by Natalie Savage Carlson
Listening Age: 5+
This was one I read to my younger girls, though 13 year old Fifi might have listened in for the latter half of the book because the story was so compelling.
It revolves around a self-styled Paris vagabond who loves his lifestyle for its freedom from responsibility. But one day he unwittingly befriends a trio of children who have just joined the ranks of the homeless with their mother who works during the day. Before he knows it, he has taken the children under his wing and helps hide them from dangers and authorities alike.
The nature of the story line involves children in distress, but not so much as to scare a young listener. Really, it only opened the eyes of my children to better appreciate what they have been given. There are many opportunities to discuss the choices made by the characters in the book: is the mother right in her assertion that the family stay together at all costs? Or should the children's physical comfort be considered a higher priority? Is she being negligent when she leaves her children alone with Armand as she does? Or is she just doing the best with the situation she's been dealt?
Be prepared that those questions and others might just stump you, the discussion leader, too.
Also be aware that there is quite a bit of attention given to the children's hopes and expectations of "Father Christmas." Acknowledgment of such a character gives some people pause. There is a lengthy interaction with a band of Gypsies which is endearing if not another springboard for discussion about different people, their different belief systems, and the different values that pour forth from them.
The story finishes all too soon, but resolves in a very clever, everyone-lived-happily-ever-after kind of ending.
We give this easy read a "B."