In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Eve

Dear Annie,

This is my last post before Christmas, so here's what the four of us will be reading on Christmas Eve:

Starting from the bottom:

The two Night Before Christmas versions blogged earlier this month.

 A facsimile edition of the 1939 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer written for the Montgomery Ward department stores.  This is very far from my favorite Christmas song.  I think of it as the ultimate Washington scenario: odd guy gets bullied until someone in power decides he's useful, at which point bullies tell him he'll go down in history.  But hey, the book showed up in our pile of Christmas tradition many years ago.

The Polar Express. by Chris Van Allsburg What can I say?  It's a wonderful classic with slightly fascist imagery.  We all love it.

Jingle Bugs, by David Carter.  He's done quite a few bug pop-up books.  Some of the lines from this one: "Who's in the chimney, warm and snug?" [pull tab, a Santa with buggy eyes and antennae pops out of a chimney] "Ho, ho, ho!  It's Santa Bug!"  This goes on through "jingle bugs swinging to and fro," "Gift-wrapped bugs for you and me,"  and on and on.  Pop-ups are very well engineered.

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry.  The wonderful story of hair sold to buy a watch chain for a watch sold to buy combs for the hair.  We read the Lisbeth-Zwerger illustrated edition, still beautifully in print.  I've never understood why they didn't just return the combs and go buy back the watch, but I guess that's a story for another day.

Spot's First Christmas, by Eric Hill.  This is the one that, per Grandma's advice, I would have thrown out -- but I realized it too late, alas. Also, it was given to the girls by a friend whom we love.  It's inane, it doesn't rhyme, it's full of Spot and his mother getting ready for Christmas, mostly with Spot wanting to know what presents he's getting.  Our girls have a weird sentimental attachment to it.  I think they're also amused by how much I dislike it.  There was a little serious discussion about giving it to Isabel for Christmas this year, given her dog obsession.  I was willing to mail it if Lizzie and Mona wanted to buy it, but the decision was finally that they worried that you'd feel the same way about it that I do, and that you'd hold it against them for years.  You have been spared.

The Story of Christmas, words from the Bible, illustrated by Jane Ray.  Part of the Christmas tradition of your mother's and my non-religious family was to read the King James Bible story of Jesus' birth.  Our parents felt, as I did with my kids, that if you're going to get the pagan elements of the celebration, you should know the religious story on which it's based.  The language, needless to say, is beautiful.  And Jane Ray's illustrations in this out-of-print books are gorgeous.  All the characters are very middle eastern Semitic-looking, except for an occasional blond angel.

A Christmas Story, by Mary Chalmers, which I remember owning in miniature edition as a child, tells how a girl named Elizabeth, along with Harry Dog, Hilary Cat, and Alice Rabbit find and and trim a tree.  When they discover there is no star for the top, Elizabeth goes out in the snow to find one.  She encounters one of the best-named characters in children's literature: "the Santa Claus for rabbits and other small animals."  He gives her a star, which she carried home triumphantly.  The last word in the book is, "There!." Ahh.

Babar and Father Christmas is one of the longer ones, but totally enjoyable. Babar sets off to find Father Christmas to ask him to deliver to the Elephants' country.  One of the challenges of the book is pronouncing PRJMNESWE, the town in Bohemia near which Father Christmas lives.  Babar finally finds him, and they work out a deal which results in no additional work for the old guy, but joy and presents for the little elephants.

And last -- and best, in many of our opinions -- is The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney.   An orphan wandering alone in a small town, a doll in a toy shop, and a slightly sad middle-aged woman married to a policeman all wish for each other, and get their wishes.  This is such a wonderful book that someday -- maybe next December -- I'll devote a whole entry to it.  It's long, it's magical.  We love it.

It's a huge pile.  It takes a couple of hours to read them all.  In recent years we've pulled out one of the three biggest --Holly and Ivy, Babar, or The Gift of the Magi -- to read on the 22nd or 23rd, so that we still have time to race off to our rooms to wrap gifts before midnight Christmas Eve. 

Happy Christmas to all.



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