Beverly Lewis is widely known for her bestselling Amish novels, but she's also tried her hand at picture books. Annika's Secret Wish, a tale of 19th century Swedish Christmas traditions and giving instead of receiving, is one of them.
From the moment we meet Annika, she's daydreaming of finding the almond in the Christmas pudding. For ten years she's wished for it, and this Christmas is her last chance. (Lewis doesn't explain why, but presumably because she'll be considered too old for the tradition the following year.) But her brothers - including the youngest, Davy, who can walk only with a crutch - also pine for the Christmas almond, for tradition has it that whichever child finds it in their pudding will be granted one wish. Annika hopes for a beautiful black horse to call her own.
When Christmas arrives and the children are served rice pudding, Annika can hardly hold back her excitement...when lo! She feels a hard, almond shape in her pudding. Yet just as she's about to announce her good fortune, her father carries young Davey to the table. "What would make Davey most happy this Christmas?" Annika wonders.
"Dear little brother. How he longed to run and play. To walk without a crutch. And finding the almond would surely make his heart glad.""What would Jesus want me to do?" Annika asks herself.
Secretly, she switches plates with Davey, and as her little brother whispers his wish, Annika is the only one who hears what he longs for. Tears come to her eyes because "she knew the almond could bring smiles and laughter, but only God could make a miracle."
What I Like: The basic idea for this story is sweet, and as parents we can always use books portraying unselfishness in a positive light. Also, the illustrations by Pamela Querin are gorgeous: realistic and detailed and full of light.
What I Dislike: There's a lot of description and not much action in the first 14 pages or so of this book...much more than is typically seen in picture books. All of this could have been condensed to make much stronger picture book writing. Too, younger readers may not catch what Davey's wish is. It's never spelled out plainly, and many will find it too subtle to catch upon a first reading.
Overall Rating: Good.
Age Appeal: 4 - 8
Publisher Info: Baker Books, 2000; ISBN: 0764221817; hardback; $15.99