This eleventh day of December, I bring you somewhat of an oddity of a picture book. It is an old book from 1969 with gorgeous illustrations. While the plot seemingly has nothing to do with all the celebration around Christmas, I guarantee that if you stick around for the entire story, you will be awed and merry and much more ready for Christmas than you were before. This is How Six Found Christmas by Trina Schart Hyman, 1969.
The story goes that there was once a little girl who happened to hear about a thing called Christmas, but all she knew was what it was called. She had no idea what it was, where it was, or why it was important. But she had a yearning to know now that she knew of its existence. So she sets out to find a Christmas. Along the way she meets five animals each of which she inquires if they have seen a Christmas. Each have no idea what she is talking about and in turn question her about a particular feature of this Christmas. What it feels like, smells like, tastes like, looks like, and sounds like. As she has never seen it either, she cannot answer but gladly invites them to come along and find out for themselves.
They trek on, searching and conversing until finally they stumble upon on object that they also have never seen before. It is a green glass bottle. They decide it must indeed be a Christmas. Each takes a turn confronting it and find the answers they asked until finally, when all are satisfied, the little girl carries it home with her. She proceeds to put branches and berries in it and decorate her table with this Christmas, for indeed it was a lovely Christmas.
The book itself is small and lovely. The text is much more than a typical picture book and the spread above is the only wordless one. I love it. The illustrations are detailed and yet spare. Her characters are adorable and contain complex lines for a simple looking finish. The use of a limited palette is beautifully done with its mostly brown and green, but accented with vibrant pops of red. A classic Christmas palette that does not boast.
I also love the words. As with many great picture books, the text is repetitive in sequence as well as statements and questions. Don’t allow yourself to become tired of the same structure with the five different animals, otherwise you will miss the immensely lovely phrases in the questions of the animals. While each animal seems to represent one of the five senses, they take the experience of their sense to a deeper level. Their questions are intense and thought-provoking. As the hawk asked, “What does a Christmas look like? Does it glitter? Does it move? Quickly or slowly? Is it dark or bright? What color is it? Is it round and fuzzy or is it flat and clear? Does it change its shape, or does it remain the same?” These questions are quite capable of making you think very differently about what you call Christmas as well.
Trina Schart Hyman is indeed a favorite illustrator of mine and here she has constructed such a simple, yet complex Christmas story. It is not what you expect and yet so much more. In the words perfectly hand-lettered by the author, “Christmas is not only where you find it; it’s what you make of it.”
I hope you are making something lovely of your Christmas season. Follow along our book adventure at 25 Days of Christmas Books 2014!