I have saved a very lovely and exciting new book for this Christmas Eve post. I spied this one a few months back at a book conference and have been waiting to finally have a chance to see and review it. Originally printed in Canada in 2013, this book has finally made its way to the U.S. thanks to the wonderful Enchanted Lion Books. It is a unique, endearing, slightly bizarre story about an elderly woman spending Christmas Eve in her home. Here is Marguerite’s Christmas by India Desjardins, illustrated by Pascal Blanchet, 2015.
Let me start out by saying I love the form of this book. No dust jacket, uncoated paper, lots of white space and extra long page length – this book caught my eye very swiftly. And the illustrations are gorgeous, starting with even the end papers and title page.
The story opens with two, beautiful, wordless spreads. We are silently introduced to a very snowy neighborhood and charming houses with neighbors wandering about amicably and waving to one another. Then we have a very clever line on the following spread, holding lots of mystery and setting the tone perfectly.
“Marguerite Godin would be happy if she never had to set foot outside her house ever again.”
From that point on, we are mainly inside Marguerite’s home, occasionally peering out; but learning about her and her worldview in her old age. Marguerite does not dislike Christmas, we are told. But her memory is failing her, and she is easily exhausted, and she has released her children to celebrate in their own manner without worrying about their aging mother.
She had given up hosting when her hands failed to remain steady, and soon after her husband had passed, followed by many friends. Her time was coming and she knew it. So she stayed in the house, to avoid falling and any other treachery that might befall a frail, natural target as herself.
I’m going to pause in my recap for a moment to voice some thoughts. I opened this review by calling the book unique and slightly bizarre because, well, as you can see, the storyline is not your typical fare in picture books. Nor is the protagonist. It is very rare to see an elderly main character in a picture book, and even more rare to discuss their frailty and coming demise.
But I pause to say, don’t give up on this book. One, it is stunning. I am only picturing a handful of spreads, but they are all gorgeous and intriguing. Pascal Blanchet is a truly captivating artist and the compositions are marvelous!
Secondly, the tone of this book is perfect. There is honesty, a side of pessimism, and some very real elderly personality in the narration of the story. Spend a bit of time with any elderly person like Marguerite and you’ll recognize a similar perspective to her story. And you might understand your elderly acquaintances a bit more too.
Lastly on this note, there is quite a bit of dry, subtle humor here. Little details in the text and especially the images lighten the mood often and also make you smirk a bit. Stick with Marguerite. She needs the company and you need her story more than you realize.
Back to her Christmas story, Marguerite has highlighted the best shows to watch on this holiday eve, and is quite looking forward to it with her frozen dinner. But then the evening changes.
Car noises, followed by her doorbell and Marguerite works herself into a fair panic. Death must be here for her. She peeks out to discover a family skidded off the road. They must need her phone, or they might be there to rob her. She has a lengthy conversation with herself and finally decides to help, in very small, careful ways.
The evening progresses with very little contact between her and the family, and yet, Marguerite is changed. There is much more to this story, but I dare not give it away any further. It is tender and gently heart-wrenching. It is one of those books that I know interacts differently with adults and kids. While I am almost brought to tears with love and care for this lonely woman who reminds me so much of several people I have known; my daughter delights in the story too without even batting an eye.
A book like this with its length and more “mature” content if you can call it speaks very clearly to a point I love to harp on: picture books are not only for children. I would not hesitate to read this story to children and definitely recommend it to adults as well. It is long, yes. And there may be things that children don’t catch, but really, how many times do you have to see or read something before you catch everything. It is a perfect, beautiful, soft climax story just right for a holiday reading.