Tree of Cranes by Allen Say. Houghton Mifflin Co.,1991. I think this is my favorite Say book. He tells us of a time when he was living in Japan as a boy. He disobeyed his mother by playing in the neighbor's goldfish pond and fell into the water. Since it was winter he caught cold and was sick in bed eating only rice gruel for a few days. He woke from a fevered sleep to find his mother decorating a small pine tree that she dug up from the garden. He knows nothing of Christmas but learns of the tree decorating tradition from his mother, who was born in California.
"Today is a very special day in that warm place. If you happened to be there now, you would see trees like this everywhere, all decorated with winking lights and small globes of silver and gold... And under each tree there are boxes of presents people give to friends and loved ones."She covers the little tree with candles and they sit admiring the flickering lights. The gifts they exchange are tender and sweet. The mood of this book is just delightful. The illustrations are lovely with Allen Say's perfect use of light and color. This is a treasure of a book.
"I want a samurai kite!" I said.
"You give and receive, child. It is a day of love and peace. Strangers smile at one another. Enemies stop fighting. We need more days like it."
How Many Miles to Bethlehem? by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Peter Malone.Arthur A Levine Books, 2004. Here is the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem told poetically in the voices of each of the participants. The Innkeeper complains of space and food concerns but share a light to take to the stable. The ox and donkey offer their warmth and a share of hay. The shepherds and the star speak of angels and hope in the darkness. The wise men seek the king-child. Herod plans destruction. Mary plans to wrap her little lamb in swaddling bands. Jesus says,
"I am the Child and King. Lord of locusts and wild honey, and the lemon groves. I am the Shepherd and the Lamb. I am the Light of Light. The baby who will cradle the world. In your heart, hold me. I will never leave you."Malone's art glows with joy and vibrant life. The characters come in all skin tones, representing a wide variety of ethnicities. Mary is brown-skinned, with crimped hair and lovely wide eyes. The paintings are done in a Renaissance style. My librarian co-worker remarked that the artwork reminds her a lot of Tomie DePaola's Strega Nona. There are similar layouts and style features when you compare the two. My favorite picture is at the end of the book where the angels are flying in a circular swirl of bright colors. If you are looking for the true story of Christmas here is your book.