Author: Tomie dePaola (retold by)
Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Publisher: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers
Audience: This book is wonderful for all ages and the brightly colored illustrations will be especially appealing for young children.
Summary: This story tells the Mexican legend of the poinsettia which has been handed down through the generations. A little girl named Lucida lives with her family in a small village in the mountains of Mexico. As Christmas approaches, Padre Alvarez from San Gabriel comes to Lucida’s mother and asks her to weave a new blanket to cover the Baby Jesus in the Christmas procession. Her mother is honored and asks for Lucida’s help picking out and dyeing the finest yarn they can find. One day, as the children in the village are practicing for the procession, Senora Gomez comes to get Lucida and tells her that her mother is sick and has been taken to the doctor. She will not be well before Christmas and Lucida’s father will stay with her so Lucida and her siblings will need to stay with Senora Gomez. Lucida is heartbroken because she knows the blanket won’t be finished in time for the procession. Her family won’t have a gift to place at the manger of the Baby Jesus. When it comes time to walk in the procession to San Gabriel, Lucida realizes that any gift is beautiful because it is given. She picks up an armful of green weeds and places them around the stable. Then she lowers her head and prays. Suddenly, a flaming red start appears at the tip of each weed and the manger began to glow and shimmer. When the villagers left the church they found that all the clumps of tall green weeds had been transformed into beautiful poinsettias. Every Christmas to this day, the poinsettia appears on top of green branches in Mexico and the people call these plants the Flower of the Holy Night.
Literary elements at work in the story: The Legend of the Poinsetta is a unique and beautiful Christmas story set in a small village in Mexico. The story is told by a third-person narrator in a sweet and simple voice. Through this story we learn the importance of giving rather than the size of the gift. Lucida is ashamed when she arrives at San Gabriel without something beautiful for the baby Jesus but her simple gift of weeds turns out to be the most miraculous gift of all as the weeds transform into glorious red poinsettias. This story is a retelling of an old Mexican folktale and the words combined with the simple, colorful artwork create a beautiful, memorable image for children of all ages.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: We rarely have the opportunity to enjoy a Christmas story from other cultures in the form of a children’s book. Through this story, children and adults will learn about a wonderful and charming Christmas folktale from Mexico and will appreciate the importance the Christmas story holds in cultures all over the world, not just our own. The Legend of the Poinsettia reveals how a different culture celebrates the birth of Jesus. The focus of the story is not on lavish gifts and Christmas trees, shopping or fancy decorations. Rather, the reader sees a village humbly preparing for the most important day of the year when they get to honor the birth of Jesus.
Scripture: James 4:10, Proverbs 22:4, Psalm 37:11, Deuteronomy 16:17
Theology: The Legend of the Poinsettia reminds us that the birth story belongs to all of God’s children. So often in the craziness of the season children here in America forget that other children just like them are celebrating Christmas in their own ways all over the world. This story of a humble family who was honored by the request put before them echoes the humble beginnings of the Baby Jesus and shows us that it is the spirit of giving to others that is important, not the gift itself. In this folktale, a little girl is embarrassed that her family has nothing to put before the Baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas. But God knows what is in our hearts and that is what truly matters.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Describe Lucida’s family. What do you think life was like in her village?
- How does Lucida’s village celebrate Christmas? How is this similar to the way you celebrate Christmas? How is it different?
- Why do you think Lucida’s mother was so honored to weave the new blanket for the Christmas procession?
- How do you think Lucida felt when she heard her mother was sick and her parents would not be home for Christmas? What did she do?
- When Lucida tangled up the blanket her mother had been weaving she felt like she had ruined Christmas. Why do you think she felt this way?
- Why was Lucida embarrassed when the Christmas procession began? What does the old woman tell Lucida that makes her change her mind?
- What did Lucida lay around the stable? What do you think the other villagers thought when they saw her? What happened to the weeds?
Review prepared by Erin Mills, MACE, Entering cohort Fall 2007