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The Spirit of the Holidays Is Alive in Three New Books!

Share The Angel of Mill Street, The Christmas Adventure of Space Elf Sam, and The Popcorn Tree -- three new books that spread the spirit of the season!

Looking to spread the spirit of the holidays? Looking for warm stories of families, Christmas memories, and the spirit of giving? For an uplifting holiday story, reach for any of these three new holiday titles.


Angel Book Cover Author Frances Ward Weller (Riptide) recalls a story that her grandmother used to tell. The story was about a little girl, Frances Rosalie, and her warm memories of holiday family gatherings. Of course, the Frances Rosalie of that story was Weller's grandmother, and now that story is retold in a marvelous new picture book, The Angel of Mill Street (Philomel Books).

At the center of Frances Rosalie's story is her Uncle Ambrose, whose spirit, minstrel voice, and fiddle music were the heart of the family Christmas celebration. But on one particular Christmas Eve -- a cold, snowy Christmas Eve -- in the mill village of Naugatuck, Connecticut, Uncle Ambrose has yet to arrive. Frances Rosalie stares out the window, a look of concern upon her face. As the clock ticks, concern turns to worry and then to prayer, for Uncle Ambrose has a crippled leg, the result of a childhood accident. "Oh God, please take care of Uncle Ambrose," Frances Rosalie prays. But she feared that nothing short of a miracle would rescue Uncle Ambrose, whose songs of angels "made Christmas sing."

But could a guardian angel be watching over Uncle Ambrose?

Robert J. Blake's fabulous watercolors capture the quiet beauty of a small mill town on a snowy night. Lights inside the homes and tenements of town cast a warm glow on the scenes. A white blanket of snow makes the old town look fresh and clean. Blake takes an interesting tact, focusing on Uncle Ambrose's treacherous trek rather than on the goings-on in the family home. We follow Ambrose step by step, as Frances Rosalie tells the story. As the snow deepens and its pace quickens, Uncle Ambrose takes a tumble that could bring about his demise, except for the prayers of little Frances Rosalie -- and a guardian angel. In two picture spreads, without words, Uncle Ambrose's four-legged guardian angel comes on the scene and delivers him safely home.

"If there were angels above that hill in Bethlehem," says Uncle Ambrose, safely ensconced, "why not an angel here on Mill Street?"

An author's note at the end of the story explains how Frances Rosalie told that story all her life, whenever anyone asked her if she believed in angels. "Maybe it matters less if you believe in them, than if they believe in you," Weller's grandmother would say. "The way that one believed in Uncle Ambrose Moriarty."

Weller and Blake have created a timeless treasure that children will love.

Space Elf Book Cover


Next, we leap from a time a hundred years ago to a time in the future, a time when Earth families are beginning to colonize distant planets. Santa's sleigh is fine for delivering toys to Earth-bound children, but how is he to deliver presents to children throughout the galaxy? Well, Santa has the answer. He has created the Space Elf Christmas Academy, where surrogate elves are trained to perform his Christmas Eve duties in space.

All goes well until Santa receives a last-minute batch of letters from the children of the space colony Alpha One. With the rest of the elf fleet dispatched, Santa turns to his latest trainee, Space Elf Sam. Santa sends Sam off with some last words of advice: "Remember the Christmas spirit."

Eager to succeed, and a bit full of himself, Sam tries to take a shortcut through a hydrogen cloud. As Sam pops out of a cloud he collides with a comet, which smashes his main thruster. Sam is forced to crash land on the unexplored planet Gom. There, Sam encounters tiny green aliens who have no clue about Christmas and no sympathy for his plight. Eventually, the aliens take Sam to their King and Queen. Sam, remembering "the spirit of Christmas," conveys the joy of decorating and giving that abounds at Christmastime on Earth. In appreciation for the new tradition that Sam is able to introduce, the Gommers have a surprise -- a surprise that will save Christmas in the nick of time for the children of Alpha One.

The Christmas Adventure of Space Elf Sam (Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, Inc.) was a labor of love for author Audrey Wood (The Napping House and King Bidgood's in the Bathtub). Wood, who often collaborates with her husband-painter Don, introduces the youngest Wood to make his life as a professional artist. Bruce Robert Wood's three-dimensional illustrations are created in the Silicon Graphics style of the film Toy Story. As a matter of fact, Space Elf Sam bears some striking similarities with Toy Story's hero, Buzz Lightyear. Young readers will fancy the striking, almost garish, colors. They'll want to reach out and touch the 3-D Sam and the fanciful critters of Gom.

Popcorn Tree Book Cover


Christmas memories are at the heart of another new book this holiday season. Author Carolyn Mamchur has created two parallel stories -- "Peeps and Sighs" and "Christmas Rain" -- under one title, The Popcorn Tree (Stoddart Kids).

In "Christmas Rain," a brother and sister string popcorn as mother reminisces about her childhood Christmases.

"My mother's mother brought ornaments from England. Balls of blown glass, real candles. An angel with a dress of spun gold and wings of silver."

When mother wonders aloud whether any of those decorations might still be in the house where the children's Great Aunt Rosa lives, the children hatch a plan. They write a letter to Great Aunt Rosa.

Laurie McGaw's contrasting illustration styles adorn the opening spreads. The left page, done in pencil, tells Great Aunt Rosa's side of the story while the facing page of each spread, in contrasting watercolors, tells the children's story. Eventually, when a package arrives from Great Aunt Rosa, the two stories come together in a most rewarding ending. Christmas of long ago meets Christmas today and new Christmas memories are created -- and the entire page-spread turns to color!

The most interesting thing about The Popcorn Tree is its use of the parallel storylines. The two styles of illustrations help students to track the two stories. Use of the technique offers young readers a nice warm-up to chapter books. Some students might even want to try their hands at imitating the technique!

All three of the books in this week's Education World spotlight are available at bookstores. If you have difficulty locating a book, ask your bookseller to order it for you.

  • The Angel of Mill Street, written by Frances Ward Weller and illustrated by Robert J. Blake, is published by Philomel Books, a division of Putnam and Grosset Group, 200 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016.
  • The Christmas Adventure of Space Elf Sam, written by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Bruce Robert Wood, and art directed by Don Wood, is published by Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.
  • The Popcorn Tree, written by Carolyn Mamchur and illustrated by Laurie McGaw, is published in the United States by Stoddart Kids, 85 River Rock Drive, Suite 202, Buffalo, NY 14207.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World

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