The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and Activity Ideas

Adding a good picture book to any lesson makes learning come alive. It also adds terrific visual references to help concepts have more meaning. This particular Christmas book activity is the perfect way to celebrate the season and help children learn empathy at the same time.

In my mind, character-building is just as important in homeschooling as academics. Training children to have strong values and act with good character will help them in every way imaginable. Good character helps students persevere through difficult school work and be joyful around the dinner table. It’s also the reason they will be considered honorable, honest, tenacious, and hard workers at their first job as a teenager.

Character is the very fabric of who someone is and how they go through life in thought and deed. While everyone has personality tendencies, parents can certainly still play a big part in presenting a value system and helping to mold character traits.

If you’re interested in learning more about character building in general, I talked about it in-depth in the Creative Ideas for Character Building class for homeschooling parents.

homemade soap on a table

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A Christmas Book for Character Building

In this particular post, I’d like to suggest an idea for making a connection between a popular Christmas picture book to the positive character trait of empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings and act accordingly. In other words, when a five-year-old senses that mom is having a hard day, he might come to her and say, “Could you use a hug today?” Or a preteen hears you sigh in the kitchen and says, “I know the younger kids have been challenging today, can I wash the dishes for you?”

The opposite of empathy could be someone who is mostly concerned with themself or refuses to recognize their hurtfulness. This person is insensitive and doesn’t have much compassion. Selfish is another good description.

Most people could stand to work on turning selfishness toward more empathy. That’s why I love reading this living book at Christmastime every year. Like most books that are helpful for character training, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey beautifully demonstrates empathy without any need for a lecture.



The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

One of our family’s favorite Christmas books is The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  It’s a story of love, loss, an ensuing gruff attitude, and a heart that eventually heals. As you can imagine, it’s the empathetic kindness of a couple of people that open the door to healing.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey


Interwoven is a sweet storyline that demonstrates the sweetness of Christmas – even when the holiday isn’t perfect and potentially filled with hurt. Oh, we never get tired of pulling this book off our shelf for a cozy read-aloud each December!

Christmas Book Activity Connection

The main character, Jonathan Toomey, is a gruff woodcarver who is excellent at his craft. Over time, he shares his craft with a very willing little boy. For Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschoolers who love introducing handicrafts, the book offers a great opportunity to learn to carve.

Woodcarving is the ideal activity if you have the option. In my case, I was working with a little guy and we didn’t have materials for woodcarving. Plus, I wanted to make the activity more appropriate for his ability level anyway. So, we chose to do soap carving and it was so much fun!

All it takes is a bar of Ivory soap, a butter knife, and a little imagination. It’s important to get Ivory soap because the consistency is much easier to carve with a butter knife than other bars of soap.

Simply dream up a simple shape and go for it. Simple shapes are obviously much easier to create – especially for first-time carvers. Eli created the bell and tree, while I crafted the bird. We were both very pleased with the final products!

Soap carving - an activity to go with The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Loving the Gruff People in our Lives

As we carved, it was the perfect opportunity for a light discussion. We talked about how hard it is to be patient and loving with gruff people. Not only did we mention times when we’ve run across gruff people, but we turned inward, and thought of times we have been gruff ourselves. It was such a gentle way to make admissions of guilt and highlight awareness for the future.

We talked about how it sometimes takes extra prayer and gentle words (even when we don’t want to) to love them – which, in turn, may help them to soften just like Mr. Toomey. It was decided that we would definitely practice more empathy in our home because we know that, most of the time, gruff attitudes happen when someone in our family is going through something. It’s then that they need extra compassion and love. (Empathy!)

Christmas cookies for the "gruffies" in our lives - based on The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

An Easy Christmas Service Project for Kids

I asked my little man to come up with some purposeful ideas to bless a couple of gruffies during the Christmas season. It looks like we’re going to be baking lots of cookies and stopping by to really get to know them – because after all, most gruff people just need someone to care.

Speaking of blessing gruff people, I have another great Christmas book connection for you! Christmas without a Tree by Elizabeth Rodger is one of our very favorites, too! It’s about an empathetic little pig who wants to bring Christmas to his gruff neighbor. It’s a great idea starter for easy Christmas service projects with kids.

Christmas Without a Tree


I hope your family enjoys Christmas funschooling! This time of year is wonderful for creating memories and reaching deep into learning through creative ideas.

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  1. We love that story. I will have to add the idea of making soap carvings to that book.
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. We’ve always loved that book! Often, gruffness hides a tender heart.

  3. Oh, we haven’t read this book in a couple of years! I love it! 🙂

  4. We love “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey”. We’ve dabbled a little in carving … so much fun. 🙂

  5. Janelle Knutson says:

    My son asks to read this book over and over again each Christmas. I think he will enjoy doing the soap carving to go along with the story. What a great idea!

  6. It’s one of our very favorites, too! Enjoy the carvings!

  7. I read this book gor the first time this year and it had me crying like a baby! I couldnt finish it n had my son take over reading it. Love jow you tied siap carving in! Perfect!

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