Written by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet
Most enjoyed by 3rd through 8th Graders
This may be considered a Christmas story, and it truly is, but it's also a story about quiet heroes, those unsung people who make lives around the world better because of the simple, selfless acts of kindness they perform.
In the mountains of Appalachia, the children of the small town anxiously wait for the Christmas train. Each year, from the back of the train, a rich man tosses gifts to the waiting children. For most, it will be the only gift they receive. The man's kindness is a way of thanking the townspeople for caring for him and nursing him back to health when he was injured in a car accident. The people who cared for him refused his offer of payment and so he has come back every year, just before Christmas, to bestow gifts on the town's children.
Frankie is hoping for a doctor kit this year. He waits anxiously by the train tracks, shivering with the other children as he tries to keep warm without socks, mittens, scarf or hat. When he opens his silver package on Christmas, he is disappointed to find a cowboy set and three pairs of warm socks. He plays with the set anyway while his feet stay warm. As Christmas comes again, he waits for the train and hopes for a doctor kit. But again he is disappointed, receiving a police car and two pairs of mittens.
The years pass and Frankie never receives the doctor kit. He grows up, moves away, and makes a life for himself. But he can't forget the kindness the rich man showed him when he was young. Frank, now a grown up Frankie, realizes that despite never receiving what he wanted, he always received what he needed - socks, mittens, hats and scarves. Moved to return home by his memories of the kindness of the rich man, Frank joins the children by the train tracks, watching their excitement and savoring his own warm memories. As they receive their silver packages, one child stumbles. That's when we realize how the kindness of one man can impact a young life.
If you can read this story without getting a tear in your eye, you're a much better reader than I am! Put this one on your table to read after making your list to Santa or before you head to the mall. I think you'll find yourself putting a little more love in all you do this season, and perhaps, making sure to reach out to others in small, quiet ways.