Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Great Spruce

Well, I've found a book after my own heart. It's a book about Christmas, family, traditions, and protecting the life and longevity of trees.

I just love trees. I like having lots of trees on our property and having our house shaded by them. I love their beauty and history. I love the way the sun catches the leaves, making them glow and sparkle. I love their beauty in the fall, and the sounds of crunching leaves under my feet. And I love to see and hear my kids climbing them -- just as I loved climbing them when I was little.

And I hate to see trees cut down. I know that there are many valid reasons for tree removal -- they might be dying or posing a danger to others if they are prone to breaking. I get it, but I still miss their beautiful presence.

So when my kids and I read The Great Spruce by John Duvall, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016), I fell in love with it. I think you will, too.

The book begins with Alec and his love for climbing trees -- especially the great spruce. "It was the most magical of all the trees, tall and strong and spreading ever upward." Such lovely writing.

Alec's grandpa had planted the spruce long before Alec was born, and together they decorate it each winter with lights and tinsel.

Alec and his grandpa are not the only ones who love the tree: visitors arrive who ask if they can take the great spruce for the city's Christmas celebration. Alec is appalled that his tree would be gone forever, and he blocks the men from cutting it down. Instead, he convinces them to dig the tree up by its roots and borrow it!

And that's just what they do. They dig up the great spruce and it is transported to the city where it is enjoyed by thousands. One girl, in particular, loves the tree, so Alec gives her one of its cones, encouraging her to plant the seeds that are inside so that she might grow her own great spruce.

By spring, the spruce is replanted and is thriving at home, and Alec is still spending his days climbing its beautiful limbs.

Exquisite endpapers
The writing in this book is beautiful and lyrical, the story is sweet, the characters are selfless, and the spruce's legacy lives on. And the illustrations by Gibbon are so perfect for this story: they are colorful and detailed and convey, page by page, a world that is full of life, beauty and goodness.

Sigh. It's just such a wonderful and hope-filled story. And here's the best part: there's an author's note at the end of the book.

It tells of the history of the giant Christmas trees used for celebrations like those in New York -- how the trees used to be dug up and borrowed for the season, and were later replanted in their home. Because it is cheaper to just cut down a tree, though, this practice changed. Now, John Duvall devotes his work to gently removing trees for celebrations such as these and then returning them to the earth. I love that. To preserve these magnificent trees so that they can continue thriving is a beautiful thing, indeed.

I hope you get a chance to share this book with your little ones this season. It's a special one!

Happy reading,

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Twelve Mice of Christmas

Happy Sunday and Happy Holidays!

I've been busily working and writing lately, because I wanted to have an entry to share for Susanna Hill's 6th Annual Holiday Writing Contest. The guidelines this year are to write a 300-word (or less) children's holiday story based on the structure or concept of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The story can be "poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate." attempt is below! (296 words) Thanks for stopping by and reading.

by Jennifer Garthe


Within the snowy woodland,
12 mice were gently creeping.
Inside a cabin in the woods
Their friend Old Bear was sleeping.               

This time each year they loaded up
With gear for celebrating,
To bring the feel of Christmas
While their friend was hibernating.

The first mouse of Christmas
Placed a wreath with bow and berry
Upon the door to welcome guests
And make the house look merry.

The second mouse of Christmas
Set a stocking by the fire,
Followed by the third mouse
Bringing garland to admire.

While Bear snored on, the next four mice
Brought in the Christmas tree.
They placed it in a corner
Just where Bear would wake and see.

The eighth mouse of Christmas
Brought in strings of twinkle lights.
Soon the tree and garland glowed
With glints of frosted whites.

Mice 9 and 10 came in with
Shiny tinsel for the tree,
And ornaments of red and gold
That sparkled brilliantly.

The 11th mouse of Christmas
Brought sweet cocoa to the house.
He’d serve warm mugs to Bear
And then to each and every mouse.

The 12th mouse of Christmas
Brought their favorite treat of all:
His shiny wooden fiddle
To delight ears big and small.

The house was warm and ready.
The tree was glittery.
The mouse took up his fiddle
And began a melody.

The music stopped Bear’s snoring
And the mice knew he could hear it.
He slowly woke and saw
His house aglow with Christmas spirit!

They brought Old Bear his cocoa
And some slippers for his feet.
They listened to the music
In the room so snug and sweet.

“Thank you, friends,” he said
With mug in hand and raised to tell:
“Cheers to a happy Christmas
And to friends who love us well.”

Happy Holidays to you and yours -- and best wishes to those who submitted entries to the contest!


UPDATE (12/19/2016): My entry won an honorable mention in the contest! While the story didn't qualify for the list of finalists, I'm happy to have gone through the process and to now have a manuscript that I can polish. Excited to stretch my writing muscles more in the coming months!