I have been wanting to see the Lifetime TV movie The Twelve Trees of Christmas since it came out in 2013, and right before we moved this summer, I was able to watch it on the Lifetime Movie Channel during their “Christmas in July” special marathon. I have been saving this post for Christmas to help celebrate the holidays. And to make it extra special, here are twelve lessons learned from The Twelve Trees of Christmas.
1. The Christmas part of the plot doesn’t really make sense
Here’s how the plot was described on the TV guide channel:
“A children’s librarian tries to save her beloved Manhattan library from being demolished to make way for a developer to build high-rise loft apartments. To generate media attention, she holds a Christmas tree decorating contest.”
The connection between Christmas and the library being demolished is pretty tenuous… it’s best not to pull on that thread too hard. That thread is made of spun sugar. And if you can’t guess the ending, then you don’t know your Lifetime TV movies. The Christmas tree angle shoe-horned into the plot does make, however, for some beautiful set decorations:
Also, the Christmas part of the movie plot might have been inspired by a real-life Toronto tradition!
When I was researching where this TV movie was filmed (this interview with co-star Mel B. reveals that the film was filmed during summertime in Hamilton, a city in southern Ontario, Canada), I also came across posts about a long-standing tradition in Toronto at the Gardiner Museum. Every year, the museum has a “12 Trees of Christmas” exhibition and theme.
2. The star is a veteran reel librarian
The TV movie stars Lindy Booth as main character and reel librarian Cheri Jameson, and if Booth looks familiar, it’s probably because she also plays a lead role in the The Librarians TV spin-off series. Being typecast as a totally adorable reel librarian? There are worse things in life. 😉
3. Lindy Booth is the most adorable reel librarian ever
This is fact, and here is the evidence of Lindy Booth’s adorable facial expressions:
Her character, Cheri, is also described at one point as “a little bit of a Pollyanna.”
4. Don’t watch this TV movie for tips on how to read a book for storytime
As the movie opens, children’s librarian Cheri is wandering through the library — convenient for us getting a good look at this beautiful old building the library is housed in — and walks up to join a volunteer who is reading a storybook to the children. Cheri finishes the rhymes from memory.
Pro tip: You don’t read a book like that at storytime hour. Instead, you hold it out to the side with one or two hands so the kids can see the illustrations as you read it aloud. It’s best to combine the aural and visual experience for the children at storytime. Alternatively, you can read the words off the page, and then show the illustrations to the children, but that takes longer.
5. Involve your community and library staff when promoting your library
Within the first five minutes, we get a closeup of an interoffice memorandum email sent from the library director/head librarian Bette Greven. This memo reveals the catalyst for the plot, about how the Shaughnessy Library’s lease will not be renewed, and the library building will be demolished to make way for a condominium building development. Robin Dunne plays Tony Shaughnessy, the grandson of the Shaughnessy Foundation president, and Casper Van Dien plays a cameo role as Charles Harris, the businessman who will be building the condominium. (Plus, Mel B. — yep, Scary Spice! — plays a supporting role as a diva designer.)
This is how Cheri reacts to the news:
Cheri also interacts with Mack, the library handyman, who already has a resume in his hand. He is already anticipating having to look for another job soon, as the library is shutting down with such short notice!
Cheri immediately goes out to talk with Bette, the head librarian, who is doing “desk duty.” This presents an interesting visual dynamic between the two, as the children’s librarian is standing, and the head librarian is sitting.
Cheri: Bette, what is going on?
Bette: I take it you read the memo.
Cheri: This building has been a library for half a century. The foundation can’t just suddenly shut it down.
Bette: They can and they will. Believe me, I’ve been burning up the phones for months trying to stop them.
Cheri: Wait. You’ve known about this for months?
Bette: Sit. I haven’t told any of the staff yet, because so far it’s only been rumors, and I didn’t want to upset people unnecessarily. This is a public library in a private building. The Shaughnessy Foundation gave the city a 50-year, $1-a-year lease, which expired last month. They’ve decided not to renew it but to instead redevelop this property as part of a new condominium and apartment complex.
This conversation reveals not only more details about the plot, it also reveals the important fact that the head librarian did NOT seek any additional help from her staff — or the community of users they serve! — for months leading up to this crisis. Not a smart move.
Cheri immediately has the idea of contacting the foundation president’s grandson, who happens to live in her building, and of course, she also comes up with the idea of the “12 Trees of Christmas” community contest and the “What the Shaughnessy Library Means to Me” theme. This is convenient to the Christmas holiday timing, but it also demonstrates that if the head librarian had involved her library staff and community sooner, then perhaps all of this could have been prevented!
At the announcement of the “12 Trees of Christmas” contest, Artie, a younger guy who’s a loyal patron of the library, asks about the rumor that they’re going to tear down the library. Bette confirms the rumors, and Cheri turns the announcement into an incentive to show the community how much this means. Artie, and others (including Tony, who loves competition!) immediately sign up to compete in the contest.
We’re hoping for a miracle. At least, if we go, we go in a blaze of glory.
