Marvin’s Best Christmas Present Ever (An I Can Read Book), by Katherine Paterson, pictures by Jane Clark Brown (1997)
While the title for this sixth review of Christmas may seem like the book is about getting, it’s actually about giving, and that’s a good place for the focus of Christmas to be!
Marvin’s family lives in a trailer on the Smiths’ dairy farm where they work. When Mrs. Smith starts putting up the Christmas decorations and hangs a wreath on the farmhouse door, Marvin knows that Christmas is coming. He starts to worry about what he will give his parents, and he envies his older sister’s ability to make good gifts. He comes up with the great idea of making a large wreath to hang on the end of the trailer (because the door is too small to hang a wreath), but he struggles to actually make the wreath on his own. After May, his sister, promises that the gift will be from him even if she helps, the two of them create and hang the large wreath. He is so pleased with his gift that he wants his family to keep it forever. Through New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and Easter, he continues to convince his parents to leave the wreath up even as it begins to brown. When summer arrives, however, his parents reluctantly decide that the dead wreath needs to go…only to find a bird’s nest full of tiny eggs built inside! Marvin’s best present gets to stay up as a gift to the birds, and he even offers to help May, who has become envious of the kind of gift Marvin gave, make more great gifts.
Unlike in many realistic fiction books that have been around almost two decades, the illustrations don’t seem dated. I think the soft but bright colors against mostly white scenery helps to keep the appearance contemporary, and the style of clothing and farm scenery could be found at any modern family farm as well as any in the past fifty years or so. What I love most about the illustrations are the little details that a first time reader in the target group (new readers moving on from picture books) might miss at first as he or she deals with the text, but they are sweet and interesting enough for another look or for help setting the scene (under the guidance of an adult, most likely) as the reader progresses through the book. Some of my favorite illustrations are the ones with little glimpses of the bright yellow farmhouse and big red barn in the background of a scene with Marvin and his family, often at work together. Like I’ve said, farmers run in my family, so these scenes are kind of nostalgic for me despite not having been old enough to remember the few years when I lived on a farm myself!