If you and your children haven’t read the Christmas story An Orange for Frankie together, I highly recommend it. Music teacher Rick Osborne recently told me how good it was and even checked it out of the library for me. Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco, it tells the Depression era autobiographical story of the Stowell clan, a poor, large Michigan farm family. The Country School values honesty, respect, responsibility, compassion, and generosity figure largely in the tale.
Every year Pa travels by horse and buggy to Lansing to get a box of oranges so that everyone can have a special treat come Christmas Day. It is each of 9 children’s only material present. Awaiting Pa’s return during a particularly brutal storm, the family, as they worry about his fate, is drawn even closer as they go about their usual pre-Christmas traditions: decorating their home, cooking, baking, welcoming visitors, and cutting their Christmas tree. In the midst of these activities, a train crew stops near their farm and is treated to a generous meal. Frankie meets one of the itinerant men riding the rails and impulsively gives him an extraordinary gift, which he later fears may have been a mistake. To make matters worse, when Pa eventually makes it home safely, Frankie, again impulsively, removes his orange from the mantel. A heartwarming chain of events is thus set into motion.
The Stowell family’s story is instructive on many levels. Beyond The Country School values it animates are lessons about family, materialism, what matters most, and the true lessons of Christmas. The story illustrates how far our society has strayed from the essence of it all, yet can make for some magical moments and great conversations. The book is a seemingly simple but deeply complex gift. I hope you will enjoy it, and I wish you all wonderful holidays.
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