Great Joy

( 13 )


It is just before Christmas when an organ grinder and monkey appear on the street corner outside Frances’s apartment. Frances can see them from her window and, sometimes, when it’s quiet, she can hear their music. In fact, Frances can’t stop thinking about them, especially after she sees the man and his monkey sleeping outside on the cold street at midnight. When the day of the Christmas pageant arrives, and it’s Frances’s turn to speak, everyone waits silently. But all Frances can think about is the organ ...
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It is just before Christmas when an organ grinder and monkey appear on the street corner outside Frances’s apartment. Frances can see them from her window and, sometimes, when it’s quiet, she can hear their music. In fact, Frances can’t stop thinking about them, especially after she sees the man and his monkey sleeping outside on the cold street at midnight. When the day of the Christmas pageant arrives, and it’s Frances’s turn to speak, everyone waits silently. But all Frances can think about is the organ grinder’s sad eyes -- until, just in time, she finds the perfect words to share. Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo pairs once again with acclaimed artist Bagram Ibatoulline as she presents a timeless story of compassion and joy.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

With spot-on storytelling rhythms and pacing, Newbery Medalist DiCamillo spins a tale of compassion and holiday warmth from a most unlikely image. Frances is so preoccupied by the hard-luck organ grinder and monkey she can see from her apartment window that it's hard to focus on the fast-approaching church Christmas pageant. It's not until the man and monkey make their way to the performance (at Frances's invitation) that her words, "Behold! I bring you tidings of great joy," make perfect sense to her. Ibatoulline's (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) WWII-era scenes have a subdued yet comforting glow, illuminated by streetlamps and stage lights. Ages 4-8. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Sheilah Egan
This beautiful collaboration by a wordsmith and an accomplished artist lives up to every expectation. Simple and direct, the text is uncomplicated but speaks volumes about the responsibilities of people to open their hearts and doors to those less fortunate. Set in an unnamed city, the story appears to occur during WWII. There is a picture of a naval officer sitting on a shelf in the living room of the apartment shared by a mother and her daughter, Frances. The old-fashioned iron and ironing board shown in the illustrations, as well as the clothes and cars reinforce the impression of the 1940s. In this story, Frances sees an organ grinder and his little monkey on a nearby corner and questions her mother about them. Busily preparing Frances' angel costume for the Christmas pageant, her mother dismisses the questions without really thinking about the plight of the aging man and his little companion. Warmly dressed and wearing boots in the cold snow, Frances and her mother pass the man and his cup-holding monkey on the way to the church. Frances stops, puts a nickel in the cup and invites the old man to join "everyone" for the Christmas play. Struck with sadness for the old man, Frances is unable to deliver her line from the stage until she sees the doors swing open to admit the organ grinder and his monkey. "Behold I bring you tidings of Great Joy!" Frances finds her voice in the perfection of the moment and "because the words felt so right, Frances said them again. ‘Great Joy.'" The beautiful, luminous illustrations support the overall intent of the text with heartwarming visions of the possibilities of human interaction. In the last double-spread we see the old man and his monkeyjoining the congregation for refreshments and companionship. I suspect that the beautiful faces are based on people beloved of the illustrator—if not, they reflect that spirit. I also suspect that the old man and his monkey will have a warm place to spend the night from that shining moment on. This book will give any reader a warm glow and a thoughtful look at what "sharing" the season is really all about. Reviewer: Sheilah Egan
School Library Journal

