The story Stanley the Christmas Tree: A Wish Comes True teaches children to always dream big and to never give up on those dreams. Stanley the fir trees lifelong wish is to be purchased by a special family with whom to spend Christmas. Despite jibes from the other trees at the farm and on the sale lot that he is not Christmas material, Stanley never gives up his dream. Chosen and then rejected, standing in an alley with the Trash Can Family on Christmas Eve, Stanley still feels proud when the cans admire him. Not to give too much away, but Stanleys dream does come true -- and a familys Christmas wish is fulfilled.
R.E. Hughes, the author of Stanley the Christmas Tree, talked about his motivation for writing the book and the lessons children can learn from Stanley.
Education World: What inspired you to write this book?
R.E. Hughes: My daughter, Terri, was ten months old when I heard that Clement C. Moore wrote the poem The Night Before Christmas for his daughter. I wanted to write a story for Terri. Growing up, I lived across the street from a grade school and many years, when school let out for the holidays, there would be a tree standing in one of the trash barrels outside the school. Some years the tree would be taken by a needy family, but other years it would be burned with the trash. I thought about those trees and how they may have hoped for a family for Christmas. How they had been happy when they were decorated by the children in the classroom and how sad they must have been when they were discarded. Stanleys story grew out of those memories.
Hughes: Stanley can be used by teachers not only for reading and vocabulary-building, but also as part of integrated lessons involving subjects such as writing, geography, math, history, and art. Ideas from the story can be used as writing prompts or as part of a discussion about where in the world Christmas trees grow, what climates are best for them, and how the tradition of Christmas trees began. Students also could calculate how tall Christmas trees grow and how big they must be to be harvested. Students also could create their own Stanleys as art projects.
EW: What are some key lessons that children will be able to take away from your book?
Hughes: Stanleys story teaches hope is only lost when we allow it to be. If we, like Stanley, never give up our wishes and dreams, in the end, we will not only be happy ourselves, but we will help others see their wishes can come true as well.
EW: What do you enjoy most about writing for children?
Hughes: The fact that children, get it. A few years ago, when my wife was teaching, her classes chose a Person of the Year. Someone they respected and admired. One year they chose a man they saw featured on the 20/20 TV program. Roy Smith had been beaten, abused, and refused help by the authorities, but he never struck back with physical violence. The students wrote letters to Roy telling him how they felt about his trials and how they admired him for not striking back. Roy and his attorney, John Holland visited the school and remarked that the students were the only ones who got it.
Children are, for the most part, accepting. They light up when they are encouraged and are receptive and very understanding of situations when the facts are explained to them. If we can encourage them to think, weigh facts, explain things to them, and teach them to make good choices, we give them a fighting chance to pass those values on to the next generation.
I also would like to encourage parents to read with their children. If you cant read yourself, it is a great way to learn together. I did understand there were people who could not read. As a child I read everything I could get my hands on. My parents had hundreds of books and I read all of them. My wife, on the other hand, never saw her father or mother reading and she struggled to read. As an adult, she overcame her handicap and became an advocate for childrens literacy.
A few minutes spent reading with your children each day and making sure they understand what they read, will give them a lifetime of abilities and a lifelong respect for you.
This e-interview with R.E. Hughes is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.