Jerry Camery-Hoggart's When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four is a touching Christmas tale about lifting others up and giving unselfishly.
Written in memoir style, the book introduces the author's family during good times. He lives with his cousins, his four siblings, his father, and his mother. Mother, we learn, measured only four foot eleven inches, but she was fond of saying she could be eleven feet four inches tall on the inside. At first, the author says, he couldn't understand how his mother could be tall on the inside and short on the outside...but soon he'd understand.
Each year, his mother bought a huge Christmas tree and decorated it lavishly. She was fond of gift-giving, too, and always made Christmas memorable for her family. But then one Christmas, the author's cousins move away. Worse, his father leaves. There's no money for a Christmas tree. Trying hard to keep Christmas alive, the author's mother strings up some lights on the wall, in the shape of a Christmas tree. Afterward, however, she cries and admits she's never felt so small.
Then and there, her children decide this will never happen again. They work hard to earn money, carefully saving every penny. When Christmas comes, they buy a tree - though it's small and lopsided and has sparse branches. They decorate it and surprise their mother with it and she sheds tears of great joy. Suddenly, the whole family is feeling very tall, indeed.
"We were tall and wise, for that Christmas we recieved what Mother wanted more than any present she put under the tree.
We learned what it means to be a giver of gifts."
What I Like: Everything! This is a moving, memorable tale for both adults and children. The illustrations by Mark Elliot are superb: Rich, vivid, realistic yet nostalgic, and adding a great deal to the story.
What I Dislike: Nothing. Although it should be noted the Christian message in this story is subtle. The only outright mention of Jesus is when the author describes the decorations on his mother's tree, which include ornaments made in Sunday school. In particular, there's a baby Jesus glued into a nutshell. Adults will understand this story is as much about God's greatest gift as it is about children learning about giving.
Overall Rating: Excellent.
Age Appeal: 4 - 8
Publisher Info: Revell, 2007; ISBN: 0800718364; hardback; $18.99
Special Info: Check out Mark Elliott's website for a glimpse at his amazing artwork.