Lionel’s Christmas Adventure

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I’m actually a little bit of a cynic when it comes to Christmas stories. I don’t think songs like Christmas Shoes are adorable, I think they exploit people’s grief and emotions. Yet for some reason – partly knowing my children would be asking to read Christmas stories at some point – I agreed to read and review a book called Lionel Learns the True Meaning of Christmas.

I liked the book. I really did. I liked it partly because the main character, Lionel, is a bit of a grump and he’s a bit self-centered and at one point pushed kids out of the way to try to get where he needs to go. It isn’t that I want to condone that behavior. I don’t, and the book doesn’t reward that behavior either, but I also like that the story doesn’t demand perfection from children.

The bigger thing though, and better, is that the book doesn’t just argue the “it is better to give than to receive” line like I expected. In fact the book demonstrates that sometimes giving can be a bit of a problem. Lionel catches a glimpse of how parents can end up feeling worry and stress because they can’t afford to buy the children what they’d like to give them. Giving can be a problem when you don’t have much.

In the story it isn’t Lionel’s job to solve the economic problems of the parents but to learn to recognize that the gifts he might ask for aren’t the things that will make him happy. His expectations change and he realizes it is friendship – a completely non-monetary thing – that matters most.

Lionel feels alone but he manages (eventually) to recognize that others are lonely too, and that he can help make them less lonely too. He learns that he can find joy in singing Christmas carols, reading Christmas stories and visiting those in the hospital. Even just being smiled at can make a person’s day, as the story shows through the subplot of Lionel’s crush on a classmate.

The most confusing thing, if you read the Christmas story without reading the other books, is the question of what is a Three-Toed-Potbellied Walbaun. I asked the author of the book and he wrote back:

A Three-Toed-Potbellied Walbaun, hmmm, I picture one as a very short man, with almost a boyish face. It would have a crew cut, probably a flat top and to the waist one might mistake it for a young boy, at least from behind. Its enormous belly would certainly alert one that this was not a young boy. It would appear as though it was hiding a bowling ball under its shirt, its belly would be so round and firm. Its lower half is a different story. It has thick, squat thighs, like a rabbit or a very strong dog. The upper leg is all taught muscle. From the knee down it has thin legs that end in a hair, leathery foot. Their feet are shaped like a rabbit. At first I was concerned people would imagine its feet like a hobbit’s, but that isn’t right. Maybe from a distance that may be true, but up close its feet look like a rabbit, minus the fur. There’s hair, sure, quite a bit in fact, just not enough to qualify as fur. They don’t wear shoes because the soles of their feet are leathery and tough, able to withstand the outdoors, whether it is the elements or the terrain. Ironically, the fact that their feet resemble a rabbit’s might cause one to think of them as fast. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They not only were slow, but lazy, so running wasn’t something that they did.

It is in The Golden Rule book that the Three-Toed-Potbellied Walbaun, or at least, his foot, is introduced. Lionel finds the magic good luck charm, reminiscent of a lucky rabbit foot but much more powerful, when he moves into his new house. He uses the charm to make wishes but the magic never quite works the way he expects, so he has to be careful with it. While it sounds a little morbid to be carrying around a foot of a short humanish-faced creature, the foot provides a great plot device and is carried through all three books.

What would you wish for if you knew you could get it, but you didn’t know how it would happen? In some ways it reminds me of the story Tree by Leaf by Cynthia Voigt, but written for a younger audience and with more of a clear-cut message.

I asked Mr. Hewlett if he was planning on writing other books. He says:

I have greatly enjoyed writing the series and feel that Lionel has more to offer. The challenge is writing something that isn’t just like the others. I am currently plotting out an idea involving Lionel & Skip going on a school field trip to a Museum of History. I’m not sure of the lesson yet and it is in the very early stages.

I also asked where Lionel’s last name, Snodgrass came from.

The last name Snodgrass just kind of evolved. I wanted a memorable name that would stand out. I can’t really pinpoint where I came up with the idea. A funny story is, I received a letter one day from a woman whose brother’s name was Lionel Feeney and he was a United States Air Force veteran, as am I. She wondered if perhaps I knew him and that is where Lionel and Feeney came from. I had to apologize and inform her that I did not know her brother as he had served quite a bit before me. 

In agreeing to take part in the blog tour I agreed to read Lionel’s Christmas Adventure. When we finished that we went on Amazon and quickly purchased his other two books. They’re all amusing, beautiful and well worth reading.

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