Search form

Home > Books in Education Center > Archives > Seasons & Holidays > Books in Education Article


A Holiday Tale About Survival and Hope

A new book from Eve Bunting! As a mother and son prepare for sleep, their cardboard-box home is filled with love. They are about to share that love with a stranger.

Book Cover You have a treat in store if you haven't yet read December, written by Eve Bunting and published by Harcourt Brace & Company. It's a hopeful, gentle tale that will bring smiles to readers this holiday season.

Young Simon and his mother are homeless, living on the streets in a house they made from cardboard boxes. Simon recites the words printed on the cardboard walls of his home: DRINK COCA-COLA, HANDLE WITH CARE, and CLOROX.

It's Christmas Eve and Simon and his mother have decorated a Christmas tree. ("It's the top of a real tree the Christmas lot man gave us.") The tree is trimmed with "neat things," some of which Simon has had since he was little and others that he found on the street. And they have their very own angel on the wall:

"The streetlight shimmers on our Christmas angel. She is a page torn from a calendar that we've pinned to the wall. Her name is December."

After the two wrap up in a heavy coat that once belonged to Simon's father, they talk about December. ("She sings to us while we sleep," Mom says.) But this Christmas Eve Simon is awakened not by singing but by a knock. An unfamiliar old woman stands at the door. She was "half-hidden in clothes on top of clothes. Her black hat has a fake rose pinned to it." The mother and son offer the woman sustenance in the form of a Christmas cookie (one of the two they have), a place to sleep, and the warmth of Simon's father's coat. Before going to sleep, the old woman adds the rose from her hat to the little Christmas tree.

When Simon wakes in the morning the woman is gone (and he is pleased to see his father's coat folded in the corner). A figure in the doorway draws him near. Is the old woman standing there? No, it's December, singing softly.

You will have to read what happens next for yourself.

Eve Bunting's holiday story ends on an upbeat note. We learn that by the next Christmas, Simon and his mother live in an "apartment in the projects, two floors up, with real walls."


The illustrations in December are by David Diaz, who has illustrated several other books by Eve Bunting including the Caldecott Award-winning Smoky Night. His December illustrations are bold and colorful with heavy outlines, giving a sturdiness to his characters. Dark collage backgrounds help readers feel the closeness of a box-home.

This Christmas picture book is for children (and adults) of all ages, not just young children. It is a book to be read aloud and talked about. Very young children will need help connecting the kindness Simon and his mother showed the stranger needing a place to sleep to the story of the Nativity. And adults can help young children deal with the issue of homelessness.

For teachers who wish to extend the story by talking more about homelessness, it is important to remember that children should never be encouraged to approach strangers -- homeless, or not.

Article by Anne Guignon
Education World®
Copyright © 1997 Education World

Related Resources

Eve Bunting does not shy away from difficult themes. The Irish-born author writes stories for all children, about all kinds of children and families. Eve Bunting has written over one hundred books including

  • Fly Away Home, about a homeless young boy and his father, who temporarily live in an airport. Carol Hurst reviews Fly Away Home and provides classroom activities related to homelessness for a wide range of ages.
  • A Day's Work, about a recent immigrant who is helped by his grandson -- and helps his grandson in return.
  • Cheyenne Again, about a Native-American boy at boarding school who fears that he will lose his culture.
  • Smoky Night, the Caldecott Award winner about the Los Angeles riots. Michael Cart interviews Eve Bunting about Smoky Night; she tells him how strongly she feels about writing about true experiences.
  • Going Home, about a migrant family's visit to the parents' hometown in Mexico.
  • The Wall, about the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust

Related Sites