One of my all-time favourite feelings is when someone introduces me to an amazing book about which I have absolutely NO prior knowledge. This post is about just such an occasion, as my lovely little sister got me ‘The Lost Christmas’ Gift, by Andrew Beckham, published by Princeton Architectural Press, for my birthday last month.
The story revolves around a package that Emerson Johnson receives from his late father in the post, seventy years after it was originally sent. The parcel contains a book that Emerson’s father created himself, after he and his son shared a magical Christmas adventure not long before he was sent off to serve in the war.
This sets up the premise for a story within a story – the outer margins of each glossy landscape page are given over to Emerson’s thoughts on the book his father has made, while the main body of each page is taken up with reproductions of the special book itself. Emerson’s annotations often refer to the photography, as the pictures that illustrate the story are photographs taken by the pair during their journey to cut down and bring home their family Christmas tree.
However, the two of them get lost in a snowstorm that arrives suddenly and soon realise that there’s no way they’ll get home that night. They set about the difficult task of building themselves a shelter and working out how to keep warm, before waking the following morning to wonder anew at how they will find their way to safety. Each time they feel as though their luck and resources might finally have run out, help is mysteriously provided. Eventually, one very special guide assists them in their return, but I’ll say no more than that in case I spoil it for you…
Emerson’s additions cover his remembered delight at using the camera as well as his musings as to why his own recollections of what happened seem to differ from the photos. Here, the book’s creator uses a lovely technique to portray this to the reader. Translucent sheets of what feels like thick tracing paper (though I’m sure has a far more glamorous name in reality!) are bound into the book. These sheets have an illustration on them that, when laid over the corresponding photograph, help us to understand the disparity between what each photograph shows and what Emerson and his father actually experienced.
Here are a couple of spreads to try and make my garbled explanation clearer!
Without the overlay:
With the overlay:
Without the overlay:
With the overlay:
There is also a map at the end of the book that shows the journey Emerson and his father took and all these interesting features make the book feel like so much more than just a sparkly festive tale. The fact that Emerson’s receipt of the book is such a poignant and beautiful reminder of his father, the knowledge that hope and belief are powerful forces when we’re faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and the addition of kind acts by benevolent strangers all combine to make this a truly magical Christmas book and one that will be treasured here in the Story Seekers house for many Christmases to come.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I think I found it even easier to escape into the wonder of this story as I knew literally nothing about it before I began. I’m usually someone who likes the anticipation of searching for new books and reading multiple reviews of them before I purchase, but every so often it’s nice to encounter something about which I have no preconceptions.
I’m not sure this book is one that would be appreciated by children as young as C and H, though I will definitely be sharing it with them in the future. If you have older children or are simply looking for an unusual gift for yourself this year (and why not 😉 ) then I would highly recommend getting your hands on ‘The Lost Christmas Gift’.