Review: A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea

christmas tree for pyn

A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea

Little Pyn dreams of having a Christmas tree of their own, but her gruff Papa (who insists that she call him Oother) refuses to have one.  While her father works outside in the woods all day, Pyn tidies up the house.  Through it all, she thinks about a Christmas tree.  When Oother continues to say no to a tree, Pyn decides to handle matters herself.  She waits until her father heads out to work and then dresses herself in warm clothes and takes a small hatchet along with her.  But before she gets far at all, she is up to her waist in snow with more tumbled down and burying her.  Oother rescues her at once, sweeping her up onto his shoulders.  Together the two of them find the perfect tree and bring it home, where Pyn decorates it with all sorts of natural treasures she has saved.  Oother too has something to add to the tree, that speaks to the memory of Pyn’s mother.

Dunrea has managed to create a gruff bear of a father who has trouble expressing his love for his tiny daughter, but that children will understand easily.  There is a palpable love between the two characters though both have trouble voicing it.  It is the warmth in the story, the glue of their small family.  Towards the end of the book, the sorrow of the loss of Pyn’s mother is tangible too.  It is almost achingly there, a physical presence that explains the strained relationship and the reason a Christmas tree is vitally important to them both.

Dunrea’s art is beautifully done with his signature white backgrounds upon which his characters build their lives.  The book is filled with small touches that show the snugness and warmth of their home.  The huge stone fireplace, the cozy slippers, and the steam rising from pots and bowls.  It all creates a family and home.

This book speaks to the heart of the Christmas season, where families grow closer, memories are shared, and a tree becomes more than it could ever seem to be.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin Young Readers Group.

Review: Strega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola

strega nonas gift

Strega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola

In the small Italian village where Strega Nona lives, everyone is busy preparing for the holidays.  They stretch from December 6th and the Feast of San Nicola to January 6th and the Feast of Epifania.  This picture book looks at the various Italian feasts, focusing mostly on the Eve of Epifania where animals are said to be able to get the power of speech.  So all of the people in the village made delicious food for the animals to keep them happy.  However, when Big Anthony realizes that he is eating a simple meal of pasta and not the beautiful food Strega Nona has cooked for the animals, things start to go wrong.  Big Anthony eats the food that was meant for the goat, so she is left with just hay and oats.  Strega Nona uses her magic to send everyone dreams of food that night, but Big Anthony misses out because the goat ate his blanket and he cannot sleep.  In the end, Big Anthony makes everything right again but it takes some holiday luck to make that happen.

dePaola manages to weave the feasts into the storyline deftly, creating a book that shows how some cultures have an extended holiday filled with different sorts of celebrations.  The relationship between Big Anthony and Strega Nona is a large part of the success of this picture book.  Their unique ways with one another adds the spice to the holiday story that it needs.  There is a gentle humor about the story that works well.

As always, the illustrations are simple, humorous and completely appealing.  This is the Stega Nona we have all grown to love, showing her care for her village through her cooking and magic.  It is a quiet sort of Christmas book, one that shows the depth of the holiday season and speaks to more than Santa and gifts.

For families looking for a book that explores a different holiday tradition, this book will be great fun to share and informative too.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin Young Readers Group.