Many Christmas picture books encompass a great capacity for wonder. Stories of Santa Claus and his magical North Pole factory, tales of elves and Christmas sprites, and even vintage stories of Christmas ghosts, for example, use magic as a vehicle for transcendence.
These stories can be great and good (Your Correspondent was certainly raised on them), but it is rare that a picture-book uses real-world experiences to illustrate the miracle of Christmas. Parents looking for something rare and wonderful should look no further than the delightful and heart-warming An Invisible Thread: A Christmas Story, written by Laura Schroff and Alex Trensiowski, and illustrated by Barry Root.
Many readers would be familiar with the story already, as it is based on Schroff’s New York Times bestselling book of the same name. This picture-book version softens many of the details for children’s consumption, but alert children will pick up on the inherent grittiness of the tale.
In brief: advertising executive Schroff is hit up for spare change by a street kid, Maurice, who is hungry. Initially Schroff says no, but turns back and offers to buy the boy lunch.
So starts an unusual friendship, where Schroff takes young Maurice to dinner every week. As the fabric of their lives become more interwoven, Schroff learns of the poverty of the boy’s existence, of his struggling family, and of his desire to break out of his miserable circumstances.
Soon, Schroff learns that Maurice has never had a proper Christmas. So, as the holiday rolls around, Schroff helps the boy write his first letter to Santa, asks his help putting up her Christmas tree, and, on the Day of Days itself, takes the boy with her to spend the day with her family.
In return, Maurice leaves a very special present under Schroff’s tree, one that she will treasure forever…
Based on a true story, the book closes with a picture of both Schroff and Maurice when they met, and how they look today. Maurice freely admits that Schroff’s kindness and interest in him steered him away from a possibly troubled life; Schroff asserts that simple acts of kindness can change the world by impacting positively on individuals. (It is, in short, a dramatic, real-life illustration of the lesson found in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.)
The book ends with a brief homily on the value of Small Acts of Kindness. While many people will spend Christmas buying gifts, this book reminds young readers that the true meaning of the holiday is the importance of giving from our hearts.
The text (one imagines that Tresniowski did the adaptation from Schroff’s source material), is tight and smartly written. One can see that there was a lot of judicious editing to make the hardscrabble realities of Maurice’s life palatable to youngsters, but nothing is lost by the concision.
The illustrations by Barry Root are energetic, warm and intimate. Through smiles and body language, Root is able to illustrate their deep emotional connection. One is touched by the primacy of Christmas trees in these pictures, as if a teeming holiday spirit was taking root and growing. Root’s pictures are terrific, and make the story come to life.
This book is highly recommended to anyone looking to help youngsters learn the true meaning of Christmas and, perhaps, turn them into budding altruists, too. If you have children on your Christmas list from about ages four-to-10, it would be hard to do better.
More Christmas picture books tomorrow!