These two picture books—one set in the city, the other set on a farm—remind us that wherever we may be during the Christmas holiday season, there’s always something special about coming together to care for others and share simple gifts.
With all her heart, Deja wants to believe in Santa, despite the doubts that her classmates have instilled in her. After all, her family’s apartment doesn’t have a chimney, and really, just how could Santa actually live at the North Pole? Deja’s mom sets out to answer these and many other questions about how Santa navigates the big city to find their home. She even reveals how he finds Deja when her family spends Christmas with their relatives in Jamaica.
In the process, readers see glimpses of Deja’s family and community, from Mr. Clark, who cares for their apartment building, to Mr. Ortiz at the bodega, to Deja’s aunties and uncles. They’re all happy to answer Deja’s questions about how Santa works and provide evidence that “magic always finds a way.” Although Deja hopes to pose her questions directly to the source by staying up late to catch Santa in the act, well, we all know that small eyes eventually close, even on Christmas Eve. But Santa leaves behind a very special message for Deja, ensuring that the young believer will enthusiastically begin counting down the days to the next Christmas.
Tiffany D. Jackson’s lively, heartwarming text is brought vividly to life by Reggie Brown’s bright, bold artwork that depicts Deja’s close-knit community within a bustling and colorful city setting. Many children share Deja’s questions about how Santa can find them (How will he get into the building? Where will the reindeer land?), making this book an excellent alternative to Santa stories about families who live in houses with chimneys and depict only white Santas and Santa’s helpers. Santa in the City is a wonderfully magical and inclusive holiday story.
When her parents announce that they’ll be keeping Christmas simple this year, the young narrator of Phyllis Alsdurf and Lisa Hunt’s A Simple Christmas on the Farm is less than enthused. For one thing, her dad explains, they’ll be making all their own presents. But after the girl and her mom pick out a small, straggly Christmas tree, she gets into the spirit of focusing “less on getting and more on giving,” and makes a plan to host a gathering of friends and neighbors in their little red barn.
The girl and her mom bake cut-out cookies, and as the girl hands them out, she invites members of her diverse rural community to the celebration. Among the attendees are the girl’s grandparents, who live nearby, a nurse at the senior center that the girl and her mom visit every month and the town veterinarian and her family. The ensuing feast is a delicious spread that includes candied yams, roast beef, tamales and, of course, Christmas cookies, all set against the warm glow of the barn’s interior, decorated with pine garlands and string lights.
Hunt’s artwork tends toward simple shapes and bright colors, giving it a folksy feel. She often sets off outdoor scenes with white space, which emphasizes the snowy landscape. Alsdurf extends her story’s theme in a practical way by including instructions for three easy projects that families can make together at home, such as star-shaped ornaments the girl creates with her grandmother from scraps of fabric and old buttons.
Just as in Santa in the City, A Simple Christmas on the Farm ends as the narrator looks forward to another Christmas, highlighting one of the simplest joys of the season, no matter where or how it’s celebrated: the secure knowledge that it will always come again.