Jackie French (text) and Bruce Whatley (illustrator), Christmas Always Comes, HarperCollins Publishers, October 2021, 32 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781460757895
Christmas Always Comes is as beautifully told and illustrated as I expected, seeing as it is written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley, who are both highly acclaimed creators of Australian children’s literature, of many years standing.
The background soft earthy ochres and tan colours of Whatley’s water colour illustrations set a context of outback Australia, with clothing styles suggesting a period around 1930s. It’s Christmas Eve and little Joey insists optimistically that there is always a Christmas tree, Christmas pudding and presents at Christmas, even though big sister, Ellie, warns that things could be different this year as their weary parents are more pre-occupied with droving parched cattle to find water, than preparing Christmas. Nonetheless, Joey’s enthusiastic creativity in imagining a Christmas despite their stark surroundings, brings out the kindness, generosity, and resourcefulness of the adults around him, so that they collaborate to create a Christmas that he enjoys. And there is an unexpected wonderful surprise too.
This is a heart-warming story, masterfully told by French with dialogue that develops characters and vivid imagery that creates atmosphere. Whatley’s realistic water colour illustrations create a classic Australian feel with detailed backdrops of outback landscapes and rural settings. Images of bare trees and dry brown land suggest the barrenness of a rural drought and are contrasted with the lush apricot tree that the children discover. Whatley’s lifelike images of the characters and their meagre circumstances are integral to the story and character development.
I recommend this book for families with children aged 6-8 years, to pore over the illustrations and discuss the story’s serious themes of creativity, resourcefulness, gratitude, family support and the true meaning of Christmas.
Reviewed by Barbara Swartz