Rarely is a holiday book so lovely in every way as Kate DiCamillo's Great Joy. The story is heartwarming yet wonderfully subdued; the artwork glows. What's more, this short tale has a message that's bound to resonate with readers of all ages.
Young Frances lives in a city apartment, and outside her window, just before Christmas, she spies (and hears) an organ grinder and his little monkey. Frances enjoys the serenade, but wonders where the two sleep at night. Her mother brushes off her questions—she is preoccupied with sewing Frances' costume for the Christmas pageant.
The story appears to be set during World War II, and on a table rests a framed photo of a man, probably Frances' dad, in uniform. The illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, done in acrylic gouache, are spectacular: full of emotion and expression, all bathed in a muted holiday glow. The magic of Ibatoulline's art is that it manages to be simultaneously almost impressionistic yet vivid with detail.
Frances can't get the organ grinder or his companion out of her mind, so in the middle of the night she sneaks another peek out her window and sees them huddled on the street corner. The next evening, bedecked in her angel costume, Frances and her mother head to the pageant. In passing, she invites the organ grinder to come along and hear her one line in the play. And, in one of those spectacular cinematic moments, he walks through the church doors just as Frances goes center stage.
DiCamillo's Great Joy is just what the title suggests. It's a wonderful, quiet story about true holiday magic, the joy of opening your heart to others, to everyone in need. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2007 November #1
Newbery Medalist DiCamillo is joined again by the illustrator of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2005) in this moving story that offers the reader (or young listener) a treat: a story with an outwardly simple plot but with an inner core of meaning that is deeply satisfying. The main character, Frances, is a little girl who lives in a city apartment with her mother in the 1940s. From their second-story window, Frances watches an older man standing on the corner with an organ grinder and a little monkey in a red cap. In a series of tiny actions that all add up to something larger, she draws the lonely man into her world, and by the final, wordless spread, a stranger has come in out of the cold to join the group. DiCamillo tells her story with a light, deft hand and a minimum of words that make the story all the more powerful. Ibatoulline's mysterious paintings are understated as well, filled with subtle, glowing accents from streetlights, shop windows and stage lights when Frances performs her role as an angel in her church pageant. This simple but powerful story will indeed bring the reader great joy. (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2008 March
This story of kindness and sharing is reminiscent of a 1950s Christmas holiday. As Frances peers from her bedroom window, watching an organ grinder and his monkey perform on the street for spare change, she notices the sorrow and loneliness on the man's face. Thoughts of his sadness weigh heavy on Frances's mind, and she is unable to remember her lines during the Christmas pageant until the organ grinder enters the Church. Frances, her mother, and the townspeople welcome the man and the story concludes with a warm and festive reception. This is yet another wonderful tale from the award-winning author that is beautifully depicted by Ibatoulline. The gentle illustrations mimic the snowfall that is pictured throughout the story and soften the harshness of the reality that not all people have a warm home to sleep in at night. The large pictures spill over into the facing page and set the mood of the story. Topics such as tolerance and helping those less fortunate than ourselves are woven throughout the story, giving this book depth and a strong presence in the classroom. Highly Recommended. Deana Groves, Education Catalog Librarian, Western Kentucky University Libraries, Bowling Green, Kentucky Â© 2008 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 October #4
With spot-on storytelling rhythms and pacing, Newbery Medalist DiCamillo spins a tale of compassion and holiday warmth from a most unlikely image. Frances is so preoccupied by the hard-luck organ grinder and monkey she can see from her apartment window that it's hard to focus on the fast-approaching church Christmas pageant. It's not until the man and monkey make their way to the performance (at Frances's invitation) that her words, "Behold! I bring you tidings of great joy," make perfect sense to her. Ibatoulline's (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane ) WWII-era scenes have a subdued yet comforting glow, illuminated by streetlamps and stage lights. Ages 4-8. (Nov.)[Page 55]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
K-Gr 2 -Frances worries about the organ grinder and his monkey who stand across from her apartment all day, in all kinds of bad weather, and even sleep outside. On the day she is to perform in a Christmas play at her church, she impulsively invites him to come; it is only when he finally makes his appearance that she can call out her one line, "Behold! I bring you tidings of Great Joy!" The plotline is simplicity itself, and the text lacks any sentimentality or fluff, allowing the acrylic paintings, reminiscent of Norman Rockwell's work in their warmth and realism, to enrich and expand the story. Although no mention of a time period is made in the text, the clothing, the cars, and a portrait of a young man in uniform in Frances's apartment make clear that this is America during World War II. The organ grinder is entirely isolated on his street corner, despite being surrounded by Christmas bustle; it is Frances who shines a light on him and makes the tiny but vital gesture necessary to draw him into the life and light of the community. The last spread, unaccompanied by text, depicts the aftermath of the play, young actors and doting relatives and the monkey mingling and eating refreshments, while the organ grinder chats with Frances's mom. His troubles aren't over, perhaps, but for the moment, there is warmth, hope, and even great joy.-Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library[Page 97]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.