Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Forever Christmas Tree

The Forever Christmas Tree by Yoshiko Uchida, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

I love discussing Christmas customs around the world with the girls. Last year, Big Sis's 2nd grade class did a week-long social studies unit on international holiday customs. When she told me that the following day's lesson would be about Japan, I showed her a picture a friend of mine took in Osaka. It was of the long line outside the local KFC on Christmas Eve night. Kentucky Fried Chicken has become the thing there. Of course, Christmas is a minor secular holiday in Japan. I just find it very interesting.

I found this book on the library website this year, and requested it. Published in 1963, a good decade before the start of the KFC craze, it is the lovely story of a little boy and girl in Japan, learning about Christmas for the first time.

Yoshiko Uchida was the daughter of Japanese immigrants. During the WWII, the family spent three years in an American internment camp, an experience she wrote about in the novel Journey to Topaz. She became a well-regarded writer of children's books, fiction and nonfiction. Several of her books are still in print. Unfortunately, this sweet book is not one of them. The illustrator is Kazue Mizumura, about whom I can find little information.  Mizumura was the illustrator of a great many children's books, few of which seem to be in print today.

The book takes place in a a little village high in the snowy Japanese hills. A little boy named Takashi is lonely. His parents are working in the fields or at home, and his older sister, Kaya, is in school. Their only neighbor is a grumpy, friendless old man that the siblings have dubbed "Mr. Thunder."

One day, Kaya rushes home from school, excited to tell her little brother about Christmas. She learned about it at school. She tells him about the first Christmas, then tells him about Christmas trees, covered in light and colored balls and candy.

Little Takashi is quite taken with the idea of Christmas, especially the tree part. He longs for a Christmas tree of his very own. The next day, he and his dog scout the grounds around the house, but he can find no tree that fits Kaya's description of what a Christmas tree should look like.

Then his dog takes off running, right into grumpy Mr. Toda's yard. He knocks over a little potted fir tree. When Takashi spies the tree, he knows it would make a perfect Christmas tree. He tells his sister, but she tells him Mr. Toda's tree would be out of the question. She convinces Takashi to help her make decorations anyway. They can hang them on their old pine tree.

Takashi cannot stop thinking about Mr. Toda's fir tree, which has now been planted in the front yard. He and Kaya tell their parents about Christmas, and what a Christmas tree should look like. Takashi cannot stop daydreaming about the little fir tree. When the children go out into the cold to decorate the pine tree, they realize their decorations would only cover a single branch. The persimmon tree is too bare.

They cannot resist. They quietly step into their neighbor's dark yard, and decorate the little tree.

The next morning, Takashi steps outside to find Mr. Toda puzzling over his tree. The decorations are so beautiful, it seems to shine in the morning sun. Mr. Toda sees Takashi, and demands him to come over. He asks the boy if he knows who did this to his tree. "Kaya and I did it. It's... it's a Christmas tree." Mr. Toda has heard of Christmas trees. He isn't sure what to say. Just then, Kaya and her parents arrive in the yard. The parents bow and apologize, but cannot help smiling at the sight of the tree.

Mr. Toda is not angry. Indeed, it's his first Christmas tree, and he likes it. Kaya asks if she can show it to her friends. Mr. Toda nods, and the two children run off to call all the children of the village to see.

Mr. Toda tells Takashi and Kaya that they may trim the tree every year, if they would like. It can be their "forever Christmas tree."

The illustrations are lovely, and the story is long, but simple to follow. It's a lovely way to introduce children to the idea of how our beliefs and our Western traditions are not universal. It's also a nice way to show modern children that Japan isn't all anime and kawaii cute.

More tomorrow!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Nutcracker, and Two Little Golden Books

So The Nutcracker was beautiful, as always. I love the music, I love the dancing, I love the spectacle. Of course, this year was extra-special, seeing my own little mouse onstage for her short scene. She was so cute.

She made some great memories. I have a feeling there will be more Nutcracker years ahead of us. She wanted me to tell you that two pieces of children's entertainment helped prepare her for her audition, back in August: 1) the American Girl movie Isabelle Dances Into The Spotlight, because the auditioning process in the movie was very similar, and 2) the book Tallulah's Nutcracker (blogged here), because Tallulah is also a mouse, and it talks about with nerves, and how to deal with mistakes.

