When my husband was younger, his family celebrated Christmas…even though they are Jewish. His parents hung stockings by the fireplace, and his dad even dressed up as Santa for the neighborhood kids. (No Christmas tree, but enough to make him and his younger brother feel like they were not being left out of what felt like the rest of the world’s celebration.) I can’t imagine how he must felt, but I’m sure he and many other kids can relate to those same feelings shared by the title character in the delightful new picture book, Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein. Determined to experience the joys of the season–especially a visit from Old St. Nick–she challenges her own family’s decision to remain faithful to its Jewish upbringing. When asking why they can’t put up a Christmas tree like her Jewish friend Emily Berenbaum, her grandfather explains his rationale for not dabbling in another faith, “You can’t sit on two horses with one behind.” Despite his old-school explanation, Rachel sets out to create the holiday she is so desperate to be part of, setting out a welcome mat for Santa that will break knowing readers’ hearts. Watercolor imagery of Rachel’s assembled decorations, awash in muted colors, are in sharp contrast to the palpable anticipation of Santa’s arrival. While the obvious outcome is equally upsetting, it presents an opportunity to showcase the other side of the coin: the stark, quiet beauty of Christmas morning when Rachel and her father trek through a snow-covered park that is virtually empty. By story’s end, Rachel discovers that while it may feel like hers is the only family not ripping open brightly colored packages and singing Christmas carols, the reality is a world that is much bigger than she imagined. By taking part in her family’s own December 25th tradition–complete with a Chinese food dinner that is its own source of comfort–Rachel and readers alike get to experience the bigger picture of togetherness…minus the post-holiday letdown.
In a Nutshell: For any kid who’s ever experienced the frustration of not being able to celebrate Christmas, comes a story that recognizes these feelings–and shines a light on the true reason for the season: tradition and togetherness.