This is a fairly simple story of quiet wishes longed for with clenched fists and eyes firmly tied shut (pleasepleaseplease), the magic of a prickle, and finding a home for Christmas. It is also a reminder of how we should be grateful for things that we usually take for granted: the warmth of a fire, breakfast lovingly prepared for you as you wake up on Christmas Day, and the simple sense of belonging and knowing you are where you should be.
Six-year-old Ivy is an orphan who lives in St. Agnes, an orphanage for around 30 boys and girls.
“Ivy was a little girl, six years old with straight hair cut in a fringe, blue-grey eyes, and a turned-up nose. She had a green coat the colour of her name, and red gloves, but no lady or gentleman had asked for her for Christmas.” (pp. 10-11)
Miss Shepherd, the custodian, had no choice but to send Ivy off to the Infants’ Home in the country as she has to attend to her sister who has influenza.
So we have Exhibit A: lovely six year old girl – unwanted, unloved, alone.
Exhibit Two, we present Holly:
“She was ten inches high and carefully jointed; she had real gold hair, brown glass eyes, and teeth like tiny china pearls.” (p. 3)
How could you not fall in love with that description. I am 34 (and counting) but the way Holly is described sends wistful reminiscences of what it was like to be six and to hold that kind of porcelain perfection in your hands – to have, to hold, to cherish.
“Dolls are not like us; we are alive as soon as we are born, but dolls are not really alive until they are played with.” (p.20)
Exhibit Three, we see the old childless couple Mr. and Mrs. Jones. The latter chanced upon the doll, Holly in the window display of Mr. Blossom’s toy shop and a quietly-
nagging feeling enveloped her:
“only a feeling stirred in her that she had not had for a long time, a feeling of Christmas, and when she got home she told Mr Jones, ‘This year we shall have a tree.’
‘Don’t be daft,’ said Mr Jones. (p. 22)
The narrative goes on to show a strange confluence of events that weave all these three
seemingly random threads together to make a fine sparkling Christmas quilt. Godden’s storytelling highlights empty aching spaces, missing keys and talking mean-spirited owls, and the tenacity and will to simply believe even when reality starkly slaps you in the cheeks with the chill that seeps through your bones; the hungry, gaping stomach; a missing grandmother that exists only in your heart’s eye; and finding home on Christmas morn.
The book is a very swift read (it took me a little over an hour to finish it), but it manages to tug on one’s heartstrings, untie ‘em, and set ‘em loose. Godden manages that kind of power in storytelling, as also evidenced in some of her works that we have written about here and here.
Rumer Godden’s storyline has been incredibly enriched by Christian Birmingham’s lovely black and white pencil sketches interspersed in some of the leaves of this chapter book. This website indicates that his rise to fame started when he was commissioned for the book The Night Before Christmas which sold in excess of 1.5 million copies. If you wish to know more about him and his work, click on this link to be taken to his personal website.Sources: Book borrowed from the community library Book photos taken by me. Christian Birmingham’s photo from http://www.booksillustrated.com/en-UK/christian-birmingham