Yoon and the Christmas Mitten by Helen Recorvits Children's Book Review
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Yoon and The Christmas Mitten ISBN 0374386889 is my favorite Christmas art book this year. This children's picture book tells the story of Yoon, a young Korean immigrant, who learns about some exciting new American Christmas traditions from the teacher at her new American School. Yoon grows increasingly excited about stories of "Mr. Santa Claus" and Christmas trees with bright twinkling lights. Author Helen Recorvits gets the feel of a young child's sense of awe and wonder just right, while creating the story's main tension by also presenting Yoon's parents' discomfort with the new traditions.
Each day, after Yoon comes home with an excitement about a newfound Christmas tradition, Yoon's parents remind her that "we're not a Christmas family." Gently but firmly, Yoon's mother explains that they will honor their Korean custom of celebrating the New Year by visiting family friends and sharing a delicious meal. Yoon remains excited and hopeful by the prospect of Christmas presents and a visit from Santa Claus, but her parents are firm in their desire to celebrate as they did in Korea.
When Yoon begs her parents to allow her to leave out one of her small mittens for Santa to fill, Yoon's parents have a change of heart. The resolution to the story is a heart-tugging, hankerchief-grabbing moment that will have you saying "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!"
Author Helen Recorvits characterizes Yoon's little family in a sensitive and truthful light in Yoon and the Christmas Mitten. This is not the story of a Korean family converting to Christianity (as religion doesn't play a part in it), nor is it a story that presents Yoon's parents as uncaring. She creates a strong sense of truth in her characterizations of a young and impressionable child who wants to experience the celebration of Christmas just as her classmates do. For Yoon, everything about Christmas seems magical. Yoon's parents merely wish to preserve their own heritage. This is a sensitive story about immigrants learning to adapt to a new culture, and working out how to bring in new Christmas traditions without giving up their old ones.
Admirably, Recorvits manages to give this story a completely stand-alone quality despite the fact that it is a follow-up to the Recorvits' other successful story about Yoon which is simply titled My Name Is Yoon.
I really enjoyed this book with its strong impressionistic oil paintings that use vibrant colors to depict Yoon, her family, and her imaginations of Santa Claus in contrast to muted and even drab greys and greens. The muted colors in the illustrations represent Yoon's exterior surroundings while the bright colors represent her rich inner life. On the first page of the story, Yoon is depicted turning toward the reader with a beautiful red hat and coat, flushed cheeks, and dark, rosebud lips. Yoon's red mittens and red dress give this book a strong Asian presence AND the feeling of Christmas. But she is depicted standing far away from the other children, with her hands in her pockets, against a background of smut-colored gray snow. Artist Gabi Swiatkowska adds an increased depth to the story through her artwork. Each of her pictures has a characteristic quality that balances realism with fantasy, and leaves the viewer with an impression of Yoon's separation from the other children. The artwork gives this book a complicated, textured feeling rather than a depressing one. The resolution to this story is lighthearted.
I'd give this book a strong recommendation for both teachers and parents who want to add a wonderful Christmas story to their book collection. This story doesn't have the cheesy, sappy, or overly sentimental feel that Christmas stories sometimes have. It is an excellent introduction to the concept that other cultures celebrate holidays in different ways than Americans, and yet it also shares the magic of some of the enjoyable American Christmas holiday traditions like Christmas Stockings and Santa Claus.
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