25 Days – Book 22: The Story of Holly & Ivy (Cooney)

Day 22 has arrived and with it a long, lovely picture book. There have been many illustrated versions of this picture book. I have two of them: one illustrated by one of my favorites, Adrienne Adams, and this one. This is the one that I have very specific memories of from childhood. I don’t remember owning this book. It must have been a favorite from the library. But I remember the pictures like I made them myself. They bring a flood of memories. And someone must have read me the story, or perhaps I could read for myself at the time; but this one leaves an impression on your heart. Come enjoy a story about wishing. This is The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden, pictures by Barbara Cooney, 1957/1985.

The story originally appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1958. This Cooney illustrated version was published in 1985. The first date is important to remember as a tale of orphan homes and children riding alone on trains is a specific time in history. Was anyone else fascinated by orphan stories as a child? There must be many as orphan stories abound in children’s literature. You don’t see as many of those anymore, though. But I digress.

The author tells you from the beginning that this is a story of wishing. It is a long, beautiful story about a little orphan girl, traveling to the wrong place on a train, who reroutes herself to a little town with a toy shop and most importantly, a lonely policeman’s wife.

Ivy is the girl’s name. She is determined to find a grandmother who does not exist. The other important character is of course, Holly. She is a Christmas doll that sits quite longingly in the toy shop window.

This is story of full of all the wonderful things that make a story tick. There is longing, wishing, a mean character, a forgetful character, and empathetic characters. It is just the sort of story that I long to read my children. It is a story of emptiness, kindness, and love.

That blue image there is the one I remember the most from this book. Though I’m sure the illustrations of the toy shop window are etched onto my memory as my fondness for city shop windows must have been fostered somewhere! I loved that blue image of the dolls in the dark, lit only by the moon. It is eerie and beautiful and mysterious. A good story is like that. It fills you with joy and longing.

Rumer Godden is a good storyteller. You should always seek out her work for charming stories. And Barbara Cooney is known and beloved for many reasons. Her work has a beauty and depth that is hard to match. Have you seen this story? Do you have a favorite illustrator of it? I wish for you this season delightful stories like this one.

3 thoughts on “25 Days – Book 22: The Story of Holly & Ivy (Cooney)

  1. This is one of my absolute favourite Christmas read alouds. I read it to Year 1 (six and seven year olds) every year and it has not failed once. They are transfixed. I read the Cooney version, but I also have a version that is illustrated by Christian Birmingham. My other successful Christmas read is Fair’s Fair by Leon Garfield. It gives my Year 2 classes the feeling of Dickens without being as long. It comes in many versions too, but by far the best is the one illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (sadly out of print). I have enjoyed your Christmas countdown. Merry Christmas.

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