Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each other again. Luckily, it’s just the season for miracles. . .
The grown-up in me is wondering WHY ON EARTH a family would agree to cut down such a majestic tree, the only tree in their front yard. But, this book is not written for the grown-ups, it is written for the children, and for them it is just right.
The cardinal couple and their separation are the main focus of the story. While there is an urgency and some sadness, it is not a tear-jerker that will upset more sensitive children. Fitting around their story are details about the annual selection and lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. A footnote explains the origin and continuation of the tradition, as well as where the idea of a winged stowaway came from.
Let's talk illustrations: there is so much going on with the family that happens to live by the tree. Kids can match up activities to seasons, and talk about how the tree is a part of each (although I did wonder why there would be so many fallen maple leaves under a Norway Spruce. Really strong winds from the back yard?). The cardinals are drawn accurately, and there are dozens of details to pore over, such as a little boy counting the rings on the tree, or the first and last illustrations mirroring each other. Scenes of New York as seen from a bird's point of view. Really, the book is worth purchasing for the illustrations alone! A solid addition to your Christmas classics.
*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.