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When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four: A Christmas Memory Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Mother is a tiny woman-4'11''-except when life demands that she draw herself up to her "full height" of 11'4.'' Christmas is one of those times.

Father is opposed to celebrating Christmas, Mother is a romantic who loves every little thing about it. So every year the couple fights about whether the holiday will be celebrated in their house or not. And every year Jerry and his brothers eavesdrop nervously until their mother ensures that Christmas wins out.

When things take a turn for the worst, Mother and the boys find themselves struggling with poverty and depressed circumstances. Mother tries to make the best of things, but when she loses the holiday spirit, her young sons decide to do something about it. In their attempt to help her, they discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Jerry Camery-Hoggatt is Professor of New Testament and Narrative Theology at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California. He is the author of several books, including Speaking of God.

From the Back Cover

"When everything was ready, Pudge got to turn on the lights . . . and all at once, like magic . . . it was Christmas." Mother was only four-foot-eleven-inches tall on the outside, but when she was at her best she stood eleven-foot-four on the inside. And every Christmas she was at her best. Mother would carefully decorate a twelve-foot Christmas tree and load extravagant presents beneath its branches, and the magic of the holiday would begin. Then one year, everything changed. Mother cried on Christmas. As her sons tried to encourage her, they learned what it means to give good gifts--to be eleven-foot-four on the inside. When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four is beautifully illustrated and masterfully written for children ages four through eight and anyone young at heart. Your family will treasure it each year as a heart-warming story of hope and grace--a reminder that Christmas is a celebration of God's extravagant gift to us. Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, author of five books, is professor of New Testament and narrative theology at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California. He loves writing and preaching, but more than anything he loves telling stories. He takes special joy in discovering the ways God complicates our plots in an artful play to turn us into more interesting and Christlike characters. Mark Elliott illustrated the children's picture book classic Candle in the Window and numerous young adult book covers, including the Newbery-Award-winning series the Princess Tales. He lives on a working sheep farm in the lower Hudson Valley along with two donkeys and two crazy long-haired cats.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1128 KB
  • Print Length: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Revell (October 1, 2001)
  • Publication Date: October 1, 2001
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007P3QSD8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #595,256 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Not so long ago, there was a boy who lived with three cousins and four siblings in a three-story house. The attic was converted into a large bedroom where they slept and played and wondered about things larger than themselves. In that house the boy learned about God, about love, divorce, violence and, much later, reconciliation. There he began his quest for truth that would lead him around the world and finally to a life-altering experience at a place not so far from where he began.

So goes the story of Jerry Camery-Hoggatt '75, professor of New Testament and narrative theology for nearly 30 years, and 3-year chair of VU's religion division, 1-year Director of VU's Grad Programs in Religion. Camery-Hoggatt has sterling academic credentials, but he is also a riveting storyteller, a published author of scholarly monographs, commentaries, memoirs and fiction, a performer of story concerts and a pioneering professor who teaches the gospel as odyssey rather than as outline.

"[Universities] package most of what they do in outline form, but most people come to their religious beliefs in story form," Camery-Hoggatt says. "I try to write prose that people who'd never pick up a theology book can read comfortably, that engages them in theological reflection. I use story as a vehicle for achieving that."

Camery-Hoggatt's life is as dramatic as the stories he tells. As a boy, his childhood was overshadowed by his parents' divorce, which left the Pentecostal, church-going family with a shameful stigma. Former church friends crossed the street to avoid them. Camery-Hoggatt was so shaken by this that he began to question God's existence. He posed a theological question to his pastor one Sunday, and the pastor replied, "We're Christians. We don't ask those kinds of questions." Perplexed, Camery-Hoggatt graduated high school and left home, joining Up With People and touring the world. Deep in his heart he was searching for answers.

One Easter Sunday he found himself in an old Russian monastery in Stamford, Conn., attending a midnight mass. There, seated among the immigrants who whispered to one another in their native tongue, Camery-Hoggatt witnessed a scene of reconciliation that stirred his soul. At that moment he decided he would ask again the question of God. If God did not exist, then nothing mattered; if God did exist, then nothing else mattered in quite the same way, he thought.

