Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Spider's Gift by Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by Katya Krenina

"Please, Mamaniu!" Katrusya begged.  "These baby spiders are so small and helpless.  If we take them outside, they'll die in the cold  Let them stay until Christmas is over."

Katrusya is crushed when she discovers that her family is too poor to have a traditional Christmas.  But after a bit of lamenting her family decides to make the best of it.  They drag a tree from the forest to the house and decorate it with wooden buttons and a paper star.  The next morning Katrusya's mother is horrified to find tiny baby spiders spinning webs in her tree, but is convinced to keep the tree rather than throw it out and kill the spiders.  When the family returns home from Christmas Eve mass, they discover that their tree is sparkling.  At first they think it is beautiful webs, but realize that the spider webs are silver and their wooden buttons have turned to gold. 

This folktale is masterfully retold by the master of folktales, Eric A. Kimmel.  (I highly recommend him especially his Anansi stories.)  Kimmel weaves Ukrainian traditions into the story.  The family leaves a seat open to represent their ancestors.  Three rings of bread represent the Trinity.  Even the names of the family are distinctly Ukrainian.  The illustrator, Katya Krenina, is Ukrainian and beautifully depicts the rustic village.

The gestures of gratitude stand out to me.  The spiders give the family riches as a thank you for preserving their life.  Then, this family provides for their neighbors instead of hoarding their treasure.  This folk story truly embodies the spirit of Christmas.

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