6. Public libraries need to be funded by the public.
It’s vital for communities to fund and support their local libraries. This the main point of the movie’s plot, and a plot focusing on the proper funding of libraries is a rarity among reel librarian movies. (Also see the movie Miranda and the British Project: Library web series, and to a lesser extent, the plot of Party Girl.)
But there is a twist on this funding angle. It’s the issue of setting up a municipal service, such as a public library, in a building that is privately owned. As this funny list and review points out, the #1 lesson from this TV movie is that “Setting up a municipal service in a privately owned building will only lead to tears and a run on genuine Irish crystal.”
The second half of that initial conversation between Cheri and Bette provides more details on this central conflict.
Bette: I’ve been head librarian for 10 years. I’ve dealt with the city on hundreds of issues. I know how to get things done, but I need a few good cards to play, and we’ve got nothing. The thing is, they’ve got all the legal advantages on their side. The Shaughnessy Foundation is exercising a right that is very clearly theirs.
Cheri: We could do a fundraiser. The community would support us. People love this building. I grew up here. This building, it’s a landmark in the neighborhood.
Bette: It doesn’t matter. The foundation doesn’t need community approval. They can do whatever they want.
When Cherie then talks to Tony Shaughnessy, to try and convince him not to sell the building to a developer, he also points out this conflict of a public service in a private building:
Cheri: This neighborhood, it needs a library.
Tony: Sure. And that’s a matter for the city. The point is that libraries are a municipal matter.
On a personal note, I happen to agree with Tony here, at least with the general principle (if not his methods). Municipal services for the public good are a matter for the municipalities, and they need to fund public libraries accordingly. And members of those communities also need to vote to support stable funding for those public libraries! (This is also why so many public libraries put measures on the ballot to try and create library tax districts, in order to provide some kind of stable funding for public libraries. That way, they don’t have to depend so much on the election cycle whims of municipal politicians.) Libraries, unfortunately, are often among the first services cut in times of economic crisis, even though during those times, library resources and services become even more important to the general public.
7. Libraries and librarians impact people’s lives in many different ways
As Cheri states:
This is more than just a library. It’s a watering hole for the community. You know what happens in Africa when a watering hole dries up? Everything dies.
Throughout the film, scenes in the library are featured. And as a librarian, it is wonderful to see just how many different kinds of users this library serves, and in different ways.
As the children’s librarian, Cheri obviously highlights the services provided to children. And here’s how she drops the mic during a conversation with Tony:
When you see witness the joy on the children’s faces, and then crush all of their dreams when you announce your great plan to demolish their sanctuary of imagination, knowledge, and art. For a condo.
And this description, that the library is a “sanctuary of imagination, knowledge, and art” is evidenced in the movie. For example, we get to see users — and even library staff — of all ages doing research, or quiet study, in the library. The community members who signed up for a Christmas tree get busy researching books and information to support their different themes. Mack researches vintage recipes for his Christmas foods-themed tree. Deirdre and Artie team up to research technology for their technology-meets-art-in-the-library theme. Parents of a library-loving child team up to research children’s literature.
There are other scenes where people have space to work together on projects.
There are also spaces for different kinds of social group activities, from the children’s storytime hour to art class in the library.
Toward the beginning, a young girl gives Cheri, or “Miss Jameson,” a present. As she explains, “It’s kind of a Christmas and a thank you gift. I’m really happy you’re tutoring me.” This small, lovely scene reveals that the library and librarians also offer personal tutoring services.
Cheri also relates her own personal memories of the Shaughnessy Library, where her father wrote his doctoral thesis:
I grew up in that building… It was amazing… this magical land filled with everything in the whole world. It’s where I learned to love books. And reading. It’s the greatest gift my father gave me. And I think every child in this neighborhood should experience that feeling.
Later, Tony and Cheri get stuck in the elevator of their apartment building. Tony starts hyperventilating, and Cheri manages to helps calm him down with EMDR techniques.
Tony: Where’d you learn that? Wait, don’t tell me, the library.
Cheri: Not all of us can afford a world-class education.
This exchange highlights how library resources spread the importance of education and knowledge to community members who can’t afford tuition rates for higher education. It also supports how libraries and librarians serve as educational support.
8. Literacy is vital, and libraries are vital to promoting literacy
In an interview with Robin Dunne, the actor who plays Tony Shaughnessy, he expresses how he sees the message of this movie:
There’s also a really nice message in the film about literacy and community and the importance of libraries. Yes, we’re going into a very technological age where some people may argue we don’t need things like libraries and everyone is reading books on iPods. Still, at the end of the day, we do need to promote literacy and encourage reading with children. These places, like libraries in the community, really support that environment for kids. That’s a nice message.
This message — that there are different kinds of literacy, and that libraries are vital in promoting literacy — also gets voiced in a couple of conversations.
First, Tony and Cheri spar yet again:
Tony: Kids, they get everything online.
Cheri: Yes, but it’s not the same. You can read Dickens on an e-book. You get the words, but you’re missing the music.
