It's Day 2 of our 12 Days of Christmas Picture Books countdown. On this day, at this moment, our hearts first go out to the families of all those touched by the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Details about this horrific event are still coming in, but one thing is certain - lives were destroyed today, hearts were broken. Tonight our love is with all those affected by today's senseless act. Tonight we will be sitting a little closer, hugging a little tighter. Tonight, we will pray.
And tonight, we'll read another Christmas title, because when nothing else in this world makes sense, books soothe us.
Tonight we are sharing a book that's unfortunately out of print, but well worth finding from your favorite used bookstore or borrowing from the library. Sarah Hayes's Happy Christmas Gemma was published in 1986, but it has a timeless quality that makes it just as fresh and relevant for children today. Hayes is a British author, so there are some touches that are uniquely English in this one. But what I love most about it is that it really speaks to younger children, those who may perhaps have a baby in the house and who are feeling quite grown-up in comparison. There aren't enough books that fill this niche, and finding a holiday-themed one is even better.
It's Gemma's first Christmas, and her older brother is making sure she's experiencing every bit of the season, in her own way. As he decorates the tree, Gemma undecorates it. As he wraps presents, Gemma tears up labels. And as he waits up for Santa, Gemma falls fast asleep -- good thing her big brother is looking out for her!
This gentle story of sibling love is written in a simple tone, as a young child would tell it. Jan Ormerod's illustrations match the text perfectly, revealing warm scenes of togetherness and celebration. I especially love the expressions on brother's face, suitably indulgent as he watches little Gemma go about her way just as a small baby would. Much of this reminds me of Ezra Jack Keats and other classic depictions of family life - in particular the spread where baby Gemma sleeps while her brother watches the snow come down reminded both Sprout and I of The Snowy Day, which of course makes us love this one all the more.
For a story that hits just the right note of childlike anticipation and joyous celebration, Happy Christmas Gemma is an excellent find. And when we need to appreciate the closeness of our family, as we do tonight, we're so grateful for books like this.
Happy Christmas Gemma by Sarah Hayes, published by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
Sample: "We all ate a lot at Christmas dinner. Once Grandma put her elbows on the table, but I didn't say anything. Gemma turned her bowl upside down."