by Rumer Godden
Christmas is about wishing – wishing for a special gift, wishing for snow, and, in the case of Holly and Ivy, wishing for something that is missing. Ivy, a tough little orphan, is wishing for a home. Holly, a beautiful but shy Christmas doll, is wishing for a little girl. All of the toys in Mr. Blossom’s toy shop display window have a similar wish, except for the curmudgeonly Abracadabra, a spiteful stuffed owl who doesn’t really believe in wishing. Mrs. Jones, the policeman’s lonely wife, is wishing for a child. On Christmas Eve in Appleton, the wishing becomes palpable, and a magical happy ending is the result.
The reader knows that these three will find each other – the suspense lies in when and how. Minor characters – Mr. Jones, Mr. Blossom, Peter the shopkeeper’s assistant, and larger-than-life Abracadabra – enrich the story in fully fleshed out bit parts. An omniscient narrator and shifting points of view – Holly, Ivy, and Mrs. Jones – create a rhythm that keeps the story moving. A few unexpected turns and flawless timing reward the reader and the protagonists for wishing and believing. The Story of Holly and Ivy will engage adults and children alike with its magical realism, sense of destiny, and storybook happy ending – wishes do come true! (And, in a slightly disturbing stroke of poetic justice, a certain not-so-nice stuffed owl is punished for his fatalistic cruelty.)
I’m not a lover of Christmas stories – mostly I find them too sentimental, maudlin, or religious – so I have one of my younger staff members to thank for recommending The Story of Holly and Ivy, a favorite from her childhood. The story was written in 1957 by Rumer Godden, the British author of Black Narcissus, also known for books set in colonial India and stories for children, often featuring dolls that are magically alive.
The version I read was reprinted in 1985 with new illustrations by Barbara Cooney (see my November 30 post on Miss Rumphius for more on this amazing illustrator). The original 1957 edition (illustrated by Adrienne Adams) is chapter book sized and has more text than pictures. For reading aloud (to children 6 and older – it is rather long for a picture book), I recommend the Cooney-illustrated version. The luminous, highly detailed pictures in full color give listeners plenty to ponder and are a wonderful match to the fairy-tale quality of the narrative.
Thanks to Katie MacBride for turning me on to this lovely book.