A Christmas tale based on wishing

It’s only a week away from the big ‘C’ day and, to mark day 18, I am going to write about a magical book I discovered today called The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden.

image courtesy of guardian.co.uk – Ivy outside the toyshop

Sorting through a collection of Christmas books, I stumbled upon this treasure of a book, written by Rumer Godden in 1958, which deals with the hopes and dreams of three female characters – although only two are referenced in the title.

Ivy is an orphan, who is sent to an infants’ home one Christmas while every other child in the home has found a family to spend the holidays with. Determined not to stay with a group of unknown infants, Ivy declares that she will spend it with her grandmother even though she doesn’t have one and has no idea where she is going, apart from a place called Appleton. When she arrives at the town, she enjoys some of the festive offerings before realizing it is late and getting colder and darker. She cannot find a place that looks like Grandma’s and ends up taking shelter in a shed backing onto the baker’s oven. In the middle of the night, she awakens to the sound of church bells, and her search takes her to the window of a toy shop, where she spots a beautiful doll that she wants for her own. However, she must seek shelter for the rest of the night and does not know where she will end up when morning comes.

Holly is the doll in the toy shop window, who everyone looks over in favour of other toys and dolls. Abracadabra, the mischievious and rather cruel toy owl, declares that she will never be adopted and will end up ‘in stock’ – which is a dark and dusty place where unwanted toys spend the rest of their days. Holly never loses hope and continues wishing for a child to love her and give her a home and, when she sees Ivy through the window, knows that she has found her human counterpart.

Mrs Jones is a childless woman who suddenly decides that she wants to celebrate Christmas, despite her husband’s gentle teasing that there is no point. She buys a tree and decorates it with traditional ornaments. She buys her husband a gift of luxury handkerchiefs. But she knows something is missing – toys under the tree and a child to enjoy them.

The three women share something in common – they hope for what others believe is the impossible; indeed Godden starts by saying that this “is a story about wishing”. The book is filled with quiet emotion, and the beautiful illustrations by Barbara Cooney draw this out effectively, with warmth and longing and life. Unfortunately it is not easy to get a copy of this particular edition anymore, although a web search throws up a few results. If you can track it down, do attempt to get a copy if you are keen on magical Christmas stories, as this is a classic that deserves to be brought out each Christmas time.




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