The other day I pulled a pile of Christmas books out of the shop and tried to covertly photograph them while the girls were distracted. But they were at my elbow in minutes, hailing old friends, eyeing new ones with suspicion (“I don’t remember that book”), and trying to sneak favorites off the pile while I wasn’t looking. The most adored, the most likely to be snatched from the pile and spirited away to a comfy chair was this one: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.
Jonathan Toomey is a woodcarver in a small village, known (and feared) for his gruff manner. But before the story itself truly begins, the author lets us in on a secret: Mr. Toomey wasn’t always this way. Once he was young and full of life, but he closed himself off after suffering terrible grief. Because Susan Wojciechowski introduces us to this side of Mr. Toomey first, watching his transformation throughout the story—as he meets the young widow McDowell and her son Thomas—is like watching someone open a gift we just know they’re going to love.
Here is the thing about the widow McDowell and Thomas: they show up at Mr. Toomey’s door with a request. They’ve lost their set of nativity figures and ask him to make them a new set. But Thomas also wants to watch Mr. Toomey work. His comments throughout the story and his true “little boyness” has us all giggling every time we read it, and yet this is a genuinely deep, sorrowful yet joy-filled book that also makes me cry every time I read it. That balance seems to me just right. (The illustrations are gorgeous, too. P. J. Lynch captures the characters’ expressions in such a living way that I feel as if I’ve walked in on the characters mid-conversation.)
One of the things I love about this book is that, though it is called The Christmas Miracle, Etc., Jonathan Toomey’s transformation doesn’t come about through some nebulous holiday warm-fuzzery. It is nurtured by his interactions with the pieces of the nativity, as Thomas explains beautifully the purpose of each figure. It also nudged along by acts of gentle kindness, both to him and, eventually, by him, as he learns to give himself to others and to welcome them into his life again. And so it is one of the books the girls welcomed most eagerly into our lives this year. This book deserves such a welcome.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Susan Wojciechowski; P. J. Lynch (1948)