When Charlotte and her family move to France, there is a lot to adjust to. Because she can't speak French, Charlotte is put in the lowest grade, which she doesn't like. And what she dislikes the most is when Colette, a girl in her class, calls her a "foreigner." But the holidays are coming, and Charlotte is fascinated by the preparations being made for Christmas—"Noël" in French. To her disappointment, her mother tells her that this is not for their family, they will have Chanukah instead. But when Charlotte ...
When Charlotte and her family move to France, there is a lot to adjust to. Because she can't speak French, Charlotte is put in the lowest grade, which she doesn't like. And what she dislikes the most is when Colette, a girl in her class, calls her a "foreigner." But the holidays are coming, and Charlotte is fascinated by the preparations being made for Christmas—"Noël" in French. To her disappointment, her mother tells her that this is not for their family, they will have Chanukah instead. But when Charlotte learns that Colette's family will miss Christmas too, not because they are Jewish but because they are poor, she puts aside her hurt feelings and convinces her parents that they should give Christmas to Colette's family, as a gift.
Charlotte, a Jewish girl newly arrived in smalltown France, yearns to celebrate Christmas--which her parents firmly refuse to do. "Giving" Christmas to an impoverished Christian schoolmate enables Charlotte to do a good deed while vicariously experiencing the gentile world's holiday preparations. Newland's handsome, brooding watercolors aptly evoke a winter of discontent. While Charlotte's internal conflicts and sulky feelings of being left out ring true, some may be troubled by her unalloyed joy in assimilation. Ages 5–9. (Sept.)
"Simply a lovely story...Sharon Jennings is a superb storyteller, creating an interesting tale depicting the complications of real life. As a reader I felt compelled to read on...The illustrations, created by Gillian Newland, serve well in creating a lovely flow to the timing of the story...The final illustration in the book and the scene of the Christmas market are exquisite. They begged my eyes to linger on these pages...Invites children to explore their own feelings about being different, being new and about welcoming those who have different cultural backgrounds. I highly recommend A Chanuka Noel for purchase."
"[Jennings'] skill in embodying the voice of a young person is evident in her stories, and Charlotte is a fully realized young girl with faults."
The Toronto Star
"This true story comes from the life of a beloved champion of children's literature, Charlotte Teeple of the Canadian Children's Book Centre."
"Based on a true incident, this historical picture book… capture[s] both the holiday spirit and the feeling of a French village. Good to have on hand at holiday time."
Quill & Quire
"Warm-hearted but not overly sentimental...Jennings writes with gentle affection for her displaced heroine and sensitively addresses both the Jewish and Christian celebrations...Jennings' evocative descriptions, together with Gillian Newland's finely rendered illustrations, capture the sights, scents, and tastes of the French countryside...Though Charlotte's story is set in the past, the book's message is timeless: the joy of giving and sharing with family and friends far outshines a thousand shiny baubles."
The Globe and Mail
"Sharon Jennings's recounting of Charlotte's story is perfect in every way, as are Gillian Newlands's powerful paintings, which reflect the depth and weight of this Chanukah/Christmas story."
The Ottawa Citizen
"This book owes much of its appeal to the illustrations by Gillian Newland."
The Montreal Gazette
"A Christmas story with a difference. As its title implies, it involves someone who's Jewish...In the end, Charlotte gets her Christmas experience and readers learn a universal truth: It's better to give than to receive."
The Georgia Straight Magazine
"A poignant story for kids aged five to nine, in which a young Jewish girl who has moved with her parents to a new country answers a classmate's cruelty with an act of simple generosity that transforms the holidays."
- Lois Rubin Gross
This O'Henry-like story captures the meaning of the holidays in a charming slice-of-life vignette. Charlotte's family is moving to France where they will be the only Jewish family in a small country town. In addition to the trauma f being uprooted and taken to a place where the language, food, and customs are unfamiliar, Charlotte has a class bully, Colette, who calls her "foreigner" and ridicules her French accent. As the villages prepares for Christmas, Charlotte finds herself additionally marginalized because her parents will only celebrate Chanukah. However, clever Charlotte finds a way to have her buche de Noel and eat it, too! With slightly selfish motives, Charlotte convinces her parents to make Christmas for Colette's poor family therefore enjoying the trappings of the holiday and de-clawing her tormentor at school. The focus on not making Colette's family is a nice touch, and in the spirit of Jewish tzedakah (charity cloaked in justice). This is a lovely tale for conveying the true meaning of the holiday season. There are no explanations of the religious or historical significant of either holiday, so there should be no controversy about a book that simply conveys kindness. The book's somewhat small format and dark but beautifully detailed pictures may not make this a first choice for story groups, but is a fine read-aloud for children. Much like Patricia Polacco's Trees of the Dancing Goat, this slight story shows that a holiday shared is one that is truly celebrated. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
School Library Journal
K-Gr 2—When Charlotte and her parents move "across the ocean" to France, she finds it hard to adjust to life in a small village, especially when Colette teases her about her bad French. At Christmastime, Charlotte is jealous of all the village activities—her family is Jewish and is lighting a menorah for Chanukah—so when she learns that Colette is very poor, she convinces her parents to give Colette's family a tree and other Christmas trappings, thus spreading and sharing the joy of the season. This quiet and charming slice of life, which assumes a basic knowledge of both holidays, shares enough details (chocolate on a baguette as a school snack) to give readers a flavor of Charlotte's new life. The attractive, realistic paintings depict a timeless French village—this story might take place now or several decades ago. A fine cross-cultural choice for larger collections.—Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library
Charlotte and her family have just moved to France, and she's not happy. She's especially irked to learn her classmates will soon take part in the Christmas holiday—Charlotte's family is Jewish. She enjoys Christmas activities at school, but she longs to bring the "Christmas fun" into her home. When she learns of a classmate's poverty, she persuades her parents to allow her to "give" Christmas to her family. This is a puzzling tale. Readers never learn Charlotte's country of origin, where Christmas evidently is not widely celebrated (the "true" alluded to in the subtitle is never fully explicated), nor is there any deep sense of the specialness of Hanukkah or Jewish tradition. While many Jewish children may share Charlotte's envy of "Christmas fun," this won't help them negotiate differences in faith and custom. (Picture book. 5-8)