Over twenty years old and still one of the best Christmas books I have ever read; The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey is a perfect choice for a ‘Love that Book’ use with a single class, or indeed for sharing across the school. Older children will be able to access it for themselves, possibly in one sitting, although some of it at least should be a modelled read aloud by an adult; younger children would more likely need it read to them in sections, with some supported practice of short passages.
It tells the story of Jonathon Toomey; a man who, ‘seldom smiled and never laughed’ and his gradual transformation over the weeks leading up to Christmas Day and the point where, ‘No one ever called him Mr Gloomy again.’
Early on we are told the reasons for Jonathon’s sadness (his wife and baby died and he has no friends) but beyond that the story unfolds through actions and reactions, making it easy for children to imagine themselves in the characters’ places and work out the things we are not told: why was he cross when the widow McDowell opened the drawer?
The language used is rhythmic, lilting, with repetitive phrases tucked in that help to make the narrative accessible for all. Some of the vocabulary would need unpicking with the children, but because so much of it is tied into small scenes that they can mime or freeze frame, meanings will become clear by ‘doing’ and those words will stay with them, stretching their vocabulary ever onwards.
And the illustrations are glorious. Without being able to read a word of the written text, it is possible to follow Jonathon’s story and that of the woman and child who befriend him. Although it has as its theme the carving of a Nativity set, this book does not overtly tell the Christian Christmas story. Instead it concentrates on the ‘spirit’ of Christmas as a time for love, families and friends that is distilled through a wonderful reading experience.