Christmas City: Great Joy

Title: Great Joy 
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
32 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publ. Date: Oct. 9, 2007

It's a pretty safe bet that a book by Kate DiCamillo will be a winner and Great Joy is no exception.  The plot itself is fairly simple, but the power of the book lies in DiCamillo's skillful writing and extraordinary ability to provoke an emotional response in her readers by combining child-like wonder with a compassion for others. I'm not admitting anything, but this book might have made me cry. That's all I'm saying.

From her apartment window, young Frances watches an organ grinder with his monkey who plays every day on the same street corner. She wonders where they go at night, but her mother assures her, "everyone goes somewhere." Frances is unsatisfied with this response and seeks him out to discover he spends his nights on the same corner. On her way to church, Frances invites the man to come and watch her in the Christmas pageant. When he shows up just as Frances delivers her line, she cannot help but be inspired with, "Great Joy!"

I admit I have a soft spot for snowy winter cityscapes. Our entire view of the unnamed city in Great Joy is of a single street corner at "Fifth and Vine." We view this location from a number of vantage points: from the apartment window, the building stoop, the street, at day, at night and as such we are privy to a variety of perspectives. It's wonderful the way Frances can look out her window and see the world below, thoughtfully considering the lives of the people she sees. Both the text and Ibatoulline's gorgeous illustrations effectively communicate that the city is not a faceless void, but a place for intimacy, compassion and individual relationships to shine. Indeed the backdrop of bustling, ever-changing life brings Frances' and the organ grinder's humanity into sharp relief.
Needless to say, I highly recommend adding this book to your stack of Christmas reading. There is a religious element to the story, but it is not the focus and both religious and secular families will take much away from the book.

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Watch an interview with the author as she talks about moving from novels to picture books. At Reading Rockets.

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