He returned from touring and took his spiritual journey to Vanguard, where he says he was welcomed despite his spiritual doubts. Wary and questioning, he attended a prayer meeting one Wednesday night in the old Coat of Arms room above the gymnasium, and when the Communion elements came by, he refused them. He didn't want to be a hypocrite. Then something strange happened: The fellow sitting next to him put an arm around his shoulder, pulled him close and began to cry. "I feel how lost you are," the fellow said, "and I'll pray that God will find you and take you home to him." At that moment, Camery-Hoggatt had an epiphany: if that person could care that much for him, God could, too. He stood up, walked to the front of the room, took a paper cup and the almost-empty pitcher of grape juice, walked back to his seat and said, "Pour this for me."

"At that moment I knew I had become a Christian and would be a Christian for the rest of my life," he says, weeping at the recollection.

He also found his professional home at Vanguard. That very semester he discovered biblical studies under Dr. Russ Spittler and Dr. William Williams, and the subject was "a hole into which I fell and I never climbed out," he says. He abandoned pre-med and threw himself into study of the New Testament.

"What captured me was the discovery that these books were written by real people who had real stories to tell and were wrestling with real life issues," he says. "It was a great release, because I'd been handed a view of the Bible that was divorced from real life; that it was a theoretical and abstract book, that it could be applied to real life but had not originated in real life. Now I saw it as a real book that came out of real human experience. I found it immensely rich."

His journey took him to Gordon-Conwell Seminary, where he earned a master's degree, and Boston University where he earned a Ph.D. in early Christian origins. He studied with Amos Wilder, older brother of playwright Thornton Wilder, and wrote his dissertation on the use of irony as a narrative strategy in the gospel of Mark.

Today, he mainly writes stories instead of technical theology.

"People respond to a story in a fundamentally different way than they respond to an outline," he says. "There are dimensions of reality that cannot be captured in an outline but can be in a story. So there's an automatic disconnect between our formal education and the daily life of the church. Most pastors never learn how to bridge back in the other direction. An effective minister has to be bi-lingual and communicate in both modes."

Camery-Hoggatt turned his own childhood experiences into stories that eventually became a book, My Mother Was Eleven Foot Four: A Christmas Memory (Revell). It tells of his growing up in a house with eight children an great tension; of his father's violence and his parents' divorce, and his mother's coming to terms with that. The story was re-issued as the first of three stories in Giver of Gifts. A children's picturebook version of this story was also published by Revell.

The most recent Christmas story is not based on his life, but is written in the 1st person narrative voice of a fictional 17-year-old girl--My Mother's Wish (Waterbrook Press). He has written other books, notably Reading the Good Book Well: A Guide to Biblical Interpretation (Abingdon Press), Irony in Mark's Gospel (Cambridge University Press), Grapevine: A Spirituality of Gossip (Herald Press), Speaking of God: Reading and Preaching the Word of God (currently available in paperback form from Wipf and Stock Publishers). He also wrote a commentary on Mark for Zondervan, and a book on interpretive method for Hendricksen. He's excited about his newest projects, one of which is a novel built around the gospel of Mark, another is a digital resource for working with the Bible, and one of this is a church history written for college freshmen and church laity.

Vanguard changed his life in other ways as well: He met and courted Shaleen '75, his wife. All three of their adult children have followed Jerry's footsteps and attended Gordon College or Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary before going on to additional theological studies and parish ministry.

The most rewarding surprise in his career has been his relationships with students, he says. His office is adorned by mementos from students -- a wax cross, a glass tin, a cigar given to him as thanks for mentoring a friend through a doctoral program at McCormick Seminary. On a special stand he has the pulpit Bible that once belonged to the pastor of the church his family attended when he was six years old.

"These mementos move me very deeply," he says. "This is the core of teaching, and it's why I do what I do. There are moments in which people are ripe for hearing some particular truth. Maybe nobody else in the room is. If you connect with them at that moment, it can be transforming, but you can't plan that into a curriculum. You have to respond to the signals. That's what makes teaching so joyful and challenging."

When he sees former students, they almost always comment on the stories he told in class. "They learn what I taught in the class, but they remember the stories," he says.

He hopes to give back what he received from Vanguard during those critical years when he was questioning God.

