TEA AND SUGAR CHRISTMAS
by Jane Jolly, illustrated by Robert Ingpen - NLA Publishing (National Library of Australia), 2014
ages 2 to 12 years / Australia, Christmas
If the hoopla of Christmas is starting to overwhelm the children in your life, then Tea and Sugar Christmas may be just the book for them.
It’s the story of Kathleen – a little girl who lives along Australia’s Nullarbor Plain.
And of the Tea and Sugar Train which used to travel across the Nullabor on a weekly basis, acting as a mobile supermarket cum post office cum library cum community welfare office.
Once a year, there was a special Christmas Train - as well as tea and sugar, the Christmas train brought a special visitor!
Kathleen’s family have run out of sugar – not an unusual occurrence I’m sure – and they are waiting on the Tea and Sugar Train. But Kathleen is excited and anxious because this time Father Christmas will be on the train too. Her excitement is beautiful – it’s innocent, not at all demanding, simple and even grateful.
The heat and stillness of life on the Nullarbor Plain is palpable throughout the book – partly because of passages like:
"The next few days dragged. The heat rolled in from the desert and hung heavily, entering the house at every door and window crack."
And partly because of the magnificent illustrations. Each page has a black and white line drawing of Kathleen (except for one of Father Christmas) and then opens out into a truly stunning double page colour illustration showing Kathleen’s life. They evoke all sorts of Australian archetypes and leave us with a very pleasing feeling of connection.
Kathleen’s innocent excitement, together with the draining heat and the punishing distance, come together to produce a lovely testament to simple pleasures.
Christmas on the Nullarbor Plain is clearly not a commercial affair: Kathleen’s mother is working on a paper chain when the train arrives, there’s a Christmas tree decorated by the children that is wilting in the heat, and children visit Father Christmas in his railway carriage. Kathleen is every bit as thrilled by her momentary encounter with Father Christmas and with the arrival of the special Christmas train as a child who spends all of December being immersed in Christmas traditions and tales.
When Kathleen’s turn comes, Father Christmas asks what she would like for Christmas and she finally answers:
“A present. Please.”
Not a list – just a simple request for a present.
"Kathleen sat in the shade and carefully opened the package. She squealed when she saw the book. Her eyes didn't leave the pages as she flicked excitedly through it."
When all the shopping is done, the train heads off down the track and Kathleen and her family go home. Dad starts to make a cup of tea only to find that,
“in all the excitement they had forgotten to buy the sugar.”
But Dad isn’t worried. He’s happy that it’s Christmas and he picks Kathleen up and spins her around the kitchen.
Tea and Sugar Christmas is my favourite Christmas purchase this year because it:
Draws me into life on the Nullarbor Plain – a part of the Australian story that is not often part of the narrative.
Tells a delightful Christmas story about anticipation, excitement, and gratitude.
Enriches my Christmas season with beautiful art.
Provides a nice counter-balance to the commercialism of the Christmas season (I love all that commercialism too – but a bit of balance makes it all better).
This is a great story for children who need a bit of calm in the midst of their busy Christmas lives. It's a perfect blend of peace and excitement, hardship and bounty, the everyday and the special.