Many of my friends would probably say that I’m something of a Grinch when it comes to Christmas. I don’t decorate my house (not even a Christmas tree), I’m not much of a fan of holiday music, the idea of watching Hallmark Christmas movies makes me want to retch, and I absolutely loathe crowds, parties, and shopping (unless it’s online).
I do, however, like searching for the perfect gifts for my loved ones, enjoying a nice, quiet meal with friends and family, watching a few select holiday movies (A Christmas Story, Elf, Love, Actually, While You Were Sleeping, Die Hard, etc.), and reading holiday-themed books. I’ll even admit to crying my eyes out over some of them. That includes my latest read, What Child Is This? by Caroline B. Cooney.
I picked up What Child Is This? because my school’s faculty book club (made up of the most awesome teachers in the building) decided to read holiday-themed books for our December meeting. I had a lot of titles to choose from, but I landed on this one primarily because it was available through Overdrive, and I had not read it before. Whatever the reason, I’m happy I selected this book, and it’s gone a long way in getting me in the Christmas spirit.
What Child Is This? tells a Christmas story from several different perspectives.
Liz is a teen girl who seemingly has it all. Her parents give her everything she wants or needs, and they pour lots of time and money into decorating for Christmas. Unfortunately, the true meaning of the holiday escapes them, and Liz doesn’t know if there’s anything she can do about it.
Tack is a guy with a great, supportive family. They all pitch in at the family restaurant, where they set up a Christmas tree featuring paper bells. These bells have the names and Christmas wishes–often the simplest of things–of kids who would otherwise go without on Christmas morning.
Allison, Liz’s older sister, is mourning the loss of someone truly precious to her. She doesn’t know how she can possibly celebrate the holiday this year, but she’s making an effort for her husband and her little sister.
Matt has been in the foster system for years. He’s currently living with the Rowens, an older couple who likes things quiet. Matt works hard so that he doesn’t disappoint them. He knows that, if this foster home doesn’t work out, his next stop is a group home. Things are okay with the Rowens, but Matt is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, nothing good ever lasts for him.
Katie is an eight-year-old girl who has hope that she’ll get a family for Christmas. Matt’s foster parents reluctantly took her in a while back, but they don’t have the energy or desire to meet the needs of a young girl. Katie holds onto hope that a real family is out there somewhere just waiting for her, and a Christmas miracle–or a wish on a paper bell–will finally bring them together.
All of these stories are about to collide, and, when all is said and done, everyone will see and feel the true spirit of Christmas.
What Child Is This? is a super-fast read, but it packs an emotional punch. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed quite a few tears while reading. It was a moving, inspirational read that made my Grinch-like heart grow a few sizes. (I’m still not going to decorate, though.)
This book has been around for a while (since 1997), but I urge you to give it a read if you haven’t already. I think it’s perfect for middle grades on up. There may even be a few upper elementary students who would like it. Nothing felt too dated in the book–save for one mention of occurring in the 20th century and a couple of references to radios with cassette tapes–so I think it’s totally accessible nearly 20 years after its initial publication.