Making the Grades
I’m always leery when my favorite books are made into movies. I hate to give over creative license to a director who might interpret characters differently than I imagined. I experienced those same apprehensions about The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. The beautifully illustrated book by Susan Wojciechowski has been one of my Christmas favorites since I discovered it.
Thankfully the story was in good hands with writer and director Bill Clark.
Joely Richardson plays Susan McDowell, a young widow forced to sell her home after her husband (Elliot Cowan) is killed in war. Packing up her young son Thomas (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) and a few of their possessions, she moves to a small town to live with her sister, who’s husband is also away at battle. But life on the farm is hard for both of them. Thankfully Thomas begins to make friends at school (Saoirse Ronan, Jack Montgomery) but as the Christmas season approaches, he discovers the family’s carved nativity has been lost in the move. Sensitive to the many loses her son has experienced during the year, Susan approaches a local wood carver in hopes he can make a new nativity in time for Christmas.
Jonathan Toomey (Tom Berenger) lives alone in a cabin on the edge of town. He prefers to keep to himself and isn’t a man of many words. The kids in town often taunt him, calling him Mr. Gloomy. However Susan isn’t deterred by the town’s attitude toward the bearded woodworker.
With some reluctance, Jonathan agrees to carve a nativity, but without any promises as to when it will be done. Finally with some persuasion, he also agrees to let Susan and Thomas come and watch while he works. Each day Susan brings some small gift—a loaf of bread or fresh baked biscuits. And everyday Thomas tries, usually unsuccessfully, to sit quietly beside the master carver as he turns the blocks of wood into figurines. Ever so slowly, as the pieces are completed, a change comes over the gruff carpenter.
The loss of his father, his home and some problems with his friends in town causes Thomas to lash out at his mother and others as he deals with grief. At one point, after being taunted, he punches his persecutor in the nose. But the movie offers few other content concerns for children seven and up.
The original book is illustrated in rich color and detail by Irish artist P. J. Lynch and luckily the filmmakers capture the essence of these illustrations. Just like the story, the production unfolds gently as Mr. Toomey’s past is revealed and the balm of kindness works its magic not only on the introverted craftsman, but on the rest of the townsfolk as well.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.
Why have the people in town ignored Mr. Toomey rather than trying to get to know him? What does Susan McDowell do differently? Why can it sometimes take time to warm up to a person?
Why does Thomas say he has nothing to pray about? What makes him change his attitude?