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.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Christmas at my in-laws' house in Illinois!  The children are nestled all snug in their beds, my wrapping is done, there's a light layer of snow outside and plates of Christmas cookies jostling for space with the pies on the kitchen counter -- it's a lovely night.

Tonight, along with The Night Before Christmas, we read another favorite Christmas story (one we actually read all year round), and I found myself wishing for the other Christmas Eve book of my childhood, which I'm going to have to find for the girls next year.  To be honest, I should admit that Eleanor and I read these books; Isabel sat on Jeff's lap and directed him emphatically to read her
My Teeth
 and Olivia's Opposites. So she doesn't quite get Christmas yet.  It'll come.

Morris's Disappearing Bag
 was a gift from you to me in 1979 -- it's inscribed "To Annie -- With love from your disappearing aunt.  Love, Debbie."  It'll be out of print by now, I thought to myself, but it isn't -- a new edition came out in 2001.  I think this may be, like Noisy Nora, a book that Rosemary Wells did new, more brightly colored illustrations for in order to get it reprinted.  The cover image here is a little different from the one we have, but I'm sure it's essentially the same.

Morris is the youngest bunny in a family of four.  On Christmas morning, his brother Victor gets a hockey set, his sister Rose gets a beauty kit, and just as you're thinking oh no, a gender-role-reinforcing little Christmas book, Morris's other sister, Betty, gets a chemistry set.  Morris gets a bear.  The other siblings play with their own presents and with each others' ("And then Victor made himself beautiful and Betty played goalie and Rose invented a new gas."), but no one will let Morris play with their toys because he's too young, and no one wants his bear.  Morris droops.  But then!  Under the Christmas tree, Morris finds an overlooked package.  Inside is a Disappearing Bag -- he crawls in and becomes invisible.  A couple of funny pages follow where Morris's siblings can't find him, but the tips of his ears or tail are showing, so your kid can.  Morris pops out of the bag, lets his silings jump into it, and plays with all of their toys on his own until bedtime.

There is something very satisfying about this little book -- it's so good about jealousy and sharing and siblings, and Rosemary Wells can't be beat for drawing droopy bunnies.  It's a Christmas story, but I've never thought of it as relegated to Christmas-time reading.  I'm glad it's still around.

As in your house, I grew up with the King James version of Jesus's birth as one of the traditional Christmas Eve readings.  We always referred to it as "the part in the Bible where Jesus gets born."  In our house, the book was published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art: the Bible passages illustrated with reproductions of Old Masters' paintings.  In the absence of the book at the moment, I'm trying to figure out which it must have been.  This is my best guess.

There's a current version out, however, which I plan to get in the next year: The Christmas Story (Metropolitan Museum of Art).  There's something appropriate about having the story illustrated by multiple artists, from multiple years and countries -- no one person has a lock on what the Holy Family looked like, and there are such great and differing depictions of the animals as well.

And now I'm off to bed, so Santa can come.  Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Love, Annie

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