Name of Book: Gifts of the Heart
Author: Patricia Polacco
Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Audience: Ages 5-8.
Summary: Young Trisha and Richie are nearing their first Christmas without Gramma, and their last Christmas on the family farm. When Kay Lamity arrives to help care for them, all sorts of fun ensues. As they struggle with the loss of their Gramma and the impending loss of the farm, both children learn about the most special kinds of gifts – gifts of the heart. And, along the way, Kay Lamity restores their sense of wonder and belief in Santa Claus.
Literary elements at work in the story: This story is set in a small farming community, complete with winter snow, old farms, charming towns, and starry nights. This traditional setting, however, is set in contrast to the family circumstances that Trisha and Richie experience. Grandpa serves as the primary parental figure while their mother works late and barely appears in the story. Additionally, the amusing Kay Lamity serves to fill the void that is left after their grandmother’s death. The mood of the story alternates between a sad longing for the presence of Gramma, and a playful joy in the discovery that hearts can be opened and filled by embracing unexpected wonder. Finally, in the conflict between the children concerning the existence of Santa, Polacco explores the sometimes painful transition from belief to doubt and doubt to belief that many children experience at Christmas time.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability: This story, while not diverse in its ethnic perspective, explores some key differences many children might encounter in their family settings. Trisha and Richie are primarily cared for by their grandfather and Kay Lamity, while their mother is largely absent and their father is entirely absent. Thus, the story raises some excellent questions for many families: Who cares for us? What makes a family? Who do we love? How do our differences enrich our relationships?
Theological Conversation Partners: There are two excellent themes to explore in this story that are related to our lives of faith. First, Polacco explores the interplay between love and loss. The two children are missing their Gramma, but Kay Lamity (the true gift of the heart in this story) comes and unexpectedly fills their hearts – even as they resist her love at first. This would be an excellent entry point for a discussion about the nativity of Jesus. God sends Jesus as a gift of the heart; Jesus’ love fills our hearts in ways that material gifts cannot. In the Bible, we see this love filling the hearts of believers over and over again – in those who sought healing, in those who sought Jesus’ presence, and in those who came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
Second, Polacco explores the interplay between belief and doubt. While the story focuses on the belief in Santa Claus, this theme can easily be used with children who experience doubt as they grow in discipleship. At one point, Kay Lamity asks Trisha whether she can “see how a flower smells” or “see how much your momma and grampa love you.” The obvious answer, of course, is “no.” In many cases, not seeing is believing. Sometimes, our belief comes from other places. Instead of seeing Santa, the children saw what Santa left behind. In the same way, believers today will not likely see Jesus in the flesh. But, we can see the work of Christ all around us – in the healing and forgiveness we experience, in the love and fellowship we share, and in the fullness of our hearts where we once felt empty. This can be seen over and over again as people experienced the love of Christ, especially in Acts and in the Epistles.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Sometimes it is sad when we no longer see people we love. Who do you miss in your life?
- In this story, Kay Lamity fills the family with love. Who are the people in your life that love you, even though they are not part of your family?
- What are the gifts that Kay Lamity gives Trisha and Richie’s family? Why are these gifts called gifts of the heart?
- What are some of the best gifts of the heart that you have given or received?
- What gifts of the heart did Jesus give in the Gospel stories?
- How is Jesus a gift of the heart from God to us? What gifts of the heart can we give Jesus?
- Trisha feels and thinks many different things about Santa in this story. What are some of these thoughts and feelings?
- How does Kay Lamity help Trisha after she misses seeing him in the parade?
- Sometimes it is hard to believe in something that we can’t see. We can’t see God, but having faith is believing in God, anyway. What do you think Kay Lamity would say about believing in God?
- Trisha can’t see the wind, but she knows it is there. What are the ways that we can see God’s love for us, even if we can’t see God?
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna Catherine Lovejoy.
Gifts of the Heart by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.