The Night Before Christmas
Clement Clarke Moore
Five Mile Press, 2006
“‘Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.”
How many children will hear these words as they settle down to sleep tonight, perhaps the one night of the year when it is easy to get them into bed? Certainly, it’s a tradition in this home and there is only one version that we share, year after year. Stunningly illustrated, this version is chosen because of the superb pop-ups that bring it to life. These are the traditional images of my childhood imagination -snow-covered houses; a fat.jovial Santa Claus in his sleigh pulled by reindeer through a starry night; Santa at the fireplace… and each framed with the rich, colours of Christmas. The velvet-striped cover is just a bonus.
I bought this the year Miss 8 was born and there hasn’t been a Christmas when we haven’t shared it as part of the ritual of putting out something for Santa and the reindeer, leaving the special key in its hidey-hole so he doesn’t have to squeeze down our very narrow chimney and then gathering around the tree to read the last of the Christmas countdown. I know it sounds a bit schmaltzey but grandmothers can do that and implant a legacy that might be continued.
Tonight will be no different.
And to all of you who read this blog… Happy Christmas to all, And to all a goodnight!”
The 12 Days of Christmas
Little Simon, 2006
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
There’s really nothing new about the words of this familiar Christmas song, first published in England in 1780. There are countless print versions of it and versions for various countries “straight” and parody alike. But what sets this interpretation apart is its incredible illustrations for they are remarkably crafted pop-ups. Meticulously cut and folded so they pop up perfectly as the page is opened, they reveal the magic of the song in a way like no other. “Paper engineering” is a more accurate descriptor of Sabuda’s skills and from the partridge with the pears through to the magnificent Christmas tree at the end, complete with lights that work, you enter a world of magic and marvel. Crafted mainly in white card with the occasional addition of silver they are just extraordinary and his imaginative way of getting all the characters into the illustration is amazing. Just look at “eleven ladies dancing”!
Even though this is an expensive purchase in relation to other Christmas books, it’s an investment as revealing each page could become part of an annual Christmas tradition and part of your Christmas Countdown of reading Christmas stories.
Sabuda continues to enchant with a range of other books and Christmas cards and he reflects the spirit of this time of giving by offering instructions for some designs as well as answering questions about the construction of the books. In fact his website is a treasure trove that could well come in handy when the thrill of Christmas has passed and the long summer break seems endless.
Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book
Random House, 2014
hbk., 96pp., RRP $A14.99
Christmas is coming and there is so much to do Cooking, cleaning, battling the crowds, making decorations,, going carolling… but there’s another side as well.
This is an unusual book, if not unique. Diane Muldrow has captured the lead-up to Christmas perfectly, but the charm of the book comes in its illustrations. For each page is a page from a classic Little Golden Book of the past. Favourite characters such as the Pokey Little Puppy, The Gingerbread Man and many others offer valuable seasonal advice for having a happy holiday. Each is referenced to its original source – a story published between 1942 and 1964 – and takes the reader on a wonderful nostalgia trip (if they’re my vintage) or suggests a story that younger readers might like to explore, perhaps with their parents or grandparents who are more likely to be familiar with them.
If nothing else, it gives younger readers a glimpse into a previous time, the stories enjoyed then and the lifestyle led.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Walker Books, 1997
Jonathan Toomey, a master wood carver, was once a happy man with a wife and a baby, but since their death his grief has turned him cold and hard. He packed his belongings into a wagon and travelled till his tears stopped. He settled into a tiny house at the edge of a village to do his wood-carving.The children call him “Mr Gloomy” and “Gloomy Toomey”. He went about mumbling and grumbling, muttering and sputtering, grumping and griping. He complained that the church bells rang too often, that the birds sang too shrilly, that the children played too loudly.Then one winter’s day the widow McDowell and her son Thomas knock at Jonathan’s door to ask if he will make them a set of nativity figures. When he reluctantly agrees, the miracle begins…
This is a heart-warming and poignant story set in yester-year and so beautifully illustrated that it was awarded the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal. Given the amount of text it is probably a story for older children or one that could be read aloud over a couple of nights. It may even lead them to read the Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol. Just beautiful.
The Last Straw
Fredrick H. Thury
Vlasta van Kampen
Hoshmakaka is woken by the desert sands whispering in his ear. “You have been chosen. You will carry gifts to a baby king,” they said. “You will carry frankincense, myrrh and gold. The wise men have chosen you.”
“Why me? If there men are so wise, don’t they know about my joints? My gout? My sciatica? What did you say I am to carry? How much will it weigh? Besides I have other commitments. There is a water-drinking competition in Rangal Then I really must go to the cud-chewing convention in Beemish.”
But Hoshmakaka is a little disturbed by this sand that moved like creatures with great wings, and when he agrees and he sees the admiration of the young camels, his pride kicks in. “I’m not so old,” he tells them, “And I’m still as strong as ten horses.” Words that he later wishes he never uttered as all along the journey he is loaded up with more and more gifts by people wanting him to take them to the new king. Whenever he tries to protest at the extra loads, the young camels remind him of them. And as his back feels like it is breaking and his knees tremble, a young child brings him a straw to carry … will it be be the one that literally breaks the camel’s back?
