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Gifts of the Heart Hardcover – October 3, 2013
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From School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—Reminiscent of Chris Van Allsburg's classic The Polar Express (Houghton Mifflin, 1985), this delightfully old-fashioned story reaffirms a child's belief in Santa Claus. The narrator, Trisha, and her older brother, Richie, prepare for their last Christmas on Grampa's farm before he has to sell the property. Dreaming of dolls and model trains, they want to make the holiday unforgettable even though they don't have much money. Kay Lamity, a wise, no-nonsense housekeeper arrives on their doorstep, bringing with her the true spirit of Christmas. Despite some initial difficulties, she befriends the children, sharing with them her belief that gifts from the heart don't come wrapped in paper and ribbons. Excited about seeing Santa in town, Trisha nearly has her Christmas ruined when Richie scoffs, "There ain't no Santa." Kay soon restores harmony in the house and helps Trisha and Richie make corn-husk angels, their gifts from the heart for Grampa and Momma. Trisha's faith in Santa is rewarded on Christmas morning when the siblings spot runner marks and hoof prints on the snow-covered roof and find two sleigh bells in the yard. Come spring, the magical Kay Lamity returns home, and to the family's surprise, the woman from the employment agency reveals that she hadn't sent her to them. Polacco's deftly drawn pencil and marker illustrations eloquently portray Trisha's nostalgic childhood world of cinnamon gumdrops, toy-store windows, and Santa parades, enhancing the warmth and charm of the story. Children will want to hear Gifts of the Heart every holiday season.—Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston, MA
The signature illustration on the cover, featuring a close-up of a grandmotherly figure and two inquisitive children, signals that this is a familiar Polacco story of family warmth, this time with a touch of magic. The opening image sets the stage: Christmas dreams and a department-store window. Even without the text, we are transported to the old-fashioned world of Richie and his sister, the narrator. Because their grandmother has died, wise, loving Kay Lamity comes to help out around the farm on the last Christmas before it is sold. This is a story of longings, not just for gifts but for people and places that are gone or soon will be. The large illustrations flow over two pages and often focus on faces and gestures. Bright patterns in fabric and setting provide additional warmth even when snowflakes are interspersed. Emphasizing human connections, Polacco’s holiday story is quietly charming. Grades K-3. --Edie Ching
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The story opens under rather sad circumstances, This is Trisha and Ritchie's last Christmas on Grandpa and Grandma's farm. Grandma passed away in the Fall and Grandpa was selling the farm in the Spring. Trisha and Ritchie lived with Grandma and Grandpa on their wonderful farm. Grandpa was selling the farm -- too many memories. Trisha and Ritchie's mom took a teaching job rather far from the farm and it was always very late in the evening until she got home. Grandpa made arrangements with an agency to obtain a housekeeper to help clean and cook for the kids. At first, Ritchie could not accept the new housekeeper - Kay Lamity, taking the place of his dead grandmother but soon the new housekeeper won the hearts of both children and taught them some valuable lessons about the true meaning of Christmas gift giving.
Patricia Polacco also weaves some other valuable lessons into this wonderful children's book like faith and encouragement to others, forgivemess and the joy of intangible gifts as well as the joy of giving something of yourself to others. The author also includes a certain amount of mystery and irony in this book. You will want to read the book to appreciate the mysterious ending.
The illustrations are typical "Patricia Polacco" and so skillfully capture the emotions of each character. I heartily recommend this wonderful children's' Christmas book. It would be great to share with your sons and daughters and grandchildren at Christmas time. It would also be great to use as a "read aloud" book in the classroom. While I don't normally like secular treatment of the Christmas story, I feel the important values and morals found in this story makes this a very worthwhile children's Christmas book. One word of caution - if the treatment of Santa Claus as a real person offends you, then this is not the book for you.