We all love a good Christmas-themed book to get cozy next to a roaring fire with! This month, dive into this excerpt from an exciting new title from Lynn Austin, The Wish Book.
Bobby Barrett stepped off the kindergarten school bus and his foot sank into a pile of fresh snow. Some of the snow fell inside his galoshes and soaked into his socks, making him shiver. He couldn’t remember there being this much snow back home in England, where he was born.
“Yay! It’s snowing again!” his friend Harry Dawson cheered as the bus roared away. “If you stick out your tongue, you can catch snowflakes on it, like this.”
Bobby watched, then imitated Harry, opening his mouth wide and sticking out his tongue. Bobby had moved to America only a year and a half ago with his mum, but Harry had lived here ever since he was a baby. He was always teaching Bobby new things. Snowflakes fell from the gray sky like feathers from a torn pillow, and they tickled Bobby’s tongue as they landed on it.
“Come on, let’s make footprints,” Harry said a moment later. They stomped through the snow that had piled up on their neighbors’ lawns as they made their way down the block to the house they shared. Mummy had been friends with Harry’s mum for a long, long time, and now they all lived together in the same little house.
“I love it when it snows,” Harry said. “Know why?”
“Because that means Christmas is coming, and Christmas means toys! Lots and lots and lots of toys!”
“Where do the toys come from?” Bobby asked.
“From Santa Claus, silly! You tell him what new toys you want and he brings them to your house on Christmas. Didn’t Santa Claus ever come where you used to live?”
“You mean Wellingford Hall? In England?”
“Hmm. I remember Father Christmas,” Bobby said, “but I don’t think I remember lots of toys.”
Harry dropped to his knees and scooped up a pile of snow between his mittens, packing it together to make a ball. Bobby dropped down to do the same thing and felt the cold snow soaking through his mittens and the knees of his corduroy pants. He hoped Mummy wouldn’t get mad at him for getting all wet.
“Santa Claus is very rich, and he likes giving toys to children,” Harry said. “He left some under the tree for us last Christmas and some more at Nana and Granddad’s house, remember?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Everything had been new and strange last year after he and Mummy had sailed across the ocean on a big boat. America was loud and noisy and hard to get used to compared to the peace and quiet of Wellingford Hall. Everyone was always in a big hurry here, and they talked funny. It had taken a while before Bobby could understand what people were saying. Bobby had wanted to leave America at first and go back home, but Mummy said they couldn’t.
Harry stretched his arm back and threw the ball of snow as far as he could. Bobby did the same, but his ball fell apart, and the loose snow fluttered to the ground. Harry was better than Bobby at everything.
“Come on, let’s run,” Harry said. “I’m hungry! I hope your mommy made hot dogs for lunch.”
Dogs? For lunch? An old woman was walking toward them with a big yellow dog on a leash, and it took Bobby a moment to remember that the Americans called sausages “hot dogs.” They weren’t really made from dogs, Mummy told him. He backed away as the dog got closer, his heart beating fast. He was afraid of most dogs, and this one was very big and frisky. It tugged on the leash as if it wanted to get away, and the lady had to pull back hard to make it stop.
“Hi, doggy,” Harry said, waving. The dog looked at Harry and barked really loud, making Bobby’s heart race even faster. He turned and ran the rest of the way home without waiting for his friend, hoping the dog wouldn’t chase after him and eat him.
He arrived home breathless, beating Harry through the door for once. Mummy had lunch waiting for them on the kitchen table—tomato soup with saltine crackers and bologna sandwiches. He took off his galoshes, coat, and mittens and slid onto his chair, beating Harry a second time.
“How was kindergarten today?” Mummy asked as Bobby bit into his bologna sandwich.
Harry answered before he had a chance to. “We had fun! We painted pictures using our fingers. The paint felt all squishy and cold.”
“I didn’t like it,” Bobby said. He had worried that the paint wouldn’t wash off afterwards and he would have colored fingers forever. “Why don’t they let us use paintbrushes in America?” he asked.
Harry shrugged his shoulders. “Because then they wouldn’t be called finger paints, silly.”
Bobby remembered what else they’d done in school today and hurried to tell his mum before Harry did. “Mummy, guess what? We’re going to be in a play at school, and you and Harry’s mum and Nana and Granddad can all come and see us.”
“A play? How nice. Do you know what the play is about?”
“It has a baby and a lot of sheep in it,” Harry said. He was talking with his mouth full, which Mummy said not to do. “Most of the kids are sheep but me and Bobby and another boy are going to be three smart, rich men.”
“No, the teacher said we’re rich kings!” Bobby said. “Like the king we have back home in England. We’re going to wear crowns and everything!”
