61wu1SZqM9L._SS400_The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Tree  ($17.99, Random House, ages 5 -8), written by David Rubel and illustrated by Jim LaMarche, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

I’ll admit my eyes teared up while reading this poignant picture book by David Rubel with evocative illustrations by Jim LaMarche. What could easily have been a sappy story is actually a touching tale from which children will learn, “The best presents are the ones you don’t expect.” Readers first meet an elderly man called Henry, reflecting on his youthful self and how he got through hard times with a vivid imagination and a positive attitude.

51WNx1OyuFL._SS400_It’s the Great Depression and young Henry’s folks are struggling to make ends meet, living in a cold shack and cutting down conifers to earn some money. The boy, though grateful for a roof over his head, dreams of “warm places in his mind,” to stave off winter’s chill. One day Henry’s dad takes him to Manhattan to set up shop alongside a construction site. Before long the two befriend Frank, a carpenter helping to build Rockefeller Center. After a successful day, the father/son pair leaves the unsold trees to Frank and his crew. These men, fortunate to have steady work, have figured out that the tree seller is down on his luck and hatch a plan. On Christmas morning they bring a surprise for Henry’s family that will have a lasting and meaningful effect on the boy. Henry vows to somehow give back in the future.

51eCQRICAzL._SS400_That chance arrives decades later when a tree he once planted gets selected to be the Rockefeller Christmas tree. The celebrated spruce, after bringing joy to countless people, will be milled for lumber to build a home for a family in need courtesy of Habitat for Humanity working with Tishman Speyer, the company that owns Rockefeller Center. End pages with a history of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and info about Habitat for Humanity are included to round out the giving theme this holiday season.

 

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