Cheri then has a conversation with her boss Bette about what Tony said.
Bette: Yet he does have a point. E-books are taking over, and most kids these days haven’t even heard of an encyclopedia, much less opened one. And with Google, why should they?
Cheri: The internet can add to the mix, but you’re never going to be able to replace physical books. I mean, you need to be able to see and touch and hold and even smell a book to get the whole reading experience.
This kind of message, that it benefits us to be conversant in both internet literacy as well as traditional literacy, is also the ultimate message of a few other reel librarian movies, like the 1957 classic, Desk Set.
9. Librarians and library staff have different roles and tasks
This TV movie showcases a diversity of roles and type of work to be done in a public library. It’s not just checking out books and shelving books, y’all!
For example, Cheri interacts with Deirdre, a young woman who volunteers at the library, because as Deirdre states, “I’m new to the city, so volunteering at the library helped me make new friends.”
There are several nice scenes featuring Mack, the library handyman and custodian, who also reveals one of the best perks about working in a library. “I read whatever I get my hands on. It’s one of the perks of working here. I get to see all the new stuff as it comes out, and I grab it right away.”
Side note: TRUE STORY. This is one of the best perks!
Cheri and Bette also enjoy a warm and collegial relationship, like a mentoring relationship that is based on mutual respect. This is also visually reflected in a couple of scenes in which they sit across from each other, as equals, and each contributes something to the conversation.
Bette’s responsibilities as head librarian are clearly different from Cheri’s duties as the children’s librarian. As Bette states, “I’ve been head librarian for 10 years. I’ve dealt with the city on hundreds of issues. I know how to get things done.”
But Bette and Cheri both have “desk duty,” which means working at the reference desk in order to help answer questions from the public. It’s really nice to see onscreen a library director working with the public in this way!
10. Librarians need their own spaces, both at work and at home
Cheri’s work desk is the setting for multiple, albeit brief, scenes in this TV movie. It is indeed a rarity to see a reel librarian’s private work space! (See also Desk Set.) Cheri’s desk is very traditional, a long wooden table, and it’s always piled high with stacks of books and files.
We also get a couple of glimpses of Cheri’s apartment, another rarity on screen! (Once again, see Desk Set.) Cheri’s home decor is quite cozy and cheery — and filled with bookcases. 🙂
In the scene below, Tony comes over to help put together even more bookcases for Cheri!
11. Librarians can be stylish, and in different ways
Cheri has a consistent style throughout the TV movie, dressing in a retro-inspired way with cardigans or sweaters paired with flared dresses or skirts. Cheri is also not afraid of pairing together patterns and bright colors, which reflect her cheerful and energetic personality. She wears her hair down in loose curls, the better to show off the glorious red hue of her hair. She has a cute, classic look, one that feels appropriate for a children’s librarian.
Her boss, Bette, also has a signature style, but one that is more traditional and conservative. She wears her hair in a classic bob hairstyle, and she wears blazers in classic cuts and solid colors. Her jewel-toned blouses and jewelry hint at a bit of flair underneath. She is the head librarian, and she dresses like one.
We also get a peek at Cheri and Bette getting ready for the big Christmas tree finale and party. We even get to see Bette with her hair in rollers! Is this the first time we get to see a reel librarian getting her hair done onscreen? 😉
12. Library science is a real thing
In yet another (confrontational yet flirty) scene between Tony and Cheri, he asks why she wanted to become a librarian. She reveals she thought she was going to be a college professor, like her father.
Cherie: But once I got to college, I became this voracious reader. I spent all my spare time at the library out at the library and decided to major in library sciences.
Tony: Library sciences is not a real thing. You just made that up.
Cherie: Seriously. It’s a real thing.
Tony: You totally made that up. Wow. What did your dad say? Was he disappointed?
Cherie: He wasn’t. He was actually incredibly supportive… I got this summer job as a library intern, tutoring kids and working on this literacy program… [describes how this one kid read a book by himself for the first time.] I found my calling.
Another rarity — the discussion of library science and the education behind being a librarian! (Also see, you guessed it, Desk Set. And Party Girl also has a great scene in which librarians debate different kinds of library science graduate programs.)
Although Tony’s incredulity at “library sciences” being a “real thing” is sure to illicit side-eyed shade from real-life librarians, Cherie takes it in stride and instead turns the conversation into highlighting how significant and personal a decision it really is to become a librarian. Yes, unfortunately, we librarians are used to people not understanding library science — if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “Oh wow, librarians have master’s degrees?!” SIGH — but we also often describe librarianship as a calling. The movie absolutely got it right with that line, “I found my calling.” We are librarians because we are committed to our profession and the services and resources we provide. Ultimately, we are here to help the members of our communities.
The Twelve Trees of Christmas, although sugary sweet and fairly predictable, is ultimately quite significant in several ways when it comes to portraying reel librarians onscreen. Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover… I guess you can’t judge a Lifetime TV movie by its sugary coating. 😉
Happy holidays, y’all! And I’ll be back next week with a New Year’s Eve-themed reel librarian movie — stay tuned!