One theme ends and another continues. Here’s the second in a row of an illustrated Christmas song, although this one is not revised or reworked. We’re not a religious family but my kids love, love, love this song, and this book. I’m not sure about the song but I totally agree with them on the book. If you know Ezra Jack Keats, the Caldecott Medal award winning artist and writer of The Snowy Day, you’ll know that his illustrations are simple, imaginative, and vivid. All of these elements are evident in The Little Drummer Boy. Music for the song appears at the back of the book as well. And if for some reason you don’t know the story here’s a quick recap: The little drummer boy doesn’t know what to bring as a gift for the baby Jesus until he learns that a gift from the heart is the best gift of all.
Photo: J. Amy Amy
I’m both happy and sad to say that I bought this book from a bunch of discarded books at my local library. I’m happy because we have a lovely hardcover copy with a protective library cover, but sad because the library is now without another Christmas classic. If you’re unable to get a copy of The Little Drummer Boy and/or you don’t know E.J.K. take a moment to get to know him with The Snowy Day. While not a holiday book, it’s a really important piece of 20th Century children’s literature. That’s an entirely different post though. While I’m not going to write about it at the moment, I would encourage you to peruse the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation website. It’s a rabbit hole well worth delving into.
Overall Rating: EX, due solely to Keats’ extraordinary artwork. Suggested age range: anyone who enjoys hearing a Christmas song accompanied by vibrant images.
Photo: J. Amy Amy
I guess there might be a bit of a theme going on here that I didn’t pay attention to–this is the second book in a row that re-invents and re-works an older story or song. Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol is written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Werner Zimmermann. The story and pictures about Beaver and other quintessential Canadian wildlife characters decorating for Christmas are both charming and funny. At the end of the book, there is a musical arrangement of the traditional Christmas carol which is a nice added touch.
Overall Rating: VG, especially if you’re a Canadian. All ages.
Frankenstein’s Fright Before Christmas is a mash up of Madeline and The Night Before Christmas. It’s quite clever and my guess is that any kid who likes monsters and zombies will love this book. My kids do. As for me, I think it’s all right but it’s not a favourite of mine. This book is a sequel to Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody, but we’ve never read the first one and I don’t think you need to in order to enjoy this book. The author, Ludworst Bemonster (an homage to Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeline series) is the nom de plume for author Rick Walton and illustrator Nathan Hale. The illustrations, digital watercolors in red and green, are nicely reminiscent of the Madeline books.
Photo: J. Amy
Someday I’d like to get Madeline’s Christmas, so that we can have both books in our Holiday collection and also so that my children can learn concepts like parody and homage in literature (can you tell I used to be an English teacher?), but in the meantime we’ll enjoy Frankenstein and what his Christmas story has to offer.
Overall Rating: G+ (me) EX+ (my kids, 6, 6, 9)
I picked up Santa Mouse and the Ratdeer a couple of years ago at a library book sale. Upon seeing it, I could understand why it was withdrawn from the library rotation. It’s not a terrible book but the title and the cover image doesn’t really instill a desire to read it to your kids.
Photo: H. Julian
For me it was the Ratdeer. I could deal with a mouse as a Santa, but rats replacing reindeer? Not for me. The story, written and illustrated by Thacher Hurd, focuses on Santa Mouse and his ratdeer and the rough day they’re having. All of them are grumpy and they end up getting lost. Fortunately, Santa Mouse crashes his sleigh right near Rosie Mouse’s house who is eagerly awaiting Santa Mouse’s arrival. There’s not much to the story but the illustrations make up for the lack of compelling plot. Hurd’s cartoon like watercolours are a delight, especially the ratdeers’ comments arranged in balloon format above their head.
Overall Rating: Good. Suggested Age Range: 3-9.
Photo: H. Julian
The other day I was pleasantly surprised to have found a good Christmas book at the Dollar Store, and I think I might have got carried away trying to recreate that moment. Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation, by Linas Alsenas, while not bad, is also not that good. The best I can say is that it’s okay. The title says it all: Mrs. Claus takes a vacation. The story is straightforward, the pictures are clean and bright. The best thing about it is that I picked it up at the dollar store and only paid a couple of dollars for it. It’s a Scholastic book, so my suspicions are that it was one of those books written specifically to sell at a cut rate on the book order forms that come home from school.
Overall Rating: Fair.
I love this book. So much. Each year I love it more. And my kids do too, especially as they grow to understand how fortunate they are. We try to read this book on the day before our school begins collecting items for Christmas hampers. Unfortunately, the book is no longer in print, which is a shame because there are very few really special holiday children’s books that should become classics and this is one of them. Personally, I’d take December over The Grinch Who Stole Christmas any day, but I know that’s treacherous territory so I’ll leave it there. If you happen to see this book in your local library, do yourself a favour and check it out. You won’t be sorry.
December, Photo: H. Julian
December, written by Eve Bunting, is about a homeless boy and his mother who encounter a very special elderly stranger one Christmas Eve. David Diaz has created illustrations that mesh beautifully with Bunting’s writing. The paintings in the book are acrylic, watercolour, and gouache and like Little Tree (Book 3) also have a strong resemblance to stained glass.
Overall Rating: EX, for all ages
The first miracle I have to tell you about this book is that I got it at the local dollar store for $3.00!! (Head to Dollarama Canadians because that’s an amazing price for a fairly well written Christmas story–in hardcover no less!!) I do feel sorry for the author (Sonia Manzano) because I’m sure the fact that her book is selling at discount stores is not the most profitable. Manzano is also known as “Maria” on Sesame Street so hopefully she saved some of her Street cash.
Advent 2017 Book 3 Photo: J. Amy Amy
Miracle on 133rd Street is a fun book about a Puerto Rican family living in a big city apartment building when they realize that their Christmas roast is too big for their oven. As José and his father carry the roast to the local pizzeria to use the large oven, the reader is introduced to a multicultural cast of neighbours and community members who have seemingly forgotten about the joys of Christmas. When they return from the pizzeria, the aroma of the cooked roast seems to carry some magic all its own as José and his neighbours experience a Christmas miracle.
I really like that this book takes place in an apartment building, in an urban setting. The story starts with José decorating “the tiniest Christmas tree ever” while his mother discovers that her oven is too small. Too often children’s books, like television and movies, have the characters living in unrealistic show homes with space to spare. It’s nice for children to have their experiences validated through literature.
A final word about the illustrations: Marjorie Priceman keeps the colours bright and the pictures are full of movement echoing the plot of the story.
Overall rating: VG with bonus points for the price! (suggested age range 6-9+)