Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Left Behind: The Last Christmas Tree by Stephen Krensky

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

The trees arrived for the holiday. On the day before, the lot had been empty.

Now it was full to bursting--almost like magic.

There are balsams, firs, spruces, and pines, all lined up.

The big perfect trees crowd the rows of greenery. But squished into the middle of one row, there is a different sort of tree. Dwarfed by the big, unnaturally conical green giants, the little tree looks even smaller, unsymmetrical, with branches missing in crucial places, a little off-balance and certainly scraggly. He's clearly no one's first choice.

Still, no tree was more filled with the spirit of the season. Surely everyone would see that at once.

But no one does. The fine trees with big swishy branches are quickly snapped up by families with kids excited by the idea of decorating the tree and the hope of the beautifully wrapped gifts soon to be underneath.

In no time it seems that the little tree has plenty of room. He tries to spruce up his branches and stand as straight and tall as he can. But all the buyers pass him by.

By Christmas Eve, only a few trees remain for last-minute seekers. And as twilight deepens and stars begin to twinkle, the little tree stands alone in the cold wind-swept lot, with the most humiliating sign of all hanging from his sad, drooping branches.


But just before dawn, there comes a sound.


The little tree finds a home in the far north, where he stands proudly, decorated and lighted by a cheery fire in a fireplace where eight stockings hang, each with the name of eight famous reindeer, in Stephen Krensky's latest holiday story, The Last Christmas Tree (Random House, 2014). Youngsters who are familiar with the Charles Schulz's A Charlie Brown Christmas will probably guess where this story is going early on, and others familiar with Hans Christian Andersen's evergreen The Little Fir-tree will be ready to empathize with the sad little tree waiting and longing to be chosen, but Krensky's version gives the story a new twist, with the sad little tree given an honored place in the living room of Santa himself.

It's not exactly a new story, but veteran author Krensky tells it well for his young readers, catching the magic of the coming holiday and the longing of the last little tree to find a happy place of his own. Artist Pascal Campion takes special honors for the pathos in his subdued but lovely holiday colors and evocative cartoon drawings that extend Krensky's story movingly. With a pleasing marriage of art and prose, Krensky's newest offers a fresh take on an old theme that should find a place in the crowded calendar of Christmas stories. As Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona says in Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, "Christmas has a magic of its own."

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