"At Vanguard I found people who were eagerly probing hard questions, challenging me and respecting where I was on my journey, and I'm profoundly grateful," he says. "Those years were joyful and liberating. I never had to choose between my brain and my heart. The kind of teaching I received is the kind of teacher I wish to be."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Naomi Kasa on November 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"When Mother was Eleven-foot-four" is a beautifully crafted story of love and hope in the face of opposition. This poignant memoir tells the story of a mother's gift to her son. It is a story about becoming "a little larger on the inside" and standing eleven-foot-four. This Christmas tale is a reminder of joy and faith amid sacrifice, tears, and loss.
The flowing narrative style of the book, infused with both the innocence of a child and the gentle wisdom of later years, is reminiscent of the writings of Ralph Moody and such holiday classics as the Christmas Box.
The author, Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, invites the reader to experience a time, not where things were simpler, but rather where the beauty and grace of living can overcome all obstacles. The author reminds the reader that Christmas is the celebration of a gift given to the entire world; it cannot be reduced to a business transaction or lost in the tide of commercialization.
Camery-Hoggatt relates how his mother struggled each year to bring the spirit of Christmas to her children despite the disapproval of her husband. His mother believed that the "freedom to do something extravagant is the closest human beings ever come to understanding what God must feel when He is being gracious."
When circumstances caused his mother's faith in romanticism and the spirit of Christmas to fade, the author and his young brothers endeavored to set things right.
Camery-Hoggatt's moving realization of the true meaning of gift giving is a moment that should make this book a holiday tradition.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on November 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four: A Christmas Memory is a picturebook set in the 1960s about the true meaning of Christmas. Written from the perspective of a young boy whose 4' 11' mother feels "Eleven-Foot-Four" on the inside, When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four tells of the drastic changes in his life that shrank his family - his uncle and cousins moved away, his older siblings grew up, and his father left the family, leaving his mother to take care of just him and his two siblings. Money becomes tight, and for the first time, he sees his mother cry on Christmas. Resolving never to let this happen again, he and his siblings work together to raise money and have a truly wonderful Christmas the following year; all of them learn together what it's like to feel "Eleven-Foot-Four" on the inside. When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four has Christian themes and references, but first and foremost it is a beautifully illustrated Christmas story, ideal for young readers who are almost ready to crack open their first chapter book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Klepfer VINE VOICE on November 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'm a sucker for books I can read out loud to my family. One year we even narrated and acted out "Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect" for a church Christmas program. My ideal Christmas includes the reading of the story of the birth of Jesus and either The Night Before Christmas or the The Tale of Three Trees, and a family viewing of A Christmas Story. It just doesn't get any better than that.

If my children were younger, "When My Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four" would likely be added to our stack of feel good Christmas memories.

The author tells of his mother, small in stature and huge in love, and how Christmas became a picture of grace and love. There is a little extra backstory that distracts in the beginning but once I got several pages in, I was hooked. My eldest daughter and her friend cuddled up next to me on the couch and I read the story to them and showed them the pictures. They agreed that there was magic within the story. I suppose I should mention that they are twenty.

The illustrations and the heart of the story are beautiful. I think children struggling with sadness might very well find a hint of hope within the story of Mother, too. The author's dad leaves and the following Christmas "failure" almost steals Mother's hope. But love inflates it to the proper height - Eleven-Foot-Four.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. Powell on October 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When destined to stand along side Christmas classics such as Welcome Comfort and The Polar Express. Beautifully illustrated, the story is at once heartbreaking and uplifting. Read it out loud to your children this Christmas!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tracy Bowie on July 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A very good Christmas story. Short but worth the read. Actually, I wish there had been more to the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By fortunateone on September 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
What a delight! This story highlights the triumph of the human spirit. A must-read for the whole family and it no doubt will become a holiday tradition and an inspiration when times are tough.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on October 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In 1963 Mother used to joke that she could grow to eleven-foot-four. In reality, she was only four-foot-eleven, and when placed in the center of all eight of the kids in the family, she was the smallest.

But every Christmas, Mother would go all out making Christmas. She bought a twelve-foot tree and decorated it. There were too many gifts under the tree to count. And Christmas was extra-specially wonderful.

But then one year, everything changed. The three cousins that lived with us went to live with their parents. My two older brothers left home. And my dad left. We no longer had a twelve-foot tree...we had one made out of nails and tinsel and attached to the wall. But that year we learned the true meaning of Christmas...

When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four is a really cute children's story about learning to give during the holidays. This book is beautifully illustrated, and beautifully written, and is sure to be a delightful addition to your child's library. I read it to my two-year-old and my five-year-old, but I think it is geared more toward 8 to 10-year-olds.

Armchair Interviews says: A perfect book for the holidays.
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