The Beasts and Children, Day 2: Christmas in the Country

Christmas in the Country

Christmas in the Country, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode (2002)

I may have liked this book more than BoyChild, but I suppose he’s not quite old enough yet to be the sentimental sort. Although I’m not sure it’s entirely autobiographical, the author often includes episodes and people from her life in her works, so there is every possibility that much of the story is true.

The narrator looks back to when she was a little girl living with her grandparents in the country. Each season brings new experiences, and this book focuses on winter and the anticipation of Christmas. In her family, her grandfather goes to chop down a tree while she and her grandmother get out the ornaments, each one a reminder of years past. Christmas Eve is a chance to sing with the other children in front of the church and get a small gift of fruit and candy after the service. Before she goes to bed when they get home, she writes a nice note for Santa to leave with the milk and cookies. Early Christmas morning, she wakes her grandparents to go see what Santa has brought her, and she is always pleased to receive the new doll she has asked for and a special second gift that’s a surprise. After opening her gifts, they go to church once again for a quick reminder of what Christmas is about, then they return home to entertain the friends and family who visit throughout the day. When Christmas is done and the New Year comes, the tree comes down, the ornaments are packed away, and the anticipation of each new season–and other Christmases–begins again.

Most page spreads have one page with a decent amount of text in a frame with a small illustration and a full page illustration on the opposite side. A few feature a paragraph of text that takes second place to the full spread illustration. I find myself once again wishing I had the knowledge and vocabulary to describe the art! The setting is clearly in the past, but the illustrations depict the kind of timeless country home that could still be found represented all over. (This one has electric lights but is heated by “an old coal stove,” so the time can’t be firmly established.) Plenty of details give young readers something to study on each page, and many will find the three dogs’ activities interesting enough to warrant a longer look.

I think what I liked most about this book is the focus on memories of traditions. None of the things she writes about are big, showy things, but they are childhood experiences that have importance in her mind. Our family has a tradition of adding an ornament to the tree each year that represents a family experience of the year; some years, everybody gets their own for some special memory from the year. (BoyChild’s is BB-8 this year, in tribute to his new Star Wars obsession, and our family ornament is from our visit to Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine this past summer. (Our kids earned Junior Ranger badges there, and GirlChild did some extra work and got the patch!) We’re still deciding on what part of GirlChild’s busy year we’re going to commemorate with an ornament!) We parents also have our childhood ornaments that were given to us by our parents for our new tree for our first Christmas when we were married. Decorating the tree each year is a drawn-out process. Each person hangs his or her own ornaments, and there are usually stories shared about when we got each ornament or who gave it to us or what we remember about the experience that prompted the choice. We don’t relive every Christmas tradition our families had growing up, but we’ve selected some from each side and have developed our own that work for our little family, too. From the apple, orange, and nuts in each stocking from my husband’s family to the multiple advent calendars from mine, we build tradition and meaning into the whole month. Our most firm tradition, though, is to always read the Christmas account from Luke 2 on Christmas Eve right before bed. Like the narrator’s preacher on Christmas morning, we find it important to always remind ourselves what Christmas is about so it carries with us through the rest of our celebrations and gives them a foundation in love and giving.

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One response to “The Beasts and Children, Day 2: Christmas in the Country

  1. Pingback: The Beasts and Children Wrap-Up: Twelve Reviews of Christmas 2016 | Rushing to Read

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