks, and this night she receives consolation in shops and a church, and finally in the kindness of an unknown taxi driver.

Silver Packages tells of a man who once had a car accident in the mountains, and was taken care of by a local person. On the twenty-third of December, every single year he stands on the rear platform of the train, and throws presents to the children as a way of repaying the kindness which saved his life. For some, it is the only present they will receive. There is one little boy who always wishes for a doctor kit, and though he never gets one, when he grows up he realizes the great gifts he has received and returns to give his own gift to the people of his home area.

The last story is All The Stars In The Sky, and it is about a homeless woman, Mae. I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the little girl in Ballerinas and Bears may one day be like her. Mae has no memory of an earlier life, but she knows what she needs to know; where to go for food and shelter and clothes. This night she is feeling ill and cannot remember where to go when she is sick. She wanders into a library with her three dogs and comes upon nourishment for both her body and her soul.

The book is illustrated by S.D. Schindler. The black and white pictures are perfect. Each story has just one. He also did the cover which offers little Christmas cards of each story.

The picture in For Being Good

This is my first book for the Visions of Sugarplums section of The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.

Short Stories on Wednesdays is hosted by Breadcrumb Reads

Addendum: I found a lengthy biography of Cynthia Rylant here.


  1. This sounds just lovely. I seem to remember reading her books when I was younger, but never this one. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Becca, she has written many, many books and is an excellent writer. Always her stories are full of heart. This is a particularly wonderful one.

  3. Oh, I wish I could read these! I love the sound of every single one of those stories. Though what you've given us of each is a brief outline, their plots are so heartwarming in themselves. I should keep this writer in mind...

    And I love the photo in your's WoW! :D

  4. I adore Cynthia Rylant and have not heard of this book before. Thank you for highlighting it. I will search for this one to add to my holiday book collection!

  5. Just as in all of Cynthia Rylant's tales, characters aren't terribly unhappy even if they live lives outside the norm

    I love these kinds of characters - they remind me of the sort that crop up in stories by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman or Sarah Orne Jewett.

    She feels a sense of peace only when she walks
    I understand this feeling too - not that it's impossible to achieve peace elsewhere, but walking is beautifully calming.

    These stories look like gems, and I love what you show of the illustrations.

  6. Risa, I hope you can find a copy. CR is a wonderful writer. There's a long list of her work at wikipedia:

    Sadie thanks you!

    Peaceful Reader, you will love it, I'm certain.

    HKatz, her characters are quite, quite wonderful. I think you would enjoy her work. Missing May is particularly good. And S.D. Schindler had illustrated many children's books.

  7. Very inviting now ordered from the library
    Thanks Nan

  8. Oh, Val- the girls are the perfect, perfect ages for this book, as are you!

  9. I must get some of her books for my grandkids! Thanks for sharing this.

  10. Peggy, she is such a good writer. How nice to do this for your grandchildren.

  11. Oh this sounds like a book I'd like to own and keep for reading by myself and later, for my granddaughter. I'm going to try and find a copy. Thanks for sharing this, Nan. :)

  12. This is just my sort of book, Nan. Silver Packages sounds so familiar to me, though not sure why. I think I have one of Rylant's books about Christmas and grandparents and now will have to start digging out the Christmas books.

    I love this sort of illustration that Schindler does.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Oh, this sounds like a good read with some definite tears in there as well. I have some favourite children's books that we still read at Christmas as part of our family tradition. Definitely a sucker for a good Christmas story! Nan, you stopped by my blog and gave me the link to a rosemary tree.....and yes, I have always wanted one of these. I actually saw one last year that I was tempted to buy but steered away from the price!

  14. Sounds like a delightful collection! I love the old-fashioned look of the illustrations.

  15. Penny, I wonder if it was made into a movie? I do know what you mean about it being familiar. Maybe there is a true basis? She is such a kindly writer.

    Anangloinquebec, I bet a tree like it would be enough rosemary for a lifetime!

    Nymeth, he is a wonderful illustrator.

  16. Nan, me again. I googled Cynthia Rylant and Silver Packages and found that there is a children's book out. It looks like a newly published edition and I'm thinking I probably saw it in a bookstore and read it there. You can find it at:

  17. There you go me another great book for my list. After Christmas, I'm going to come back over and make a list. Can't add anything to this season's to be read stack because I'd never get anything read! Thanks for sharing!

  18. this sounds so nice! The illustrations are lovely too.

  19. Penny, it seems that publishers took that one story and made it into its own book! I am quite sure I read it as well when it first came out.

    Michelle, you will love this!!

    Naida, it really is the perfect book for the Christmas season.


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