St. Nicholas

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Piccola

by Celia Laighton Thaxter, who was born at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, June 29, 1836. Much of her childhood was passed at White Island, one of the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire. Among the Isles of Shoals, is her most noted work in prose. She published a volume of poems, many of which are favorites with children. She died in 1894.

Girl before the fire with shoes
Piccola, illustration from McGuffey's Fourth Eclectic Reader - St Nicholas Center Collection

Poor, sweet Piccola! Did you hear
What happened to Piccola, children dear?
'Tis seldom Fortune such favor grants
As fell to this little maid of France.

'Twas Christmas time, and her parents poor
Could hardly drive the wolf from the door,
Striving with poverty's patient pain
Only to live till summer again.

No gifts for Piccola! Sad were they
When dawned the morning of Christmas Day!
Their little darling no joy might stir;
St. Nicholas nothing would bring to her!

But Piccola never doubted at all
That something beautiful must befall
Every child upon Christmas Day,
And so she slept till the dawn was gray.

And, full of faith, when at last she woke,
She stole to her shoe as the morning broke;
Such sounds of gladness filled all the air,
'Twas plain St. Nicholas had been there.

In rushed Piccola sweet, half wild—
Never was seen such a joyful child—
"See what the good saint brought!" she cried,
And mother and father must peep inside.

Sparrow in shoe
Detail: illustration from McGuffey's Fourth Eclectic Reader - St Nicholas Center Collection

Now such a story I never heard!
There was a little shivering bird!
A sparrow, that in at the window flew,
Had crept into Piccola's tiny shoe!

"How good Piccola must have been!"
She cried as happy as any queen,
While the starving sparrow she fed and warmed,
And danced with rapture, she was so charmed.

Children, this story I tell to you
Of Piccola sweet and her bird, is true.
In the far-off land of France, they say,
Still do they live to this very day.


DEFINITIONS:
Dawned, began to grow light.
Stir, excite.
Be-fall, happen.
Shiv'er-ing, trembling from cold.
Tiny, very small
Rapture, great joy.
Charmed, greatly pleased.

EXERCISES
What is meant by "driving the wolf from the door?"
In the third stanza, what does "St." before Nicholas mean?
Who is St. Nicholas?
What did Piccola find in her shoe on Christmas morning?


Little Piccola, retold as a story by Frances Jenkins Olcott


By Celia Laighton Thaxter, from McGuffey's Fourth Eclectic Reader, 1879, 1896, 1907 and 1920, John Wiley & Sons.
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