Friday, December 23, 2016

PPBF: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Merry Christmas to all!
 
There's no official Perfect Picture Book Friday today, but I wanted to share a very special picture book for the holiday.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, first edition.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Written Susan Wojciechowski

Illustrated by P. J. Lynch

Candlewick Press, 1995
Ages 6-10, 40 pp, 2860 words


Themes:
Christmas, Overcoming Loss

Opening:
"The Village children called him Mr. Gloomy. But, in fact, his name was Toomey. Mr. Jonathan Toomey. And though it's not kind to call people names, this one fit quite well. For Jonathan Toomey seldom smiled and never laughed."

Synopsis:
A widow and her boy need the local wood carver to replace her heirloom nativity set. The wood carver happens to be Jonathan Toomey, the grouchiest man in town. As he works on each figure in the manger, the widow's young son watches intently. Despite the carver's scowls, the boy can't help interrupting. The sheep isn't happy enough. The cow isn't proud enough. The angel doesn't look important enough. As the relationship between the two progresses, the characters each begin to come to terms with their griefs. When Mr. Toomey faces his greatest challenge, how to represent the baby Jesus and his mother, his inspiration is drawn from a surprising source.

What I Love:
Some books have an enduring value that makes them timeless, even classic. This is one of those books. Published over twenty years ago, it has won awards, been reprinted multiple times, and continues to be sought by new generations of readers. Picture storybooks of the 90's were text heavy rather than stripped down like today's texts, but the story doesn't feel flabby. Instead the author takes time to develop backstory and uses plenty of dialogue.

Susan Wojciechowski's story is funny and heart-warming without being sappy. While the ending seems inevitable, it does not feel predictable.

If you've never experienced P. J. Lynch's luscious illustrations, you'll be spell-bound. His watercolors are more than life-like. They are rich and warm. The textures make you want to sit and stare.

P. J. Lynch's stunning watercolor illustrations add texture and emotion.

Bonus: 
1. When my kids were small, I adapted the text, nearly word-for-word into a play for the school Christmas program. The kids enjoyed it and the audience laughed in all the right places. We used minimal sets and cast a narrator. Now that I think about it, we probably should've sold books as a fundraiser after the performance, giving the audience an opportunity to make it an annual event in their own homes.

2. I've seen the movie version. It was well-done and adequate, but it didn't move me like the book or like performing the story live.

3. My daughter is interested in whittling. We haven't tried it yet, but I recommend reading more on sites like JM Cremp's Adventure Blog. You can find a great selection of supplies at Mountain Woodcarvers.com.

4. We put our ceramic manger scene in a prominent place during Christmas. The figures were painted by my mom and the wooden stable was made by a dear friend's dad. I try to make it the first decoration so Jesus's birth stays central in our thoughts all season. I seem to remember an old Italian tradition in which nativity pieces were wrapped and one was opened each night like an advent calendar. Though I couldn't find internet evidence of that, there's an interesting article on traditional Italian Christmas celebrations on Kids World Travel Guide.

5. Read more Perfect Picture Book Friday reviews for seasonal titles: Goodnight, Manger, reviewed by Erik, Christmas in the Trenches, reviewed by Jarm, Christmas Lullaby, reviewed by Julie, or Twas Nochebuena, reviewed by Patricia.

6. Why not make this book a holiday tradition? Pair it with Patricia MacLachlan's The True Gift or Ruth Graham's One Wintry Night.



The True Gift,
by Pat MacLachlan and Brian Floca
One Wintry Night,
by Ruth Bell Graham and Richard Jesse Watson




Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

 Perfect Picture Book Friday will return in 2017, available through Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

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