Author: Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrator: Ruth Robbins
Publisher: Parnassus Press (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Publ. Date: 1972
When Mr. Crockett moves into a rundown brownstone on a fashionable block in a gentrified neighborhood, his neighbors are suspicious. After all, he engages in highly unusual activity such as cleaning his own windows and stoop! Surely he does not realize it is better to hire others to do this for you! He even has the Charlie Brown-esque audacity to purchase a spindly, sickly potted tree for Christmas instead of a lush, chopped-down evergreen. Mr. Crockett, however, subscribes to the outdated motto, "beauty is as beauty does," and he nurtures the little tree through the winter and in spring he plants it on the sidewalk. Needless to say, the little tree thrives under Mr Crockett's tender care. The tree catches the attention of the birds and children and the true meaning of Christmas is realized.
The references to fashionable neighborhoods at the start of the book reminded me of the battle over gentrification that is waging in cities like NYC. Neighbors object when someone doesn't conform (think: The Big Orange Splot) and are apt to miss the beauty right under their noses. Ruth Robbins' gentle illustrations are lovely and delicate. Her pastel brownstones stand in a neat row and oversized snowflakes cover sidewalks where kids pull their sleds. Mr. Crockett sits on his stoop, watching his more fashionable neighbors, but some of those neighbors like to watch out their upper floor windows. We only see one block (and one shop) of the whole city, but it is such an intimate story, that is all that is necessary.
This classic edition of Zolotow's story is no longer in print, but I recommend you try to obtain a copy (as opposed to the 2001 version -- see below) at your library or used bookstore. It's a longer picture book than most and a lovely story.
- In 2001, a version of The Beautiful Christmas Tree with illustrations by Yan Nascimbene was published. The illustrations are appealing, but the abridged text is a disappointment.
- Visit the author's website.
- Ruth Robbins won the Caldecott for her Christmas book, Baboushka and the Three Kings, which she wrote but was illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov.