Grace at Christmas, by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu (2011)
Grace is back, and this time she’s celebrating Christmas the way it should be celebrated!
Grace is looking forward to her Christmas traditions with her mother and grandmother, with Grace (and sometimes her family) putting on a Christmas play (playing all the nativity characters), going to church, and having a big meal afterward at home. This year, though, the sister and niece of Rosalie, the ballet dancer Grace met in Amazing Grace, will be staying with them because they aren’t able to get a flight home to Trinidad. Grace struggles with sharing her Christmas with strangers, but her grandmother reminds her that, “We can’t say ‘no room’ at Christmsastime, can we, Grace?”, a not-so-subtle reminder to Grace about the Christmas story she’s been acting out. Grace tries to play with Savannah, the little girl, but she only seems to like Grace’s cat. When Grace’s grandmother reminds her that is must be “hard being in a stranger’s home” and Grace catches Savannah crying, she discovers that Savannah, too, is mourning the loss of her Christmas traditions, like being home with her father in Trinidad this year. Grace can empathize (her father is in Africa), and Grace suggests they “try to make it a merry Christmas…just the same.” As the two girls play ballet together, Savannah’s Aunt Rosalie, the real ballet dancer, shows up with gifts, and Grace invites her to come back to share Christmas with them, too. Christmas Day is spent doing all the things Grace usually does with just her family–church, acting out the Christmas play, and dinner–but everything is more fun because there are more people there to share, and Rosalie even dances for them! In the end, when her grandmother asks Grace if she had a good day, Grace responds that it was the best Christmas ever and asks if their guests can come back next year.
Since I taught mostly fifth grade and GirlChild is just getting to the age where these books would be just right, I had only read Boundless Grace (as a read-aloud mentor text in a reading series), but I think I really like these books! (Despite the Amazon-listed age range of 3-5, there is a good bit of text on many of the pages, so I’d recommend more of ages 5-8; the main character also appears to be in that age range, so it’s a better fit in regard to content as well.) I really like the style of illustrations–there is so much color on the page and so much expression to read in the faces of the characters! You can’t get all you need to get from the text and illustrations in one read-through. Grace’s life is not ideal, but it is realistic. Reading these books, I really had no idea the author was from England and assumed Grace and her mother lived in the United States, like me; I believe the universality of childhood makes these books accessible to children from many different countries, although Christmas customs and living situations are much different in other parts of the world and would betray the setting more clearly.
One thing that this book reminds me of is the giving nature of children. Although Grace resisted the intrusion of strangers into her happy world at first, all it took were some wise words from her grandmother and a little empathy for her to open her heart and her home, and I can see GirlChild being like this as well. My introverted self struggles with the idea of sharing personal space with strangers, but this book is a challenge to, if not welcome strangers into our homes, at least open our hearts to the people around us who may be hurting or needing something only we can provide and cheerfully giving of ourselves for the sake of others. Indeed, especially at Christmastime, there is no place for “no room” in our hearts and lives.