“THE CARPENTER’S GIFT: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree,” by David Rubel, illustrated by Jim LaMarche, Random House Books for Young Readers, Sept. 27, 2011, $17.99 (ages 5 and up)
It’s 1931 and Henry and his family are making due during the Great Depression. With both parents out of work, Henry’s family can’t afford coal for the stove or warm blankets for the beds.
The day before Christmas, Henry’s father decides to cut down a bunch of trees from a nearby grove of evergreens and take them into New York City to sell. When father and son reach Manhattan, they find a good spot to set up shop on Fifth Avenue next to a construction site.
Henry and his father spend the day selling trees, and when it’s time to go home, they donate the rest to the nearby construction workers. The workers decorate the biggest tree and Henry can’t help but think this is one of the best days he can remember. Just before leaving, he picks up a pine cone and takes it home with him.
The next morning, Henry’s family wakes to the sound of car horns honking. The Rockefeller Center workers have come to their home with supplies to build them a new home. Soon the family has a new home, and Henry plants his pine cone to commemorate the event.
Years later, when Henry is an old man, he is asked to donate the tree that grew from the pine cone to the Rockefeller Center for Christmas. Henry struggles with giving away such a cherished memory, but when he learns the wood from the tree will be used to build a home for a family in need, he knows it’s something he has to do.
Though fiction, “The Carpenter’s Gift” is inspired by Habitat for Humanity’s annual tradition of using donated lumber from the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. And in a time when many people are again without homes, it’s a sharp reminder of the impact charity and goodwill can have.
Though it covers a lot of material, “The Carpenter’s Gift” is an engaging tale that school-age children will enjoy and appreciate. The accompanying illustrations evoke a different time while still being relatable. Parents will appreciate the themes of generosity and kindness, as we enter the holiday season.
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