During the “bleakest of winters,” a gentle mother spider that resembles a wooden marionette tends to her children in a fir tree; indoors, a peasant mother mends clothing to earn money for her family. When the woman moves the tree inside for her children, she inadvertently saves the spider and her babies from freezing, and the spider repays her by spinning beautiful decorations for the tree. Costanza contrasts cold, velvety blues with the glowing warm tones of the village and cozy cabin in this classic Ukrainian story about generosity and goodwill. Ages 6–10. (Sept.)
In this lovely, warm Christmas tale, based on versions of Ukrainian stories, a deep, frigid winter descends on a village in old Ukraine. Most of the inhabitants can hardly wait for Christmas when they will share gifts, decorate their trees, eat a hearty mealprepared, by custom, by the childrenand light candles to illuminate the darkness and fend off the cold. Two families, however, are poor, hungry, and freezing. One consists of a mother, who is a seamstress and can barely afford food, let alone gifts and decorations, for her children. The other consists of a spider that fears her babies will die, though she weaves cozy webs for them. The children prepare a thin turnip soup for their mother, and then go to bed while she chops down a fir tree for Christmas morning. Back home, she draws pictures of ornaments she wishes she could buy. As luck will have it, the tree she has chopped down contains the spider's web. Warmed by the indoors, the grateful mother spider weaves glistening strands in the shapes of the ornaments on the tree. When they awake, mother and children celebrate the miracle. Today, Ukrainians hang a jeweled spider on their Christmas trees. The text has an old-world, though occasionally treacly, feel. The illustrations, in muted, autumnal colorations, convey stillness and placidity. Reviewer: Cynthia Levinson
Children's Literature - Cynthia Levinson
Gr 1–3—Noble puts her own spin on a Ukrainian folktale. In this version, a mother spider, wary of humans, makes a home for herself and her spiderlings in a small fir tree. Meanwhile, a poor human mother, unable to afford even one small gift for her children, decides to bring the fir tree inside to cheer them. Hoping to create decorations from bits of scrap material, she sketches festive patterns but falls asleep; the mother spider, feeling a kinship with this woman, weaves exquisite, glistening ornaments based on the patterns. Thus, a miraculous sight greets the youngsters on Christmas morning. Enchantingly told, the story is enriched by the visual magic of Costanza's colorful, textured compositions. An excellent choice for lap-sit reading or group sharing.—Linda Israelson, Los Angeles Public Library
An impoverished single human mother struggling to provide a Christmas treat for her children and a spider mother trying to care for her own babies find their lives intersecting on Christmas Eve in this poignant interpretation of a Ukrainian folktale.
Luminous illustrations in jewel-bright tones show the smiling mother spider in her kerchief and dress, trying to keep her seven babies warm outside in the wintry weather. The mother spider is quite appealing in the illustrations, with a gentle demeanor and sweet expression that should mollify any arachnophobic readers. The human mother does her best to care for her three children in their tiny cottage, but she can't afford any of the Christmas toys or sweets sold in the market stalls. Late on Christmas Eve, she goes out to bring in a little fir tree from the forest, though she has only ideas and no materials for decorations. The spider mother and her children are hidden in the tree, and during the night, the spider spins gossamer decorations for the tree using the woman's sketches as inspiration. The story unfolds smoothly, with the lyrical, dramatic text conveying the desperate circumstances of the family's poverty, as well as the miraculous resolution for both devoted mothers.
An appealing story with a magical aura spun by the shimmering illustrations and memorable story. (author's note)
(Picture book/folktale. 4-8)