There’s a very good reason why the song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, first recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby and written for soldiers fighting overseas and far from their loved ones, is such a Christmas favourite.
It encapsulates everything that most of us – I appreciate not everyone longs to be home at Christmas – feel when we think of the festive season, distilling that need to be with those we love at what has aptly been called “the most wonderful time of year”.
And it’s exactly how Stick Man, by Julia Donaldson (Gruffalo) and Axel Scheffler, feels when a simple jog, a momentary break away from his tree-dwelling Stick Lady Love and his stick children three whom he loves and adores, turns into a traumatic odyssey that might keep him away from home for good.
Delivered in the most delightful rhyming couplets, and with a real sense of loss and separation woven into the playful storytelling, Stick Man, manages to be both amusing and deeply poignant all at once.
Granted I am a little late to the party on this one since Stick Man, published in 2008, is now a very big deal indeed, but this delightful story of one Stick Man’s quest to get home for Christmas captures the essence of what it means to love someone and to do everything in your power to be close to them again.
Poor old Stick Man, who is the subject of a brilliant BBC1 adaptation this year starring Martin Freeman (Sherlock) and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), finds his epic journey home waylaid by a too-eager dog, a child seeking a race-winning Pooh Stick, a nesting swan, a sandcastle-building dad and son, and a snowman-crafting young kid, all of whom fail to understand that:
“I’m not a stick! Why can’t you see,
I’m Stick Man, I’m Stick Man,
I’M STICK MAN, that’s me,
And I want to go home to the family tree!”
After a host of other people use him for a host of other purposes and his family have all but given him up as lost, someone rather special and festive comes to his aid, and this Homeric journey from tree to tree comes with a requisite and perfectly Christmasy happy ending.
But not before Julia Donaldson infuses this most magical stories with a charming and heartfelt reminder that family matters, not just at Christmas but all year round, and that being with them is the most special thing of all, regardless of whether you’re a Stick Man or you’re not.