The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan

Now that our girls are a year older and a year more used to listening to chapter book read alouds, I thought I’d try some Christmas novels this season, to go along with all of the holiday picture books that we love to read (you can find my 2018 list here and my 2019 list here!). Since I always try to preread as many chapter books as I can (I am pretty particular when it comes to characters’ language and attitudes… My girls don’t need any more models of things we won’t want to see!), I got my hands on a handful of Christmas chapter books, and decided to start with The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Brian Floca. We finished this one yesterday, and the girls delighted in it just as much as I did when I read it on my own!

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The True Gift is a gentle, quiet, and moving story reminding the audience of what is most important at Christmas — community and family. Narrated by Lily, The True Gift introduces us to compassionate and empathetic Liam, Lily’s little brother. The siblings spend each Christmas on their grandparents’ farm, but this year when they arrive, the site of White Cow all alone in the fields tugs at Liam’s heart, hard enough that he is finally compelled to rectify the situation and ensure that White Cow won’t be alone for Christmas.

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Reading The True Gift out loud to my young children, Lily’s and Liam’s courage to kindly stand up for what they believe in makes them amazing role models for many generations of young readers, empowering them to know that they, too, can make big things happen, even as children. Sometimes, it seems that the child activists we hear about are doing such big things (not that there’s anything wrong with the Greta Thunberg’s of the world!) that changing the world isn’t a very attainable goal. But Lily and Liam remind us that big change can happen in seemingly small ways… Even something as small as making sure that a cow has a friend.

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As a read-aloud, The True Gift is fairly dialogue-heavy. For some children, this may result in confusion over who is saying what, but I’ve never let that scare me away from reading chapter books that I love out loud, whether to my classroom full of 8 and 9 year olds, or to my own 6.5- and 4-year-old daughters. And, my girls followed the changing dialogue with ease, so hopefully your children would, too! For children still adjusting to read-aloud novels, the text on each page is relatively sparse, so each chapter moves quickly, and Floca’s illustrations are dotted throughout (and convey loads of emotion through black-and-white drawings, to accompany MacLachlan’s poignant dialogue).

Up next for our Christmas chapter book read alouds is The Best Christmas Pageant EverBoth my husband and I have incredibly fond memories of reading this as a child, so we’re excited to dive in with the girls! The rest of our Christmas novel short list this year includes Merry Christmas, Annie and Tumtum and Nutmeg: A Christmas Adventure.

Do you have any Christmas novels that you love to read with your children?

 

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