Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
“...if you received everything [you wanted] in one day, what are you going to dream about for the rest of your life?”
This absolutely beautiful quote—one of the best quotes in any book we've seen this cycle—single-handedly elevated this book from an 8.8/10 (B) to a 9.2/10 (A). This quote encapsulates so much into one little line of dialogue. Furthermore, it encapsulates the positive, uplifting, didactic spirit of the novel. Children can and will learn from this novel. Even adults can get a reminder here and there from this novel about things such as integrity and honesty.
“Bunky and the Walms: The Christmas Story” is creative, imaginative, and beautiful in the way that it encourages people to strive to become better people.
With that said, in evaluating this novel we confronted several problematic elements that made grading it contentious. This book contains a lot of pet-peeves or “No No's” of writing. Firstly, the author's voice is very intrusive. Several times each page, the author will come in and address the reader directly, usually referring to them as “dear reader” while providing some sort of opinion and/or insight about the situation or character(s). Typically, you'd want the reader to come to these conclusions naturally and organically without being explicitly told. However, this is a book for kids and we may be viewing it more from an adult perspective.
It may be important to note, as the author has brought up, that in 19th century literature, it was not uncommon for the narrator to directly speak to the reader. This "conscripted audience" was commonplace then with the likes of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and the Brontes.
Charlotte Bronte who would very often reach out to the reader as "dear reader" or "gentle reader." Her sister, Emily, also used this convention. It made their works like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights more personal or even conversational.
In saying this, Tryniecka--having a great love for the authors of this time period--carries forward that conversational spirit, bringing it to Bunky and the Walms.
As for chraracters, we are very often told about their nature before being shown it—whether they are kind, compassionate, honest, curious, graceful, etc. This is more typical of fairy tales or morality stories, which fits this book. However, as a novel, it could be considered problematic as you typically want to allow the reader to evaluate the situation/character and make up their mind about whether a character is kind, compassionate, honest, graceful, etc. Outright telling a reader that a character is honest, then showing them how honest they are can become redundant. However, we get why it's done. It's done to highlight the good values, virtues, and attributes of each character.
Speaking of values, virtues, and attributes, this book can become very didactic—teachy or preachy. We get whole review sections at the end of chapters that tell us what happened in less words and what the reader can or should learn from it. This can be a very good opportunity for parents or teachers to go over these things with their children/students. However, they can be cloying for the average experienced reader who probably noticed that such-and-such character did a good thing and received a positive outcome because of it.
There are some moments when this didactic aspect pops up mid-story, seemingly out of the blue. For example, when one character is handling a Christmas light, the author tells the reader to be careful with handling hot lights (and by extension to be careful with electricity). As another example, when one character encounters Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (who is kind, welcoming, and inviting), the author tells the reader to be careful with strangers and those who they don't know who seem overly nice. It is implied that there may be unscrupulous people out there (i.e. kidnappers, predators) who use these things to disarm victims. These little asides/tangents, while a little out-of-the-blue, do serve a purpose and are very good lessons for kids to learn.
There are also some absolute statements that pop up out of the blue that border on “men are just that way” and “like a good wife/husband should.”
Aleksandra Tryniecka is an educator, an assistant professor at the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, and it shows. Her love for teaching is very evident throughout the book.
So here's the thing with evaluating this book: is it a perfect work of literary brilliance like the works of Tolstoy? Maybe not. However, does it provide VALUE to the reader and the world? Absolutely. Does it make the reader happier and give them a more positive outlook on life? Absolutely.
There is SO MUCH GOOD in this novel that it's hard to dock it for not following every single literary convention. Ultimately, what kind of world do you want to live in? Do you want to live in a world filled with selfish, greedy, self-centered people who stir up drama and conflict, or would you rather live in a compassionate, safe, and loving world like the one Bunky imagines?
We should seek to follow the example of characters like Bunky Hippo and his cousin, Rodney, who always strive to do the right thing no matter what, even if it means not getting what they want. They not only teach kids things like honesty and integrity (as mentioned before) but also personal responsibility, not being greedy or selfish, having faith (whether in God or in a positive outcome that may not be visible yet), being compassionate to those in need (as Bunky is compassionate to the “Mouses” or mice in his home); being cautious with strangers, using your imagination (as Bunky is constantly writing and creating his fantasy world), having hopes and dreams (as Bunky dreams of marrying the Bunky Princess), and being a good friend or partner. There is so much value in those lessons.
Check out “Bunky and the Walms: The Christmas Story”
We think it is perfect to read to children 8-12! You can read a chapter per day to your children every morning or night!