The Carpenter’s Gift

The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale About The Rockefeller Center Tree

David Rubel, author and Jim LaMarche, illustrator

Suitable for: Ages 5 and Up

Random House, September 2011, Fiction

Theme:  Giving, Kindness, Depression Era, Christmas Trees, Rockefeller Center

Opening:  “Nearly a lifetime had passed, but Henry could still remember what it felt like to wake up in the old shack, especially during wintertime.  In those days, the Great Depression gripped the country, and like many people, Henry’s parents were out of work.  They couldn’t afford coal for the stove or warm blankets for the beds, so young Henry usually woke up with a shiver.  But he didn’t complain, because it was nobody’s fault.  Instead, he visited warm places in his mind.” 

SynopsisHenry’s father comes up with an idea to make money the day before Christmas. He borrows a truck, and he and Henry head for a grove of spruce trees.  They cut them down and drive to New York City to sell them as Christmas trees.  They find the perfect spot near the Rockefeller construction site in Manhattan.  The workers help them unload the trees.  Before heading home, his father decides to give the last trees to Frank and his construction workers.   Frank takes the tallest tree and the men decorate it with cranberries, pinecones and tin cans — the first Rockefeller Christmas tree.  Henry makes a star out of newspaper.  Before he hangs it on a tree, Henry makes a special wish.  He takes a pine cone from the tree to remember that magical day.

On Christmas morning Henry awakens to tooting horns and trucks full of lumber.  Frank and his workers who have come to build a home for Henry’s family.  Frank hands Henry a hammer to help and to keep as a gift.   Henry is so grateful for his new home, that he decides to plant the pinecone he saved  from the tree near the new house.  Over the years Henry becomes a skilled carpenter.  The spruce tree grows very tall, and Henry grows older.  One day Henry repays the gift that grew from that special pinecone.

Why I like this book:   This is a book that can be celebrated throughout the year.  It is written by children’s historian David Rubel in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity.  Each year the Rockefeller Christmas tree is milled and donated to Habitat for Humanity, to build homes for families in needs.  There is a two-page history about the Rockefeller Christmas tree which was first erected in 1931 by construction workers.   The second page is devoted to Habitat for Humanity International which has built 400,000 homes around the world since 1976.  Jim LaMarche’s illustrations are stunning, gentle, emotional and luminous.

Activity:  Take your family to your community tree lighting ceremony.  Parents and teachers can turn this beautiful story into a tree-planting project at home and school during the year.  Links to resources: http://www.habitat.org/youthprograms/parent_teacher_leader/parent_teacher_leader_resources.aspx.   For more books with resources please visit Perfect Picture Books.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved