The Little Match Girl
Hans Christian Anderson ~ Blair Lent ~ Houghton Mifflin, 1968
Sorry I've been erratic in posting, but that's what happens when you are room mom to 24 first graders in the weeks leading up to Christmas. To make up for it, I thought I'd highlight the most depressing (yet strangely uplifting) children's Christmas story of all time. Hans Christian Anderson's timeless tale has all those feel-good components you expect out of the holidays. Poverty. Starvation. Death. When the warm around us is snug and glowing with holiday cheer, it's always good to step outside and remember that not everyone is lucky enough to write and read blogs and enjoy children's books.
Originally published in 1845, it's the story of a little girl wandering the streets, selling bundles of matches. Or, at least, trying to sell matches. When no one buys her wares and she loses her shoes in the snow...
The little girl found a corner where one house projected a little beyond another and she crouched there, drawing her little feet close under her. But she was still cold. She did not dare go home, for she had sold no matches, nor earned even one penny. If she should return home her father would surely give her a beating. And besides it was almost as cold at home as it was here, for they had nothing over them but a roof through which the wind whistles, even though the largest cracks had been stuffed with straw and rags.
It gets worse from there on out. To stay warm, she begins striking the matches and in each one, she sees a fantastical vision. A blazing fire. A turkey dinner. An enchanting Christmas tree. Until at last a star arrives bringing her long-dead grandmother along who "took the little girl in her arms, and they both soared in brightness and joy above the earth, very, very high; up to where neither cold nor hunger, nor fear is ever known."
I remember crying buckets at this story as a child, and vowing always to help those less fortunate than me. Beautifully illustrated by the artist who brought us the always awesome Tikki Tikki Tembo, it's a great one to read during the holidays to inspire empathy and build traditions of giving. A heartbreaking lesson that every child should learn. (Check out Tomi's version if you've never seen it before...)
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