November 13, 2017

The Christmas Wind

Written by Stephanie Simpson McLellan
Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
Red Deer Press
978-0-88995-534-9
32 pp.
All ages
November 2017

The Christmas Wind is special.  It is very, very special.  And I suspect that it will be the Christmas book for this year and many to follow because of its secular telling of the Christmas story without getting bogged down in the religion.
The wind shoved Jo sideways, stealing feeling from her fingers and toes.  It chased her with ghostly moans and creepy shrieks.  The day before Christmas and still no snow.  She should have been glad, but the skinny road seemed colder without it.
Jo and her mother Merry and baby brother Christopher have had to leave a bad situation.  There may not be snow but it is cold and windy and the bus station, their destination, is still a long way away.  The young girl has taken charge, carrying her baby brother and helping her mother who is obviously unwell and weak.  When she realizes they must find shelter immediately but she cannot shoulder the weight of both her mother and the baby, she takes Christopher and heads to the barn of Franklin Murdock, "an old man as unfriendly as the wind."  Cautiously, she approaches, wary of the man who'd turned crusty after the loss of his wife and child, but Jo is determined to be brave and help her family.
From The Christmas Wind 
by Stephanie Simpson McLellan 
illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
Laying Christopher in a manger amidst the cows and sheep, Jo goes to retrieve her mother.  But when the two return to the barn, the manger is empty.  With a fury and a shovel, Jo heads to the house to confront Mr. Murdock.  But as she berates him and he questions her about why they are in his barn, he offers shelter in his home, first carrying her mother from the cold of his outbuilding.
From The Christmas Wind
by Stephanie Simpson McLellan
 illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
As they stepped into the rising storm, the wind blew both ways at once and a path of light from a single star opened before them.  Jo and Murdock found themselves momentarily suspended between where they came from and where they were going, until an eager blast of air hurried them to the house.
Though he provides them shelter in his house, Murdock seems immobilized by grief, their presence a reminder of his own losses on a past Christmas Eve.  Jo will have none of it.  "You can't give up like that." She swept her arm around the room.  "Things won't get better on their own."

From The Christmas Wind
by Stephanie Simpson McLellan 
illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
How the story ends is secreted away in the glorious final pages of The Christmas Wind.  Suffice it to say that the Christmas wind brings snow and so much more.

Though Stephanie Simpson McLellan touches on the Christmas story with the homeless Josephine, Merry and Christopher, a barn and a manger and a man's name that encompasses the gifts of the magi, The Christmas Wind is not the story of the birth of Christ.  It is a story of compassion and grief and determination and acceptance. Though Brooke Kerrigan's outstanding illustrations suggest another time, perhaps the 1940s, The Christmas Wind is a story for our time.  There is too much misunderstanding and jumping to conclusions and fears about others when we feel vulnerable but it is compassion for others that bridges all that separates us.  Like the wind that carries the family to Mr. Murdock's farm and heralds a new world blanketed in snow, The Christmas Wind portends the need for a deeper meaning to the holidays that should supersede all else.  
From The Christmas Wind 
by Stephanie Simpson McLellan 
illus. by Brooke Kerrigan
The excerpts I've included above speak to the gift of Stephanie Simpson McLellan's words. They are rich and atmospheric, and deep in spirit.   Partnering her text with Brooke Kerrigan's impressive artwork is inspired.  The softness of the watercolour and pencil of Brooke Kerrigan's images conveys much about the characters' strengths and pains, the briskness of that wind, and the inner shelter of barn and house.  The Christmas Wind is a complete package of words and art about that which is right or should be for the holiday season and always.

I'd like to leave the last words to author Stephanie Simpson McLellan who writes about her book and the meaning of The Christmas Wind to her.
“Some of the classic Christmas stories such as Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express, Susan Wojciechowski’s Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Jean Little’s Room for a Little One and Peter Collington’s A Small Miracle were as integral to our holiday traditions as stockings hung by the fire. I wanted to contribute to that tradition. If you read closely, you’ll see that many elements of the original Christmas story are in The Christmas Wind, but jumbled and thinly disguised, suggesting that we all have the capacity for new beginnings. My young heroine, Jo, is my favourite kind of protagonist – someone who becomes fearless through necessity, squaring off against adversity to create something bigger than herself. She and Murdock are, unexpectedly, exactly what each other needed, enabling each to access the true spirit of the season.”
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The Christmas Wind Project
Teachers, Stephanie Simpson McLellan has been promoting the Christmas Wind project for several years though the book only launches this fall. You can read all about it on her website at http://stephaniemclellan.com/teachers-corner-3/christmas-wind-story-project/. Stephanie Simpson McLellan describes it as a "unique literacy experiment" with "students from JK-Grade 6 listening to a story in a format akin to an old, serialized radio show."

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Book launch
The Christmas Wind launches on Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 1 p.m. at Ella Minnow Children's Bookstore in Toronto.  I will post details soon.

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