Okay, I made two giant Nutcracker posts for the past two years, and they both rank among my most popular posts ever. My "Great Big Nutcracker Post" from 2012 is still my #1 post, as it includes a tutu wreath tutorial. (I made a new mini wreath this year, by the way. It's a gift for the girls' dance teacher at school, who is also Little Sis's ballet teacher at Children's Theatre, and who was also in The Nutcracker.)  Last year, I blogged about a ton of different Nutcracker books. I did not, however, blog about a Little Golden Book version. Shocking, no? I did get a copy of the 1991 LGB illustrated by Barbara Lanza recently, though. The illustrations are soft and sweet. The text is by Rita Balducci, and it makes for a nice, read-aloud storybook edition.

The Nutcracker (A Little Golden Book) adapted by Rita Balducci,
illustrated by Barbara Lanza. Western Publishing, 1991.

My favorite illustration is definitely Mother Ginger and her Ginger Snaps. A new edition was published this fall, illustrated by the great Sheilah Beckett, who only passed away last year. (There is a lovely Facebook page devoted to her, if you care to "like" it.)  When I got my copy, I was especially excited to see what she did with Mother Ginger. After all, the author was the same. Alas, the text has been changed quite a bit, especially in "The Land of Sweets." There is no Mother Ginger, but the book is quite lovely.

The Nutcracker (Little Golden Book) by Rita Balducci, illustrated by Sheilah Beckett.
Golden Books / Random House, 2014. 

And that's it. My Nutcracker post for 2014! Anyone else out there in Bloggy Land seeing - or dancing in - a production of The Nutcracker this year?

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

St. Lucia Day

Hello, dear readers! Today is December 13, St. Lucia Day. Many of you are here thanks to the St. Lucia Blog Procession hosted by Heather at Audrey Eclectic. Thanks for stopping by! Silver Shoes & Rabbit Holes is a little blog, mostly about children's books, but also about fun kids and family stuff in general. 

For the last two years, my daughters and I have ventured an hour northwest to Lindsborg, Kansas, "Little Sweden U.S.A.," for their annual Lucia Fest. I was so excited that this year, the festival would actually take place on the actual date! However, plans do change. My oldest daughter (9) is dancing as a mouse in the big local production of The Nutcracker, for the first time. And she is dancing tonight. With morning rehearsal and everything, going to Lindsborg was no longer in the cards. If you would like to see photos and read about our previous trips, though, you may do so here and here.

I should tell you that I'm not Swedish, nor of much Nordic descent, as far as I know. I just love Christmas and adore celebrating all sorts of different customs. To gear up for St. Lucia Day, my little girls and I have been reading holiday books (here and here) that take place in Scandinavia, and playing with new ways to decorate our home

I had other things planned to blog today. I thought I'd manage to buy a Lucia dress and wreath for the vintage Kirsten American Girl doll I found on eBay this year. I had one more beautiful book to blog about, The Christmas Wish, but I lost a day due to Nutcracker performances. (Amelie at Amelie's Bookshelf just wrote a post about it, though!) In the end, I thought I'd share the quiet morning I spent with Big Sis.

We had Lucia buns for breakfast! 

We had to be up extra-early this Saturday morning, so we made our buns last night. I've made them before, and I thought I'd try another recipe. This one was simple, and tasted delicious.

Saffron, milk, and sugar, heating on the stove.

Baking is fun. I keep a jar of yeast in the fridge.

After adding the yeast.

Big Sis thought this looked like a big ball of play-dough.

Brushing on some beaten egg.

This morning, I heated the buns just a bit, then served Big Sis and myself at the table. We both had coffee - strangely enough, we had Gevalia on hand - although Big Sis's was mostly milk.

Then it was off to Nutcracker rehearsal!

Thank you for joining us today! Have a splendid St. Lucia Day, a very God Jul!, or at the very least, a beautiful weekend, whether you're celebrating anything or not.

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