This wonderful book by Marguerite De Angeli, is a childhood memory that I will never forget. The Lion in the Box: A Christmas Story, was a part of almost every single Christmas of my childhood. My mom would read to us every night and this book along with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, was always on the list. I looked forward to this book every year and begged to read it again when it was over.
I just finished it for probably the 50th time this morning and I am still touched by its simple message. The Lion in the Box is about a poor widow with five small children. Her husband has recently died and her home has burned to the ground. She struggles to feed her children and provide Christmas for them on the small amount of money she makes from cleaning offices. Lilli, the middle child, who is about seven during the book, longs for a doll. A real doll. One that she can hug without it collapsing, as the only doll she has right now is a folded tea towel that will collapse if she hugs it. Her little brother wishes for a train but plays with a pickle bottle instead. These children help their mother the best they can and know that asking for toys would be above what their mother can pay for.
They struggle, but they survive and they love each other very much. When Christmas Eve comes a large box comes to their front door that could contain a lion or maybe something better….
This tale of generosity, service and hard work is a beautiful Christmas story, one that I will read to my little girl when she is a little bit older. It is a short book, I finished it in probably twenty minutes this morning but its message shines through. It is written for a very young audience but I don’t believe it dulls the message.
The most wonderful thing about this book is that it is based on a true story. Although some parts are fictionalized because the author herself was not there to witness these events, these children and their beautiful Christmas gift did exist. At the end of the story, the author writes a short epilogue that allows you to know what became of each child. I always loved knowing as a child that the story really happened. I imagined myself there on that Christmas morning more than once as I was growing up.
It is a simple story. There are no frills in its telling, but it is beautiful. It will always be a part of Christmas time in our house.