In her historical fiction books for kids, Australian author Jackie French creates enthralling tales that subtly weave important themes of our history into the narrative – history at its best, all about people and their stories. Christmas Always Comes is no exception.
In this picture book, beautifully illustrated by the talented Bruce Whatley, we meet Joey, Ellie and their parents, droving cattle in drought-and-Depression time, on the ‘Long Paddock’. This was the name given to the stock routes where farmers sent their cattle to graze during times of sparse feed for their animals.
It’s Christmas Eve and the family have nothing except their milking cow, Blossom, some clothes, a billy and their horse and dray. They are travelling the dusty roads between fast-drying waterholes in search of food and water for the cattle. The hard times brought about by the combination of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and drought, is referenced in a way that children will understand: Joey wonders if there will be Christmas tree and presents this year?
His parents are worried and Ellie doesn’t expect that Christmas will happen for them. Joey has faith in the magic of Christmas, though:
It was dark when they finished watering all the cattle. The stars shone like Christmas candles.
‘Christmas pudding tomorrow!’ said Joey, eating his cold meat and damper. ‘And presents!’
‘Shhh! Don’t let Mum or Dad hear,’ whispered Ellie. ‘There’s no shops or money to buy presents or sultanas for a pudding.’
‘Silly. There are always presents at Christmas!’ said Joey. He had already hung up his and Ellie’s stockings for Santa to fill.
Christmas Always Comes
Joey’s belief is not misplaced, thanks to a chance meeting with a local farmer, an apricot tree and the kindness of strangers.
The story also serves as a gentle hint that sometimes, kids can be happy with the smallest of gifts and the most rudimentary of Christmas trees.
Christmas Always Comes is an ode to the magic of Christmas, the value of families, and the way Australians have weathered hard times.
It is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in October 2021, making it a perfect Christmas gift for the little ones in your life. My thanks to the publishers for a copy to review.