The Christmas Tugboat: How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City
“. . . wordy and a bit cumbersome . . . Thank goodness for artist James E. Ransome.”
Fall is here, and thoughts are turning to the magic of Christmas and the glittering beauty of Christmas trees all around us. The Christmas Tugboat, by George Matteson and Adele Ursone, is the story of one Christmas tree—70 feet tall and quite special—that a family “tugged” down the Hudson River to the Rockefeller Center in New York.
In this book, the adoring daughter of a tugboat captain tells what it is like to accompany her father on a special assignment to transport the Christmas tree chosen for display in New York’s Rockefeller Center.
Rising before dawn, she and her parents walk a dark pier to their humble little tugboat to begin an incredible journey. She describes the chilly night air, the twinkling stars, the hush of the Hudson River, and the sight of the 70-foot Christmas tree tugged along behind them.
At the end of the journey, she describes the surprise of seeing—and hearing—news helicopters hovering above the little tugboat, broadcasting the news that the Rockefeller Christmas Tree has finally arrived.
While this story is sweet and educational, the paragraphs are written with more “telling” than “showing,” rendering the story wordy and a bit cumbersome at times. The dialogue that does appear is sparse at best, and is not quite enough to keep the story moving at a comfortable pace.
Thank goodness for artist James E. Ransome. He uses soft, neutral colors for the sky and water and purplish pink for the sleepy sunsets, and this results in several nostalgic paintings: a sleepy view of the New York skyline at dawn; a silhouette of the able tugboat captain working with skilled precision in the dark of night, and the inexplicable comfort of the Christmas lights when the tree is finally erected.
As an educational instrument, this book does the job. Children who know nothing about harbors, rivers, or tugboats and their captains, should learn enough to whet their appetites. The illustrations pick up any slack left from the dialogue, and “show” children the yawning darkness of a quiet harbor, the scream of the tugboat engine, and the glory of the Statue of Liberty stretching its torch out over the river toward its beloved America.
To this end, this book should do well as supplemental reading for discussions on history, holidays, transportation, and unusual occupations.