Eleanor Roosevelt’s Little-Known Children’s Book About Christmas and Hope Amid Humanity’s Darkest Hour
By Maria Popova
As a lover of children’s books, especially vintage ones, I was delighted to find out that beginning in the 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884–November 7, 1962) — beloved First Lady, dedicated humanitarian, writer of controversial love letters, timeless philosopher — penned a series of books aimed at young readers, discussing various social and political issues, from voting to international relations. In 1940, in the midst of a grim holiday season marred by the realities of WWII and the Nazi occupation of Europe, she composed Christmas: A Story (public library) — the tale of a little Dutch girl named Marta, who struggles to find meaning, love, and peace in a world of destruction and uncertainty after her father, Jon, is killed in the war.
The original edition, now long out of print, features illustrations by German graphic designer and artist Fritz Kredel, who was later commissioned to create a woodcut of the Presidential Seal for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
The light in the window must be the dream which holds us all until we ultimately win back to the things for which Jon died and for which Marta and her mother were living.
In the introduction, Roosevelt articulates something all the more prescient in the wake of recent tragedies:
The times are so serious that even children should be made to understand that there are vital differences in people’s beliefs which lead to differences in behavior.
Though the Christ Child plays a central role in Christmas: A Story as a source of hope and solace for little Marta, the religious elements are more of an allegory for Roosevelt’s philosophical message: That we don’t need to seek permission to believe in goodness, even in the face of evil, and that, as Stanley Kubrick famously put it nearly three decades later, “however vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
Some images via We Too Were Children
Published December 24, 2012