“That sounds lovely,” Mum said. “I can’t wait to see it.” She brushed Bobby’s hair off his forehead. Her hand smelled like flowers.
Harry finished his lunch first, leaving the crusts of his bread behind. Bobby copied him—he hated the dry crusts, too—then followed him into the living room, after putting his dishes in the sink. They were trying to decide what to play when Harry spotted a colorful magazine on the coffee table that hadn’t been there when they’d left for kindergarten that morning. “Look, Bobby! That’s Santa Claus—see? He’s the one who’s going to bring us toys for Christmas. Now do you remember?”
Bobby picked up the magazine and studied it. The cover showed a fat, white-bearded man in a red suit putting presents beneath a Christmas tree. Santa held one finger to his lips as if saying, “Shh . . . these presents are a secret . . .”
“He looks sort of like Father Christmas,” Bobby said, “with his white beard. But Father Christmas wears a green coat, I think. And he isn’t this fat.” He opened the book to see what was inside and saw pictures of all sorts of toys.
Harry grabbed the book from him. “Oh, boy! Look at all these cars and trucks!”
“Mummy, is Father Christmas the same as Santa Claus?” Bobby asked as she walked through the living room. She was carrying a basket of dirty laundry on her way to the basement.
“Yes, love. Children call him by different names in different countries. By the way, did you and Harry forget that we’re going to see Santa Claus in the Christmas parade tonight?”
“Tonight?” Bobby asked.
“Yes, after we eat supper.”
“Yay!” Harry cheered, bouncing in place. “We can sit on his lap afterwards and tell him all the toys we want him to bring us.”
Bobby couldn’t imagine sitting on this plump, red-suited stranger’s lap. He felt shy around people he didn’t know. “I don’t know what toys to tell him.”
Harry waved the magazine. “Well, there’s lots of them in this . . . this . . . What’s this book called?” he asked Bobby’s mum.
She bent over to look at the cover. “The Sears Christmas Wish Book.”
As she walked away, Harry leaned close to Bobby to whisper in his ear, “We’d better hurry if we’re going to pick out all the toys we want to tell Santa about tonight. Come on.” He sank to the floor, lying on his tummy, and opened the book to the toy section. Bobby stretched out beside him, excited at the thought of picking out a whole bunch of new toys. It wasn’t even his birthday!
“Oooh! Look at these fire engines!” Harry said. “And Santa will bring us everything we want!”
“Yes. But only if we’re good. Bad kids get sticks and coal for Christmas.”
“Black lumpy stuff that looks like rocks.”
“What do the bad kids do with it?”
“I don’t know. I guess they have to play with it because they don’t have any toys. Listen, Bobby. We have to be real good from now until Christmas, okay?”
“Okay. How long is it until Christmas?”
“I don’t know. Maybe your mommy does.” They studied a few more pages of toys until Bobby heard his mum come upstairs from the basement again.
“Mummy? How many days is it until Christmas?” he called.
“Ehm . . . let’s see . . . twenty days.”
“Oh no!” Harry groaned, slapping his forehead.
“Is twenty days a lot?” Bobby asked him.
“Yes! That’s like . . . all of your fingers and all of mine! We’ll have to be good for a long time if we want lots and lots of toys.”
Bobby sighed. This all seemed like a lot of work. But the toys pictured in this wonderful Wish Book dazzled him, and like Harry, he wanted all of them. Most of the toys in their bedroom and at Nana’s house had belonged to Harry before Bobby moved in, and although Harry was pretty good about sharing them, Bobby wanted some new toys of his own. “Start at the beginning again and go real slow,” he begged. “I need to remember everything.”
“Okay, okay,” Harry said, turning back to the first page of toys. “I want these Tinkertoys, don’t you? We can build fun towers and stuff with them, see?”
“Yeah! I want them, too.” They continued through the pages, turning them slowly, studying the pictures. By the time they reached the end, Bobby could hardly wait to see this red-suited Santa Claus tonight and tell him about all the wonderful toys he wanted. Yes, Christmas was going to be great!
The Wish Book Christmas by Lynn Austin
Best friends Audrey Barrett and Eve Dawson are looking forward to celebrating Christmas in postwar America, thrilled at the prospect of starting new traditions with their five-year-old sons. But when the 1951 Sears Christmas Wish Book arrives and the boys start obsessing over every toy in it, Audrey and Eve realize they must first teach them the true significance of the holiday. They begin by helping Bobby and Harry plan gifts of encouragement and service for those in their community, starting by walking an elderly neighbor’s yellow Lab—since a dog topped the boys’ wish list for Santa. In the charming tale that follows, Audrey and Eve are surprised to find their own hearts healing from the tragedies of war and opening to the possibility of forgiveness and new love.