The Christmas Wind (Reviews)

CanLit for LittleCanadians (November 13, 2017) – Helen Kubiw

The Christmas Wind is special. It is very, very special. And I suspect that it will be the Christmas book for this year and many to follow because of its secular telling of the Christmas story without getting bogged down in the religion.

The wind shoved Jo sideways, stealing feeling from her fingers and toes. It chased her with ghostly moans and creepy shrieks. The day before Christmas and still no snow. She should have been glad, but the skinny road seemed colder without it.

“Jo and her mother Merry and baby brother Christopher have had to leave a bad situation. There may not be snow but it is cold and windy and the bus station, their destination, is still a long way away. The young girl has taken charge, carrying her baby brother and helping her mother who is obviously unwell and weak. When she realizes they must find shelter immediately but she cannot shoulder the weight of both her mother and the baby, she takes Christopher and heads to the barn of Franklin Murdock, “an old man as unfriendly as the wind.” Cautiously, she approaches, wary of the man who’d turned crusty after the loss of his wife and child, but Jo is determined to be brave and help her family.

“Laying Christopher in a manger amidst the cows and sheep, Jo goes to retrieve her mother. But when the two return to the barn, the manger is empty. With a fury and a shovel, Jo heads to the house to confront Mr. Murdock. But as she berates him and he questions her about why they are in his barn, he offers shelter in his home, first carrying her mother from the cold of his outbuilding.

As they stepped into the rising storm, the wind blew both ways at once and a path of light from a single star opened before them. Jo and Murdock found themselves momentarily suspended between where they came from and where they were going, until an eager blast of air hurried them to the house.

Though he provides them shelter in his house, Murdock seems immobilized by grief, their presence a reminder of his own losses on a past Christmas Eve. Jo will have none of it. “You can’t give up like that.” She swept her arm around the room. “Things won’t get better on their own.”

“How the story ends is secreted away in the glorious final pages of The Christmas Wind. Suffice it to say that the Christmas wind brings snow and so much more.

“Though Stephanie Simpson McLellan touches on the Christmas story with the homeless Josephine, Merry and Christopher, a barn and a manger and a man’s name that encompasses the gifts of the magi, The Christmas Wind is not the story of the birth of Christ. It is a story of compassion and grief and determination and acceptance. Though Brooke Kerrigan’s outstanding illustrations suggest another time, perhaps the 1940s, The Christmas Wind is a story for our time. There is too much misunderstanding and jumping to conclusions and fears about others when we feel vulnerable but it is compassion for others that bridges all that separates us. Like the wind that carries the family to Mr. Murdock’s farm and heralds a new world blanketed in snow, The Christmas Wind portends the need for a deeper meaning to the holidays that should supersede all else.

“The excerpts I’ve included above speak to the gift of Stephanie Simpson McLellan’s words. They are rich and atmospheric, and deep in spirit. Partnering her text with Brooke Kerrigan’s impressive artwork is inspired. The softness of the watercolour and pencil of Brooke Kerrigan’s images conveys much about the characters’ strengths and pains, the briskness of that wind, and the inner shelter of barn and house. The Christmas Wind is a complete package of words and art about that which is right or should be for the holiday season and always.

“I’d like to leave the last words to author Stephanie Simpson McLellan who writes about her book and the meaning of The Christmas Wind to her.

“Some of the classic Christmas stories such as Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express, Susan Wojciechowski’s Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Jean Little’s Room for a Little One and Peter Collington’s A Small Miracle were as integral to our holiday traditions as stockings hung by the fire. I wanted to contribute to that tradition. If you read closely, you’ll see that many elements of the original Christmas story are in The Christmas Wind, but jumbled and thinly disguised, suggesting that we all have the capacity for new beginnings. My young heroine, Jo, is my favourite kind of protagonist – someone who becomes fearless through necessity, squaring off against adversity to create something bigger than herself. She and Murdock are, unexpectedly, exactly what each other needed, enabling each to access the true spirit of the season.”

The Christmas Wind Project
Teachers, Stephanie Simpson McLellan has been promoting the Christmas Wind project for several years though the book only launches this fall. You can read all about it on her website at Stephanie Simpson McLellan describes it as a “unique literacy experiment” with “students from JK-Grade 6 listening to a story in a format akin to an old, serialized radio show.”

Canadian Children’s Book News (Winter 2017 Issue) – Sandra O’Brien, Editor

“It is a cold and windy Christmas Eve and Jo, her mother and baby brother are in need of shelter. Her mother is sick and little Christopher needs to be fed. When Jo spots Franklin Murdoch’s barn she is reluctant to seek refuge there as Murdoch is known to be as unfriendly as the wind. Having no other options Jo takes her little brother and lays him in an empty manger and then goes back to help her mother to the barn. When she returns Baby Christopher is gone forcing Jo to knock on Murdoch’s door to get the baby back. But Murdoch exhibits great kindness by taking Jo and her family in for the night and surprising them with a magical Christmas morning.

“This charming read reminds us of what is most important during the festive season and has many elements of the original Christmas story hidden within its spare text and stunning illustrations. Both McLellan and Kerrigan have outdone themselves in the creation of this beautiful new Christmas story. Prior to the release of The Christmas Wind McLellan worked with almost 1700 students on a unique literacy initiative that resulted in 13,000 drawings inspired by the story. For more information, visit”

CM Magazine (Dec 8/17) – Valerie Nielsen

The Christmas Wind is award winning author Stephanie McLellan’s fifth children’s book. In telling this story, the author worked with a thousand primary students across the country in what she called The Christmas Wind Project. She says of this endeavour: “Together we are bringing the children back in time to when things were un Googleable and wonder and wait weren’t foreign words.”
The students listened to the story in eight parts the way a radio series would have been presented in times gone by. Then they used their visualizations of the story to illustrate each part. The project had help from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre as one class from each province or Territory was picked to draw pictures from their imagination.

