Christmas in Australia is smack bang in the middle of summer and often accompanied by natural disasters like the Black Christmas bushfires of 2001, Cyclone Tracy which flattened Darwin on Christmas day 1974, floods that cut off towns and whole states, and droughts that leave our farmers devastated.
“Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle” is a Nativity-themed Christmas story set in the Australian outback recovering after the bushfires. It is narrated from the point of view of a farm pig called Applesauce. “One orange evening, tiger-striped with blackened trees, a pig sat, reminiscing”, the story begins. Applesauce thought of how beautiful the valley and their farm were before the raging bushfire “licked the earth bare”.
Joe and Marigold, the owners of the farm where Applesauce live, have now moved to the shed as the fire destroyed their house. It’s Christmas Eve, and Applesauce is sure that there can be no Christmas this year. An owl in the tree above reminds Applesauce, “Christmas comes from the heart pig, from the heart.” “But her heart felt as small as a gumnut. There was no Christmas in there, none at all”.
But a Christmas miracle was about to unfold. On Christmas morning, Joe and Marigold are joined by the Shepherds, a neighbouring family who followed a shining star. And then there are three elderly aunties of Marigold bearing gifts of plum pudding, shortbread and a fruit crate – is any of this sounding familiar? They all crowded around under the shadow of a burnt tree. A flock of cockatoos appeared high above them like angels in the heavens. And in the wooden fruit crate lined with hay, Joe and Marigold’s place their newborn baby for all to behold.
“On that orange summer evening, tiger-striped with blackened trees, Applesauce remembered the words of an owl…”
When Applesauce saw the baby, her heart opened up and allowed Christmas in. Applesauce learnt that one can always find hope and joy even in the most difficult of times.
Written by Glenda Millard and illustrated by Stephen Michael King, “Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle” is another example of this dynamic duo putting their talents together. Their creative partnership has produced quite a few exceptional children’s books.
Glenda was 45 when she “accidentally became a writer”, as she put it. There was no television at home when she was growing up, so she read a lot. She credits her love of reading as the main contributor to the success of her writing. She writes for children of all ages as well as youth and older readers. Her work has been credited with too many awards to list here.
Of her creative process, she notes: “I don’t plot my stories before I start writing. I do think about them a lot, though – mostly about the characters; trying to understand what makes them the way they are, to understand their emotions and find out how they would express themselves. I love surprises and most of my stories surprise me.”
I love Glenda’s clever turn of phrase in this delightful sunburnt interpretation of the Nativity, like “one orange evening, tiger striped with blackened trees”; “her heart felt as small as a gumnut” and “night fell as dark as burnt toast”. She can certainly paint a powerful word picture.
Speaking of someone who can paint, Stephen Michael King’s watercolour illustrations are loose and lively and convey a sense of joy and playfulness which gives this story a real sense of optimism. Stephen is one of Australia’s most loved and successful children’s book authors and illustrators. He has illustrated over a hundred children’s books and written about twenty of his own. His books have been published in over 20 countries and won multiple awards.
Stephen’s characters are often bare-foot, they don’t buy things, rather make things of paper and sticks and strings. “I didn’t want to be a grown-up when I grew up! I knew how free-spirited bare-feet, long grass and standing on my head felt. I was well aware that adults mostly wore shoes” , says Stephen. His journey to success as an illustrator is fascinating, read more about it here.
If you’re a little tired of the traditional white Christmas theme, then this Nativity story with a uniquely Aussie flavour is sure to put a smile on your dial:)
For reviews of other fabulous Christmas books click here.