Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Tug to Remember

The Christmas Tugboat: How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City, by George Matteson and Adele Ursone, paintings by James E. Ransome, Clarion, $17.99, 2012. A young girl recalls the magical day her family hauled a tree the height of a mid-rise into New York Harbor, in this cozy picture book. The story begins at dawn as the girl's father, a boat captain, steers the tug up the Hudson River, past a sleeping New York City, while she and her mother ride along. The three are awed by the immensity of the city: Manhattans' skyscrapers glisten on their right and the Statue of Liberty towers to their left, her flaming torch making her look wide awake. The story unfolds slowly, beautifully echoing the pace of the tug. The family breakfasts on steaming bowls of oatmeal as Dad tells of tug adventures, and later the daughter paints what she sees from the tug, takes a turn steering the boat and learns how to navigate by chart. As day slips into night, the tug arrives at Stony Point, where the giant tree is waiting on a barge. The tree is on its side, bundled up on a tractor trailer, and red ornaments the height of the trailer's cab are piled around it. As the father connects the towline, the tug sluggishly pulls the barge away from shore. The tug chugs along for a few hours, then the father ties up for the night, before making the final leg to the Manhattan Bridge at dawn. Matteson and Ursone's writing is perfectly paced and makes the tug's arrival feel climactic. Readers imagine they're passengers, and share the magic of the journey, as well as the tingling sensation of being greeted by an enormous crowd. Best part: As the tug leaves at dawn on it's final leg, frost glistens on the tree like tiny diamonds, and readers feel their anticipation grow.

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