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I Loved This Christmas Book! My Kids Did Not.

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Read Time: 3 minutes

This seasonal post comes from Kobi Nelson, a high school teacher in Denver with a Ph.D. in Education. Kobi enjoys life with her husband, two kids, and cat named Bear.

Uncertainty and Growth in “The Story of Holly and Ivy”

The first time I encountered The Story of Holly and Ivy was when my Great-Aunt gave me the book in the 1980s. Six-year-old-me was enamored with the story. My dad read it to me every Christmas. 

When I became a parent, I wanted to continue this tradition. However, reading this to my son and daughter was like reading science fiction to someone who only reads romance novels. My kids just weren’t interested. This is likely because the message of Holly and Ivy runs smack up against the safety guardrails that many children, including my own, have grown up with. 

A spunky orphan is…hard to relate to.

Witness the opening of the story when we meet Ivy, a confident six year-old in an orphanage. Being an orphan doesn’t seem to daunt her. It spurs her to take chances that make complete sense to a child left to her own devices. 

For instance, when she’s put on a train by herself, Ivy gets off at the wrong stop in pursuit of her grandmother who is, at this point, a figure of her imagination. Ivy is so confident in herself that she doesn’t question whether she should walk around the town or not. She just does. To her, the opportunities for success are just as great as the potential dangers. 

The distresses Ivy encounters only motivate her. For example, exploring the town, she comes upon a Christmas Market. After a while, the market closes and Ivy realizes that her legs ache with cold. But she has no place to stay. Drawing on her inner resources Ivy continues to look for her grandmother and her confidence grows.

Childhood independence really has changed.

It is this independence that may seem foreign to many children today–mine included. Some things my children have never done: cooking a meal completely on their own, running an errand for me, or riding a bike to a park a mile or more from our home. 

When The Story of Holly and Ivy was published 65 years ago, many of those childhood activities were normal. Today, children and teens stay closer to home where they (and their parents) are overestimating danger and underestimating their own abilities to deal with discomfort, uncertainty, and disappointment. 

For instance, when my kids were younger and they’d saved up money for a toy, we’d go to the store, pick out the item, and I would ask them to go to the cash register by themselves. Their nervousness was palpable. Rarely would they interact with the cashier without me.    

The Story of Holly and Ivy teaches the value of that discomfort: it spurs children to explore life’s possibilities. This can be a difficult truth for both children and adults to swallow. As adults, it can feel better (and safer) to keep our kids close, rather than allowing (and encouraging!) them to experience independence. Yet, we too can take a cue from Ivy by choosing to believe in our children’s inborn ability to overcome obstacles. 

But maybe Ivy did make an impact.

Thanks perhaps to reading about Ivy, my kids now 16 and 10, have embraced independence too. They often walk to the corner store down the street and interact with a stranger to purchase their slushies or gummy worms. They don’t seem to mind like they used to, and my heart swells when they come home with more confidence. 

At times, if they have been gone for a while, I catch myself wanting to call to make sure everything is okay. I am always glad when I don’t, because this independence is what our children truly want. That is the precious gift Ivy gave me, and I now give to my kids.

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Kobi Nelson


  1. Kobi NelsonKobi Nelson says:

    Thank you! And, thanks for the insight about Rumer Hidden. I recently picked up Black Narcissus and am really enjoying her writing–especially the way she portrays humans as complex and life as ever-changing and uncertain. She is a wonderful writer!

  2. OaktreemanOaktreeman says:

    That was a great review! Rumer Godden was better known as a novelist – nine of her books were made into movies, including Black Narcissus, and The River. She was born in Sussex, England, but grew up in what is now Bangladesh. Her father managed a railway there.

  3. Kobi NelsonKobi Nelson says:

    Thanks, Katie! I’ve found that lots of older kids still love meaningful picture books. And, yes…context matters! We live in a pretty spread out part of the Denver suburbs, so “just down the street” is further than one might think. Cheers!

  4. Curt AbbottCurt Abbott says:

    I have a feeling they got booted by an Admin. Karma’ll get them every time!

  5. PamelaPamela says:

    Can we vote people off the island if they don’t follow the rules of courtesy and respect?

  6. KatieKatie says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m sorry the other 2 comments (so far) are snotty and unempathetic. I read picture books to my 13 year old – books that are important to me or to him. And, knowing absolutely nothing about your life, I’m glad that your children are going to the corner store by themselves! I appreciate you sharing your experience.