CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 9. . . .October 29, 2010
A Chanukah Noel: A True Story.
Sharon Jennings. Illustrated by Gillian Newland.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2010.
24 pp., hardcover, $15.95.
Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5 9.
Review by Reesa Cohen.
One day, Daddy came home from work and said, “I have a big surprise. We are going to live in France.” I wasn’t so sure I like this surprise, but I left home with Mommy and Daddy and sailed all the way across the ocean.
When Charlotte and her family move to France, she is troubled and less than enthusiastic about all the changes taking place: a new language spoken, being put in a lower grade level, living in a small village, eating products directly from a farm instead of a grocery store. Charlotte’s complaints to her parents were answered by, “We are in France now, Charlotte. We will live like the French and be grateful for new opportunities.” The one thing Charlotte is grateful for was the French Baguette!
To make matters worse, one of Charlotte’s schoolmates, Colette, ridicules her mistakes in speaking French and refers to Charlotte as a foreigner. Trying to fit in is a challenge, especially when Charlotte’s fascination with and wish to become a part of the Christmas holiday celebrations in the village are dismissed by her mother: “It is a Christian holiday. We are Jewish. We will celebrate Chanukah.”
Participating in preparations for the holidays at school didn’t abate Charlotte’s envy and longing to have Christmas. But her discovery that Colette and her family are too poor to enjoy the holiday with all the trimmings leads her to an imaginative and inspired solution of gift-giving that will allow everyone to experience the joy of the season. The story is accompanied by rather dark, yet detailed and richly coloured illustrations.
Sharon Jennings is a well-known author of many children’s books. Two of my favourites are Bear Cub and Mama and No Monsters Here. Her skill in embodying the voice of a young person is evident in her stories, and Charlotte is a fully realized young girl with faults.
But I think this book misses the mark, both in the title and intent. Although the author notes and the subtitle indicates that Jennings is telling a story “based on the childhood experiences of one of her friends”, there are several areas that mystify this reviewer. In the picture depicting Charlotte and the ages of her classmates, Charlotte would seem to be old enough to know that Christmas is not part of her faith. And her envy and self pity over not celebrating Christmas becomes truly grating. The title, A Chanukah Noel, is misleading. Providing the gift of celebration to Colette and her family is admirable, but there is little stated of the holiday of Chanukah, other than an illustration and the mention of a menorah. The entire focus seems to be only on Christmas and bringing it to Colette’s family, so that Charlotte, herself, can enjoy the fun of the holiday. I am not disputing the facts of this simple “true story”, but the result seems to be one sided. If the intent is to deliver a message of tolerance, sharing of traditions, and celebrating different faiths, as is stated in the publicity release accompanying the book, then truly sharing the two different holiday celebrations would have brought more balance.
Recommended with Reservations.
Reesa Cohen is a retired Instructor of Children’s Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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