Nine Days to Christmas
copyright 2021 Georgiann Foley
Can you tell how well loved this picture book Nine Days to Christmas was to me? I read and reread this book till the dust jacket crumbled. Yes, it's the story that frequently drew me to the book, but how I could pore over those pictures and want to know more about this place and these people. The hardbound cover that was under the dust jacket has images of piñatas impressed into the flocked material. This was a gift to me by my Aunt Aida and Uncle Nelson when I wasn't much older than the main character, a girl named Ceci, a five-year-old in Mexico.
Little did I know that decades later I would be teaching second language learners, second graders, most of whom
were Mexican. In their reading primers one year was a story about how children in a Mexican town make paper lanterns in December to prepare for the Las Posadas. The Mexican town has its children act out the Christmas story of Jesus and Mary searching for shelter from house to house, and how they sing a song and hold lanterns to light up the night.
How many of my second language learners knew about Las Posadas? Only half. I knew of the story and tradition, but I didn't know the song for the procession. They learned the tradition, and I learned the song in Spanish. The melody was hard to master as its notes are meandering yet beautiful. Together we made paper lanterns, and we practiced the story including having some of my students be the homeowners who sing out in response that there's no room in the inn. When we performed for the parents they were smiling as they joined in with the singing.
The story is by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida and is illustrated by Marie Hall Ets, and is a Caldecott Award winner (1960). Each page is two-thirds illustration and there are full scenes of home, farmers' market, and the procession of Las Posadas, a cultural and religious celebration leading up to Christmas day. Each page is done in mixed media with pencil, ink, and washes of color with a great contrast of dark and light.
As we near Christmas in 2021 people ask me if I'm ready for the holidays. Surely, we are if it's about the ham ready to be baked or the garland twisted on the railing leading up to our front door. But it's this book in my hands that I must look at one more time. I must see the glee on Ceci's face in this story and watch the glow of the star piñata that will brighten the winter night.