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This Christmas Tree Rocks Big Time!

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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If I Had a Hammer

Habitat for Humanity Builds So Much More Than Homes

If I Had a Hammer: Building Homes and Hopes with Habitat for Humanity is reviewed today by Debbie Glade.

51rzlyooagl_sl500_aa300_Like me you may have once thought that Jimmy Carter created the organization, Habitat for Humanity. Though he was instrumental in the success of the organization, he did not initiate it. The reality is that it evolved from a series of actions, by a man named Millard Fuller. Distraught over how money and excessive work were taking over their lives in the 1960s, Mr. Fuller and his wife, Linda donated all their money to charity. Millard spent his free time helping out a man named Clarence Jordan, revitalize run-down houses in the South. This led to what is now Habitat for Humanity, located in Americus, GA.

When President Carter left office in 1980, he longed to use his resources and free time to help those in greatest need. One day Carter was reading a negative article in the Americus newspaper about himself from Millard Fuller, who had sent President Carter an invitation to dedicate some newly renovated homes, but failed to get a response. At that time, President Carter was receiving tens of thousands of letters per week. But now Fuller had Carter’s full attention, and once the two families met, the rest was history.

If I Had a Hammer (Candlewick, $19.99, ages 9-13, also available in paperback) by David Rubel, is such an inspiring story. Jimmy Carter used his powers and recognition as President to help change so many lives. He and wife, Rosalyn spent many nights dragging their own luggage, sleeping in dormitories and countless days hammering and building homes. (Ironically Carter already had excellent carpentry skills long before his experience with Habitat.) They rounded up volunteers from every walk of life and attracted the publicity and donations the organization so desperately needed to make it grow.


While reading the book, you will be inspired by the stories about the people who live in Habitat homes, their hardships, how they helped build their own houses and how they take great pride in home ownership. Their gratitude is what keeps volunteers coming year after year. You’ll also get insight into the fascinating process of building. One highly motivated group of volunteers built a Habitat home in less than 4 hours!

Today Habitat builds homes in all 50 U.S. states and 90 countries. These homes are not donated. Rather they are mortgaged at very affordable rates to the new owners, and the money from the mortgages is used to build new homes around the world.

I envy Millard Fuller and Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter for having found their true life calling, selflessly, all for the greater good of those less fortunate. Their organization has brought people together in so many positive ways from all over the world, building homes, enriching and virtually saving lives. As Americans we should all be proud of Habitat for Humanity. I know I am. And my life has been enriched just by reading this heart-warming book.

debbieglade1Debbie Glade, today’s guest reviewer, is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for She blogs daily at

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