K-Gr 2-Frances worries about the organ grinder and his monkey who stand across from her apartment all day, in all kinds of bad weather, and even sleep outside. On the day she is to perform in a Christmas play at her church, she impulsively invites him to come; it is only when he finally makes his appearance that she can call out her one line, "Behold! I bring you tidings of Great Joy!" The plotline is simplicity itself, and the text lacks any sentimentality or fluff, allowing the acrylic paintings, reminiscent of Norman Rockwell's work in their warmth and realism, to enrich and expand the story. Although no mention of a time period is made in the text, the clothing, the cars, and a portrait of a young man in uniform in Frances's apartment make clear that this is America during World War II. The organ grinder is entirely isolated on his street corner, despite being surrounded by Christmas bustle; it is Frances who shines a light on him and makes the tiny but vital gesture necessary to draw him into the life and light of the community. The last spread, unaccompanied by text, depicts the aftermath of the play, young actors and doting relatives and the monkey mingling and eating refreshments, while the organ grinder chats with Frances's mom. His troubles aren't over, perhaps, but for the moment, there is warmth, hope, and even great joy.-Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Newbery Medalist DiCamillo is joined again by the illustrator of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2005) in this moving story that offers the reader (or young listener) a treat: a story with an outwardly simple plot but with an inner core of meaning that is deeply satisfying. The main character, Frances, is a little girl who lives in a city apartment with her mother in the 1940s. From their second-story window, Frances watches an older man standing on the corner with an organ grinder and a little monkey in a red cap. In a series of tiny actions that all add up to something larger, she draws the lonely man into her world, and by the final, wordless spread, a stranger has come in out of the cold to join the group. DiCamillo tells her story with a light, deft hand and a minimum of words that make the story all the more powerful. Ibatoulline's mysterious paintings are understated as well, filled with subtle, glowing accents from streetlights, shop windows and stage lights when Frances performs her role as an angel in her church pageant. This simple but powerful story will indeed bring the reader great joy. (Picture book. 4-8)
Children's Literature - Joan Kindig
Set in the days of organ grinders with dancing monkeys performing on street corners, Great Joy is a story of kindness and open hearts. Frances is a young child who is drawn to the music of the organ grinder and she begins to wonder where he and his monkey go at night as the weather is getting colder and colder. Her mother assures her that they have some place to go to stay warm— everybody does—but Frances worries nonetheless. When she asks if they can come to dinner her mother says "no" because they are strangers. One night she stays up late so she can see where they go, she sees them huddled on the street corner trying to stay warm. Another evening on the way to her Nativity Play at a nearby church, Frances tells the organ grinder that he and his monkey should come to see her in the play. They are not there when the play begins. When the time comes in the play for her to utter her one line she freezes. At that moment the door creaks open and in comes the organ grinder and his monkey. Frances immediately remembers her line and blurts out, "Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy." The film ends on the last illustration where Frances and her friends and family, including the organ grinder and his monkey, are celebrating Christmas together. Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations are lush and evoke the bygone era of street performers. The DVD also includes a nicely done interview with Kate DiCamillo. This is a lovely addition to the corpus of Christmas stories on film and will captivate its viewers. Running Time: 10 min. Iconographic. Reviewer: Joan Kindig, Ph.D.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763629205
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 10/9/2007
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 951,501
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD680L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.10 (w) x 11.66 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo is the author of The Magician’s Elephant, a New York Times bestseller; The Tale of Despereaux, which was awarded the Newbery Medal; Because of Winn-Dixie, a Newbery Honor book; and six books starring Mercy Watson, including the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride. She lives in Minneapolis.

Bagram Ibatoulline has illustrated many acclaimed books for children, including Thumbelina, retold by Brian Alderson; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Great Joy, both by Kate DiCamillo; The Animal Hedge by Paul Fleischman; Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinderbox and The Nightingale, both retold by Stephen Mitchell; The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M. T. Anderson; and Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyes. He lives in Pennsylvania.


Kate DiCamillo was born in Philadelphia, moved to Florida's warmer climate when she was five years old, and landed in Minneapolis in her 20s.

While working at a children's bookstore, DiCamillo wrote her first novel, Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). It was inspired by one of the worst winters in Minnesota, when she became homesick for Florida after overhearing a little girl with a southern accent. One thing led to another, and soon DiCamillo had created the voice of Opal Buloni, a resilient ten-year-old girl who has just moved to a small town in Florida with her father. Opal's mother abandoned the family when she was three years old, and her father has a hard time explaining why.

Thoug her father is busy and she has no friends, Opal's life takes a turn for the better when she adopts a fun-loving stray dog, Winn-Dixie (named after the supermarket where she found him, out in the parking lot). With Winn-Dixie as her guide, Opal makes friends with the eccentric people of her new town and even convinces her father to talk about her mother. Through Opal, readers are given a gift: a funny and heartrending story of how one girl's spirit can change her life and others'. Critics loved the book as much as readers, and in 2001, Because of Winn-Dixie was named a Newbery Honor Book.

