Hattie frowned. It would take a whole lot of magic to turn that droopy old plant into a Christmas tree.(One Splendid Tree, Marilyn Helmer, 2007.)
"Please, Hattie?" Junior pleaded. Hattie glanced at her brother. His face was filled with hope.
She studied the plant, trying to imagine what it would look like dressed up in Christmas finery. Her frown faded as she began to catch Junior's excitement. Didn't Daddy always say that Christmas is a time when magical things happen? Decorating the plant was just the kind of thing he would do. It would almost be like having him home.
"Junior, let's do it!" she cried.
Un Noel Malgre Tout is a picture book written by Marilyn Helmer and illustrated by Dianne Helman that I discovered a few years ago and read to my French Immersion class. I loved it so much that I looked for the original English version, One Splendid Tree, for my own children to read. The book, set in a big Canadian city (I suspect Montreal) during World War II, centres on sister Hetty and brother Junior who used to live in a cute white and green house in the country, but have now moved to a small apartment in the city. Their father is fighting on the battlefield in Europe and their mother has been forced to take a factory job in town. With very little money, their family cannot afford a Christmas tree this year. However, Junior finds an abandonned plant and decides that he will transform it into a Christmas tree. The brother and sister set to work making homemade decorations and soon get other tenants involved in the process, even the crabby old lady in Apartment 3C, Mrs. Dixon. Just before Christmas, they receive a package from their father -- it's a Christmas ornament for their tree. Their father is there in spirit even though he is not there in body. I like the French title of the story, "A Christmas Despite Everything", because it describes exactly what happens in the story.
Dianne Eastman makes beautiful photocollages to illustrate the book. It is an added touch that the photograph of the soldier on top of the old radio on the front over is her father, who served in the RCAF during World War II. The pictures alone make the book a worthwhile purchase. The story is both educational and touching -- another great Canadian historical picture book!