Illustrated by Brian Allen
©2012 Good Harbor Press
For Ages 8 – 14
This sweet story takes us along with the close-knit Kinders family through the days leading to Christmas in the small Austrian town of Gartendorf. We see life through the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl, Nicole, who has received a “magic candy cane” and shares a secret with her spunky little sister.
The descriptions of the mountainous regions surrounding the town, and of the town itself, are a delight. Fascinating details of everyday life made me not only want to be there, but made me feel like I have lived there. I particularly treasured all the references to the Advent and Christmas traditions, and the distinctively Austrian holiday foods, because most of them were familiar to me from my mother’s anecdotes of growing up in Germany. What a great way to introduce children and young adult readers to this way of life!
Mama and Papa tell the girls about the meanings behind holiday customs, and about friends and relatives of the past and present, which were all captivating accounts, but often these pulled me out of the storyline. As delightful as these narratives were, I was confused for most of the book, trying to find the path of the storyline amid these other diversions. Yet in the end, I realized that they were the strength of the book for me. Among other things, I learned a lot about the realities of hardship and war in a country’s and a family’s past. I enjoyed living with this affectionate family whose world is so different from an urban North American world.
Young readers will enjoy the realistic relationships between characters. Nicole is quite independent for a girl her age, and her independence leads her into a dangerous situation which is described in characteristic detail. This provides yet another unique experience for the reader and sets up a satisfying ending to an all-around wholesome story.
The delicate designs on the first page of each new chapter enchanted me , and the gentle tone throughout the book was soothing. I was completely surprised by the recipes and photos at the end, and the personal notes about the chefs who shared them. What an ingenious idea!
This book isn’t meant to be a fast-paced page-turner populated by witty youngsters. Rather, it is a taste of how joyful an ordinary life can be in a small community joining to celebrate the true spirit of the holiday, without turning it into a reason to go shopping. It shows yearly traditions tightening the bonds of parents and children who do things together, and who care deeply for each other.
I was so excited when the author asked me to review this new story for children and young adults, and truly hope that my readers will experience it for themselves.