Before Thanksgiving I had a phone call with a relative in her 80s. She lamented that the family wouldn’t be able to get together for Christmas because of the pandemic. “But maybe, it’ll all work itself out by then?” she said, with the most pitiful tone of hope I’d ever heard. Until she mentioned a family member who has left the family. “But maybe…” she said, with the same hopeful, pitiful tone, hoping he’d change by December 25. Not likely.
Even if you’ve never read the book, you’ve probably seen the TV special from 1966. Do yourself a favor: read the words (aloud) and savor the illustrations.
It’s mostly black-and-white, with splashes of color. Each picture moves the plot forward, like in a graphic novel. We see just enough to make us want to turn the page.
And the story? It’s a poem!
Whatever the reason,
His heart or his shoes,
He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos
When I was a child, this story scared me. Later, when one of my own children was very fearful, while the other was entirely fear-less, I made sure we read scary things together, like this book. The Grinch is sure that if he steals the trappings of Christmas — the feast, the presents, the decorations — it won’t come. But there, at the top of Mt. Crumpit he has his epiphany when he hears a sound:
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow…
But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!
Right now the scariest thing to me is not the thought of the Whos down in Who-ville being unable to gather this holiday. It’s that they won’t be singing.
I miss choir singing. In 2019 I got to be a part of two requiems and a holiday music extravaganza. And that year I said no to participating in the singing Christmas tree — too tired. I would have been less tired if I’d realized the tree wouldn’t happen in 2020.
If the Whos had simply gathered, they wouldn’t have made enough sound to attract the Grinch’s attention. If they had given speeches or said prayers or read from a book of poetry, his small heart would not have grown three sizes that day. What made the change in him? Their singing.
In the good ol’ USA, Christmas tunes are almost ubiquitous. On school field trips we would sing the lyrics to favorite TV shows and commercials, and when we ran out of those we’d hit “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Recently I listened to a podcast in which the hosts, one Jewish and one Muslim, compared favorite holiday songs. This music is a shared part of our culture. And the songs can change us, as they changed the Grinch.
We don’t know what the Whos were singing, but as I look at the illustration of their smiling faces, hand in hand, making a rainbow arc across two pages, I know what I hear.
Join us for the next Children’s Book Club on Friday, January 15. We’ll read Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. This book from 1943 is still popular enough that it’s available as a board book for your favorite toddler.
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“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro