Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Trees Kneel At Christmas by Maud Hart Lovelace

112 pages
Published 1951, Reprinted 1994
ABDO & Daughters Publishing
Edina, MN, USA

Until I started planning out what I would read as part of the Maud Hart Lovelace Reading Challenge I had never paid any attention to this little-known children's Christmas story. Perhaps it's a little early to review a Christmas story, but as it is for the reading challenge I hope you'll understand.

The Trees Kneel at Christmas was written shortly after Mrs. Lovelace completed Emily of Deep Valley. At the time Mrs. Lovelace was having trouble getting started on the next Betsy-Tacy book (Betsy and The Great World) so she turned her attention to an idea that had was sparked while visiting with a Lebanese family in New York City (as a result of the Syrian/Lebanese thread in the Emily of Deep Valley book.) As Mrs. Lovelace's daughter, Merian Lovelace Kirchner recalls in her introduction to the 1994 edition of The Trees Kneel At Christmas: "On August 23, my mother wrote in her diary: 'Decided today to write The Trees Kneel At Christmas. The theme is faith, and I have faith that I can write, although I don't know yet the characters, setting or plot.' "

It's a good thing Mrs. Lovelace had faith to start writing even though she didn't know where the story was going because when The Trees Kneel At Christmas was finished it was a beautiful holiday story of faith and family simply told so that even young children could enjoy its magic.

The Plot:
The Trees Kneel at Christmas is set in Brooklyn, NY during the last few days leading up to Christmas Eve, the most important holiday for Lebanese families. The story centers around a seven-year old Lebanese-American girl named Afify and her 5-year old brother, Hanna.

One evening Afify's grandmother tells her the story of three Lebanese sisters who witnessed a miracle on Christmas Eve when they found the trees of Lebanon kneeling in memory of the Christ child's birth.

Awed by this ancient tale, Afify immediately wonders if the trees in Brooklyn kneel too, but her grandmother reminds her that it takes great faith to see the trees kneel and that the people of New York do not have enough faith to witness such a miracle.

Undeterred, Afify secretly vows to be as good as a saint all day so when she travels to Brooklyn's Prospect Park on Christmas Eve she will have a chance to see the trees kneel. What ensues is a story that is sweet and thought provoking and a reminder that Christmas is so much more than Santa Claus and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.

My Thoughts:
Overall I found The Trees Kneel At Christmas a charming and thought provoking read. Some might consider it dated, but I think it's still a worthwhile read. Life for children in Brooklyn during the 1950s was very different than it is for children of the 21st century. The rich detail, especially those surrounding the holiday customs of Lebanese families make this a nice piece of historical fiction for the holidays. On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate The Trees Kneel At Christmas a 4.

Note: Although the book has been out of print for several years I have found several public libraries still possess at least one copy and used copies of the 1994 edition can still be bought online for a relatively low price. On the other hand, original printings (1951) are harder to come by and more expensive.

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