This year I gave my daughters an early Christmas gift. It was easy-to-find, thoughtful, and free.
The gift was a cardinal in a white oak tree.
Yes, it’s unconventional. But my family lives in Illinois, and a Northern cardinal is the perfect addition to a local backyard. So is our state tree, the white oak. We now have ours dressed in twinkling lights.
Of course, the bird and tree came unwrapped. They were actually discoveries I’d made while writing The Twelve Days of Christmas in Illinois (Sterling Children’s Books, October 2012). For the book, I was to create a list of “gifts” from the Prairie State. The gifts—in tune with the classic carol—were for a girl on a fictional trip with her generous, in-state cousin. But as I brainstormed a list that ranked Midway monsters among roadside giants, I was struck with a more fantastic idea. Not only could I give the gifts to an imaginary child, I could also give them to my girls. They are all found in our home state.
So, like the characters in my book, we journeyed around Illinois. We visited Rockford, birthplace of the sock monkey, and saw pictures of one of the first women’s baseball teams. We dropped by Union, the location of the Illinois Railway Museum, and climbed aboard the largest train collection in the country. We even toured Springfield, the cherished home of our 16th president, and feasted on a horseshoe sandwich. There we also walked the chambers of Abe Lincoln’s law office, later hearing the call of a Civil War bugle. Our trip ended at a high point on The Ledge in Willis Tower. Those who’ve traveled to the city of Chicago have seen the magnificent skyscraper. It’s the tallest building in North America.
Many might wonder what my daughters thought of their gifts. But if people ask, they must make time for the reply. They’ll no doubt hear about our recent trip to Hartford, to the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower. It’s where we caught an eagle-eyed view of the Meeting of the Great Rivers. Next time, we hope to spot a bald eagle.
As for next Christmas, I already have plenty of home-grown gift ideas. They include Humboldt penguins from Brookfield Zoo and carnival rides at Navy Pier.
I plan to give the gifts early again, too.
Children’s Book Author, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Illinois