Day fourteen has arrived and with it a possibly new favorite Christmas book for today’s Christmas book countdown. I don’t know what it is about Patricia Polacco, but she knows how to tell some amazing stories. They are tender, family-oriented, and often tear-jerking as I found with today’s read. Make room in your heart for An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco, 2004.
The story opens with an author’s note about the real Frankie who inspired this story. I would have to do some research to check numbers, but I’m pretty sure that every Polacco book I’ve ever read was written based on a true family story or some other real-life event. Because of this, the stories always have great heart and are usually longer and very narrative. Just something to keep in mind when choosing to pick up a Polacco, not to mention you’ll want to give yourself ample time to really invest in the story and recover from your emotional upheaval after. Just kidding, although sometimes not.
This story is written about a family with nine children, and the youngest boy is Frankie. (Sidenote: If you are like me, you may have been confused at first, thinking that he is the youngest. He is not. He is the youngest boy.) This family lives near a railroad and is often a stop for a freight train whose engineer they greet with hot coffee and cakes, especially during the snowy winters. They occasionally kindly care for the hobos who have hopped the train as well. The family is full of kindness and gives of themselves, often until it hurts as they don’t have much for themselves either. At the opening of this story, Frankie finds himself so overwhelmed with concern for the men, he gives away his best sweater to one who has no shirt under his coat. It is a sweet sign of this tender, but adventurous nine year old’s heart.
The family is deep in preparations for Christmas celebrations, and they await their Pa who has driven to a far city to pick up nine oranges – a special tradition for the children’s Christmas Eve. There is much to do to get ready like sewing costumes for the pageant, preparing great feasts for the large family, finding a tree and getting the mantel set with greens where the nine oranges will wait to be eaten. All this helps them keep calm as their Pa remains absent due to the terrible weather.
Thankfully, their Pa arrives just before the Christmas pageant! Everyone greets him happily and rushes to set their special oranges on the green-decked mantle. They are instructed not to touch their oranges again until Christmas Eve supper. Frankie however, being nine, cannot contain himself and picks his up to smell it. When he is nearly caught, he stuffs it into his shirt to return later. He forgets of course and the orange is lost somewhere along the way to and from the pageant. Heartbroken, Frankie shares with his mother what he has done and although scolded, he finds a loving family will not let him go without an orange for himself. Eight slices from eight siblings is the best Christmas orange for dear Frankie.
Oh, this book! I blinked back tears at the end seeing the family’s solution for little Frankie and his expression on that lovely illustration. And then I actually choked up when I read the closing author’s note about the real Frankie who died in childhood, but is still remembered with an extra orange in their family.
Every time I read and am touched by a Polacco picture book, I wonder at the breadth of amazing stories she treasures from her family and friends. I’m so thankful she shares them and pairs them with her detailed pencil art that always reminds me of a sketchier Rockwell style. Her pages are bursting with people and family and love. And then I am always set to wondering what stories I have in my own family. It makes me yearn for the days I have heard where people sat and told family tales like these instead of being so overwhelmingly busy or being entertained by televised drama. Polacco’s family stories rival any Hallmark movie and they are far more real, memorable and palatable. I hope I can pass on family stories to my own kids, my stories and other people’s stories like these. And I may just have to put an orange in my girls’ stockings for Christmas Eve as well.
Follow along our book adventure at 25 Days of Christmas Books 2014!