“The wind shoved Jo sideways, stealing feeling from her fingers and toes. It chased her with ghostly moans and creepy shrieks. The day before Christmas and still no snow…”

“Jo hitched her baby brother higher on her hip. Leaving was the right thing to do, but the timing was bad. Her mother’s eyes were slippery and her forehead shiny, and Christopher was still so new.”

“With the wind buffeting them from all sides, Jo and her mother Merry and the newborn baby Christopher must find shelter for the night. The only house close by belongs to a crotchety farmer, Franklin Murdock, whose “very name sounds like a curse”. Jo does not dare go to the house, but she takes the baby to the barn, lays him in the manger and manages to get her mother to the barn where she is horrified to find there is no sign of Christopher. She picks up a shovel and knocks on the door of Franklin Murdock’s house intent on getting her baby brother back. Murdock belies his name as he carries Jo’s exhausted mother into his home and insists that Jo and her brother stay with him overnight.

“In the morning Jo looks around the room where the little family had slept to find that Mr. Murdock has done more than keep watch:

“Fresh cedar draped the window sills and a Christmas tree leaned in the corner. Threads of straw wove like gold ribbon through the greenery, pinched in places by scraps of coloured cloth tied into awkward bows. Silver spoons dangled from the branches, and presents wrapped in newsprint, crowded beneath…”

“The Christmas wind has brought the spirit of Christmas to Mr. Murdock.

“Echoes of the nativity story resonate throughout McLellan’s beautifully told tale. It would be hard for readers to miss the names (Jo and Merry and baby Christopher) the author has picked for the protagonists. The change of heart that Franklin Murdock experiences harkens back to a wonderful picture book by Susan Wojciechowski, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (1995).

“The lovely, soft illustrations, created by Brooke Kerrigan to suggest an earlier time in the last century, are a perfect match to the gentle, spare prose of the story. Her depiction of the prairie windstorm will make readers shiver.

“The Christmas Wind will make an excellent addition to the elementary library’s collection of seasonal picture books. Paired with The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, it would make a fine read aloud for the holiday season.

Highly Recommended.
(A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.)

What Should I Read Next? A teacher-librarian’s thoughts on great books for kids (Dec 5/17) – Danny Neville

“A great, brand new book for the holidays is always a pleasure to find. The Christmas Wind by Stephanie Simpson McLellan is a sure to be a favourite this year, particularly as a read aloud for the grades 3-6 range. For teachers and parents, this book raises a lot of timely topics for discussion if you’re looking to have that ‘meaning of Christmas’ or ‘holiday spirit’ conversation.

“The book begins with Jo, her baby brother, and their mother fleeing a difficult situation. Her mother isn’t well, which means they aren’t able to make it to their destination. Instead, the family seeks shelter in a barn that belongs to renowned old grouch, Franklin Murdoch, who also has a sad connection to the holiday season. Conflict ensues as the baby brother goes missing from the barn, with Jo taking the lead in getting him back by threatening poor Mr. Murdoch with a shovel. After he invites them to spend the night inside, the story takes a turn as we see the characters begin to bond and lean on each other for some much needed Christmas spirit.

“With beautiful illustrations, The Christmas Wind shows that the holiday season can be a difficult time for some, and that the power of human kindness can be a beacon of hope for all.”

On the Bookshelf – City Parent – December 2017 

“There is a baby in a manger in a barn with cows and other farm animals that offer a subtle reminder of the Christmas story. The spirit of generosity and the gift of kindness are other familiar themes portrayed in the experience of a girl who is helping her sick mother and baby brother as they walk on a frigid, windy night. “Only those who are running from something would brave such a wind,” the story goes. They end up running into something that warms their bodies and their souls, thanks to a neighbour who was someone they thought should be avoided. Beautifully told, there is also beauty in the softly rendered illustrations.”

Sal’s Fiction Addiction – December 13, 2017 

“I’ll get Christopher to the barn and come back for you. I’ll be fast. The barn was farther away than it looked. The more the wind pushed, the more Jo stumbled. She said words she knew she wasn’t allowed to say. Reaching the yard, she hid behind a tree. Noting the single light in the simple house, she darted to the barn, faster than the wind itself.”

“It’s Christmas Eve. Jo, her mother and her newborn brother are on a journey away from a bad situation. It is cold, and she is seeking shelter for her ailing mother when the wild and vicious wind blows them across the fields and into a neighbor’s farmyard. There, they find a barn sure to protect them from the weather and keep them safe. Jo takes Christopher into the barn, lays him in a bed of straw, and goes back to help her mother cross the yard.

“Returning to the barn, she cannot find the baby. Sure that the farmer, Franklin Murdock, is to blame, she pounds on his door, shovel in hand. He admits he has the baby. Jo knows his grumpy reputation, and is not sure she should trust him. But, what else can she do? She needs help for her family. Mr. Murdock carries her ailing mother inside. Together, the two provide care and comfort for the mother and baby throughout the long night. When Jo is too tired to keep her eyes open, Mr. Murdock promises to keep watch.

“Jo opens her eyes in the morning to a Christmas bright with promise.

“Brooke Kerrigan’s images evoke the power of the wind, the warmth of the simple house, and the strength of a young girl bent on caring for her family. A prairie blizzard is a perfect setting for finding help when is most needed.

“Elements of the Christmas story are evident throughout, in the choice of names, the setting, and the circumstances; it is not a retelling. Rather, it is a story of misunderstanding, compassion and hope for the future.

“This book reminds me of another book that has been a perennial favorite for more than twenty years … The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. I hope you can find a copy to share. It, too, is a very special book for this holiday season.”