Monday, February 3, 2014

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story

Silver Packages An Appalachian Christmas Story 

Written by:  Cynthia Rylant
Paintings by:  Chris K. Soentpiet
Published:  Orchard Books 1987

"A Train comes through Appalachian every year at Christmas time.  And though it doesn't have antlers, nor does the man standing on its rear platform have a long white bear, it may as well be Santa Clause and his sleigh for all the excitement it stirs up."

High up in the Appalachian mountains a train visits a town every Christmas.  This train is full of good cheer as it brings presents wrapped in silver packages and a man that passes them out to the little girls and boys whom for many will only get this one present for Christmas.  The story tells of a young boy named Frankie who waits every year for the train and every year dreams of the same present, a doctor kit.  Although he does not get the doctor kit, he  does get many fun toys as well as things he needs such as socks, mittens, scarves, and hats.  The little boy grows up and leaves the town but continues to have memories of his time and the great things he needed that were given to him by the man on the train.  He decides to return home and to give back to the town just as the man did.  This time he is a doctor and can help the people in that way.  
The book Silver Packages  is a book about giving back, gratitude, and helping others. Let me tell you, I love everything about Christmas time.  The decorations, the happiness, the food, the family togetherness, the gifts, but most of all GIVING!  I love giving presents to my family members, friends, and even my students.  I also love getting a child off of an Angle tree and making some child's Christmas just as special as mine have always been.  Rylant does a great job of showing how giving can bring people joy and help them in many ways and helping people stays with them for many years to come.  When Frankie the little boy grows up and reminisces about when he was a boy  "what he remembers most about being a boy in the hills is that just when it seemed his feet would freeze like the snow, a man on a train had brought him socks."  Rylant's descriptive language not only makes people stop and think about their own memories and their traditions of Christmas' past but also about the impact that this train had on this little boys life.  I believe this book is for both children and their parents.  Children can relate to wanting something special at Christmas as well as learn that they should be grateful for what they have because other children do not have as much as they do.  It can allow parents to recall their childhood and just as many other Rylant stories do, creates images of sentiment and nostalgia.

I have realized that I really like reading stories that I can relate to in some way.  This story reminded me of my PaPaw.  He is a great man that is very simple and very "country.:  He also grew up in the mountains of West Virginia in a little coal mining town.  He has told me many stories before of great adventures and hard times of what it was like growing up in West Virginia and Cynthia Rylants books remind me of those stories. She along with the Soentipiet do a wonderful job of really capturing the life of these people.  

The illustrations in this story also seem very real to the time and place and after doing more research I learned that Soentipiet traveled to West Virginia and Rylant says of this that he "visited Logan and Boone counties, which are very isolated and still look so much as they did fifty years ago. As a result, Chris's paintings are both authentic and luminous." ( )  I love he illustration of all the children waiting for the train to come by.  All the children have different looks on their face but there is one little boy that has his shoulders scrunched up and has this look on his face like he is just so cold.  I can actually feel the cold as the children stand there waiting.  The paintings really show you the emotion and feelings of the characters in the story and it makes you feel as though you are right there with the children waiting on the train.  

I was curious about this book to see if there was any truth behind this story, especially since knowing Rylant grew up in the Appalachian mountains I found a great link from the painter Soentpiet that includes a piece written by Rylant about the book.  She includes that there is some truth behind this story and she used her own memories about a train that has been coming for 65 years to the mountains to deliver presents to the children.   Knowing that there was some truth behind the story made me like it even more.   I recommend visiting the sight  to read more about the book.  

1 comment:

  1. This review was so detailed and helpful! I am just now getting into Cynthia Rylant's books and I'm trying to learn as much as I can about them all but there are so many! Believe it or not, I need more Christmas books in my classroom library that focus on the GIVING aspect of Christmas and not Santa Claus. I need to read this one!