________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 7 . . . .November 25, 2005


One Splendid Tree.

Marilyn Helmer. Illustrated by Dianne Eastman.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2005.
32 pp., cloth, $17.95.
ISBN 1-55337-683-8.

Subject Heading:
Christmas stories, Canadian (English).
Christmas trees-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Canada-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Alison Mews.

**** /4



Hattie frowned. It would take a whole lot of magic to turn that droopy old plant into a Christmas tree.

"Please, Hattie?" Junior pleaded. Hattie glanced at her brother. His face was filled with hope.

She studied the plant, trying to imagine what it would look like dressed up in Christmas finery. Her frown faded as she began to catch Junior's excitement. Didn't Daddy always say that Christmas is a time when magical things happen? Decorating the plant was just the kind of thing he would do. It would almost be like having him home.

"Junior, let's do it!" she cried.


This heartwarming Christmas story is set during World War II and focuses on a family making ends meet while the father is overseas fighting. They have moved to a dreary apartment building to be near the factory where the mother has obtained a wartime job. There is no money for footwear that fits, let alone Christmas decorations. When Junior talks his sister into decorating the old palm tree in the hall, his suggestion gradually transforms not only the tree, but also the whole atmosphere of the building as its tenants rediscover the spirit of Christmas and reach out to one another.

      Helmer uses the relationship between the siblings to explore the different reactions experienced by families during times of separation. Hattie, as the elder child, is yearning not only for her absent father but also for her pre-war life in their comfortable family home. Young Junior lives more in the moment and quickly adapts to the overall changes while responding intensely to any immediate disappointments. For instance, he calls their new accommodations “home” to Hattie's chagrin, but his "face crumpled like a burst balloon" upon learning none of the Christmas decorations moved with them. The decision to make their own restores his exuberance and provides Hattie with a missing sense of purpose. Helmer further develops the transformation in attitudes as the children's infectious enthusiasm takes hold of everyone, and even crabby Mrs. Dixon contributes a festive touch.

internal art      Eastman's computer collages of photos and illustrations are filled with period items that further bring the 1940's to life. The clothing, chrome kitchen set, wallpaper and many tiny details are carefully selected and placed to recreate the atmosphere of the time. She has even used a sepia-toned photograph of her own father in RCAF uniform to portray the absent father in the story. The composite pictures in warm tones are visually attractive and will appeal to today's children.

      This is a wonderful addition to the shelf of Christmas stories at home or at school, but it could also be used in classrooms doing a wartime unit.

Highly Recommended.

Allison Mews is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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