Adapted from the author’s original libretto performed by the Toronto Children’s Chorus, The Last Straw is a different Christmas story spanning the gap between the religious and secular versions of Christmas. Its lavish and beautiful illustration capture Hoshmakaka’s feelings perfectly and you almost feel his pain as he struggles valiantly on.
Worth looking for.
How Santa Lost His Job
S. D. Schindler
Simon & Schuster, 2001
There was always much for Santa to do each year before Santa made his big ride. He checked the weather, reviewed some maps, trimmed his beard, polished his boots, fed the reindeer and packed the sleigh. But even though he moved as fast as he could, there was always a last minute rush and this made some of the elves cranky.
“Why can’t Santa plan better?”
“How come he’s so slow?”
It all got too much for Muckle who thought Santa was too set in his ways and wasted too much time and energy. So he sets about changing it, getting mysterious packages delivered and working in his locked workshop for months. The result becomes a contest between the new and the old and while Santa shows there is more to his job than speed, nevertheless he has to agree to five this new solution a go. But…
This is the companion to How Santa Got His Job and it is just as enchanting. Younger readers love it and every adult who has ever made a phone call requiring them to “select from these options” or “Sorry, I didn’t catch that, Please repeat it” will empathise.
How Santa Got His Job
Simon & Schuster, 1998
Santa Claus did not come into the world with his trademark red suit and curly white beard. He wasn’t always jolly and overweight, full of love and good cheer. When he was a young man he went looking for a job, but it had to be an outdoor job, not one that kept him stuck behind a desk in an office.
At first he tried cleaning chimneys but he was so neat and clean that no one believed he had done any work.
Then he tried working for the post office but the traffic snarls frustrated him so he started delivering packages at night – but people did not like to be woken then and complained.
And so it went on – each job he tried had its pitfalls and problems until one day, after being fired from the circus he meet some elves who are toymakers and Santa’s perfect career was born.
This is an amusing twist on the more traditional story of Santa Claus but totally believable if you are Miss 3 who just adores it. An internet search shows that it has great appeal for older kids as well as it forms the basis of many lessons about “Why do we need a job?” as well as cause and effect and sequencing, but my little ones like it because it’s funny and it helps them make sense of this Santa-thing and they enjoy Christmas even more. The illustrations are very detailed and are an integral part of the story. Schindler has taken Krensky’s words and brought them to life, each working with the other in the way perfect picture books should. Setting some of them against a background of Help Wanted advertisements shows the thought that has gone into them.
This is another of those stories that I have from many years ago and which I’ve kept to share with the grandchildren so they are now family favourites.
Santa’s Book of Names
Little, Brown & Co., 1993
Edward was good at numbers (he could count to fifty) and he knew his alphabet and the names of most of the dinosaurs but he really struggled to read when he opened a book. His teacher wanted him tested but his mother just said, “Patience”. On Christmas Eve, after his dad has read him his favourite Christmas story, Edward wonders how Santa remembers all the children’s names, where they live and what toys to give them.
“Perhaps he has a good memory,” suggests his father.
“Or maybe he has it all written down in a book.” suggests his mother.
As Edward snuggles down under the covers with his torch trying to read the story for himself, he hears a noise. Tiptoeing downstairs he finds that Santa has already been and gone, but lying on the floor is a book – thick and heavy, and very old judging by the worn cover and tattered pages. Santa must have dropped it. Edward rushes outside – just in time to hear the jingle of sleigh bells and the rush of wind. Santa was gone. How was Edward going to get his book back to him so children would not be disappointed in the morning?
Even though it was written 21 years ago, this story remains a favourite of my Christmas Countdown. For Santa does get his book back and invites Edward to come with him on his journey to help him read the names and the toys and as they fly across the skies and visit millions of children, something magical begins to happen for Edward and proves that when we have a need to read we will. As Edward’s mother says, it’s about patience and practice.
Apart from the quality of the story, McPhail’s charming watercolour nightscapes are enchanting – the reader is not only flying along with Santa but experiencing Edward’s wonder and marvel. An internet search shows that this story is still in print, is still getting rave reviews and there are lots of ideas to support it. I just like it.
Letters from Father Christmas
Edited by Baillie Tolkien
This is a classic. It is a set of letters written by Tolkien to his children-sons John, Michael and Christopher, and daughter Priscilla, between 1920 and 1942 telling them some of the secrets behind life at the North Pole on the other 365 days of the year. Some are from Father Christmas himself and some are from his secretary the elf Ilbareth but they paint a picture that is just magical from the antics and adventures of North Polar Bear to the amazing fireworks display that create the Northern Lights.
This edition was released posthumously in 1976 and features precious copies of the originals that are now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. You can take them out of the envelopes to read – there’s a translation of Tolkien’s writing on the back of each – and this all adds to the magic and charm. Accompanied by illustrations created by Tolkien himself, the whole becomes a package that is shared each year in this family. It has also sparked a tradition of Santa sending letters to the children acknowledging their individual achievements and accomplishments each year – the ones that only an insider who is constantly watching would know about.
Harking back to the simplicity of Christmas in yesteryear, this is a collection that would add much to a comparison of Christmases past, present and future.