DiCamillo's second novel, The Tiger Rising (2001), also deals with the importance of friendships, families, and making changes. Twelve-year-old Rob Horton and his father are dealing with grief, anger, and isolation after moving to Lister, Florida, six months after Rob's mother succumbs to cancer. Rob's father has a job at a motel (where they both also live), but it barely pays the bills. Struggling through the loss of his mother, Rob stifles his many confusing emotions as he battles bullies at his new school, worries about a rash on his legs, and copes with living in poverty.

In many ways, The Tiger Rising is a darker, more challenging story than Because of Winn-Dixie, but there is a similar light of deliverance in this beautiful novel: the healing power of friendship. Two meetings change Rob's life. First, he encounters a caged lion in the woods. Shortly thereafter he meets Sistine, who has recently moved to Lister after her parents' divorce. Sistine and Rob are polar opposites -- she stands up to the school bullies and lets out every bit of her anger at her parents' divorce and her relocation. Through Sistine, Rob recognizes himself in the caged lion, and the story of how the two children free the beast is one of the most engaging reads in contemporary young adult fiction. With the lion free, Rob is free to grieve the loss of his mother and move on with his bittersweet new life in Lister. A National Book Award finalist, The Tiger Rising is hard to put down as it overflows with raw, engaging emotion.

In 2003, DiCamillo's third novel, The Tale of Despereaux, was released to the delight of readers and critics alike. This odd but enthralling fairy tale also touches on some of the topics from her first two novels -- parental abandonment and finding the courage to be yourself. The hero, Despereaux Tilling, is a mouse who has always been different from the rest of his family, and to make matters worse, he has broken a serious rule: interacting with humans, particularly Princess Pea, who captures his heart. When Despereaux finds himself in trouble with the mouse community, he is saddened to learn that his father will not defend him. Characters in the tale are Princess Pea, whose mother died after seeing a rat in her soup; King Pea, who, in his grief, declares that no soup may be served anywhere in the kingdom; Miggery Sow, a servant girl who dreams of being a princess after being sold into servitude by her father after her mother dies; and Roscuro, a villainous rat with a curious soup obsession.

The story of how the characters' paths cross makes The Tale of Despereaux an adventurous read, reminiscent of Grimm's fairy tales. In the spirit of love and forgiveness, Despereaux changes everyone's life, including his own. As the unnamed, witty narrator of the novel tells us, "Every action, reader, no matter how small, has a consequence." Kate DiCamillo's limitless imagination and her talent for emotional storytelling earned her one of the most prestigious honors a children's author can receive -- in 2004, she was awarded the Newbery Medal.

Good To Know

DiCamillo wrote The Tale of Despereaux for a friend's son, who had asked her to write a story for him about a hero with large ears.

In our interview, DiCamillo shared some other fun facts with us: :

"I can't cook and I'm always on the lookout for a free meal."

"I love dogs and I'm an aunt to a very bad dog named Henry."

"My first job was at McDonald's. I was overjoyed when I got a nickel raise."

"I'm a pretty boring person. I like reading. I like eating dinner out with friends. I like walking Henry. And I like to laugh."

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    1. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 25, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, University of Florida at Gainesville, 1987

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Didn't Blow Me Away

    I love this author and was excited to get this for my daughter but I wasn't that impressed. It has a great message but I feel the story falls flat. A girl sees this man outside her window and realizes he is homeless. She feels badly for him and invites him to her play. She is performing when he walks in and then the story ends. I felt the message was there but it could have been developed further. It ended to abruptly for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2011

    A Short, Heartwarming Christmastime Story!

    Nicely written smooth-flowing story. The accompanying illustrations match the words well. The outdoor snow street scenes made me feel cold in spite of reading this in a comfy chair with a hot cup of coffee in-hand!

    The final illustration depicting the facial expressions of the main characters, especially that of Frances, makes the reader wonder if a budding relationship is beginning to happen between her mother and the organ grinder.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2011

    Great Christmas book

    I love this book more every time I read it. It is such an awesome and meaningful way to share some of the true meaning of Christmas with children. It also provides a good way to talk about some of the hardships some people have to face in life.

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  • Posted February 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Story about giving

    This story is great to teach children about giving and sharing. Even though there's nothing 'materialistic' about it, here's a young girl who has a wealthy family, and pities the organ grinder and his little monkey. Despite of her mother's concern, the little girl invites the man and his monkey to share the season with her and her family. This gives him great joy- the title of the story. This book is full of beautiful illustrations, and it has a good message for children. I would recommend this to parents and teachers.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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