Christmas Always Comes
By Jackie French
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley
Reviewed by Barbara Braxton
Christmas Eve, 1932 and both drought and The Depression have driven Joey’s family into living and droving on the “long paddock”, that narrow strip of land between the road and the farmers’ fences that has become saviour for many as they seek fodder and water for cattle who have long ago eaten what was available in their own paddocks.
Young Joey, sitting in the dray with his older sister Ellie, remembers Christmases past and is very concerned that there seems to be little preparation for this one. “There’s always a tree at Christmas. With red and gold decorations and tinsel. And Santa finds everyone!” But Ellie is more pragmatic and tries to keep him from getting his hopes up. “you can’t have a Christmas tree droving the long paddock,” she tells him.
As the mob finally find some puddles to drink, a gift in itself, the family pulls up deciding to stop for Christmas Day and although Ellie warns him there is no money, Joey is determined to have Christmas pudding and presents and hangs up his old sock on the barbed wire fence in anticipation. But what will await him when the new day dawns?
This is a heart-warming story from one of Australia’s best teams for creating picture books, and both French and Whatley have crafted words and images that cut to the core of what we really remember and celebrate at Christmas regardless of the time or circumstances. That Christmas comes in many guises apart from the stereotype “perfection’ of television advertisements and programs because love and friendship and compassion can be found anywhere if we choose to look.
After another year of COVID-19 overshadowing our lives like a black cloud, as adults we are reminded of the irrepressible spirit and joy for life of our children who live in the moment as Joey’s belief and determination to find Christmas show us that this is a time for family, for simple things, and for delighting in the share joy of sharing and just being alive. Whether it is in the city, country, bush, beach or on the long paddock, it is those we share the time with, the things we do together and the memories we create that make Christmas uniquely special regardless of artificial trappings and trimmings. So whether it is a big party celebrating reuniting after borders open or something small and Zoomed, everyone can have a Christmas.
As always, Jackie packs so much more into her stories than just the words on the page (and Whatley has a gift for interpreting them with such insight) but regardless of the settings, her stories invariably have an underlying theme of hope and love – and that’s really all we need.