I’m writing this in front of my picture window, looking out at the Capital-S-Snowstorm we’re having in Minne-snow-ta! Our wood pile is covered with what looks like a humongous slab of vanilla ice cream, the air is thick with powdered-sugar-snowflakes poofing and gusting about, the wind is whipping up spritzing snow-swirls, and my snow-loving dog looks like some sort of Abominable Snowdog! If you read my blog last Monday, you know I love snow, so this all makes me one happy camper!
More Christmas titles today. I’ve got 1 vintage Christmas book, 1 WWII-era Christmas story, 1 Very British Christmas, 1 Christmas fantasy, and 1 utterly ridiculous Christmas story. Here we go…
This vintage book, first published by the Golden Book Press back in 1950, was one of Richard Scarry’s earliest works, and it is classic, charming Scarry! Little mice on red skis, plump baby bunnnies in snowsuits, dapper hedgehogs, and higgledy-piggeldy wooden houses in bright yellows, pinks, greens and purples. Cute, colorful delightful, and a bit less cartoon-like than his later BusyTown look.
The book is a collection of 21 very short stories and poems for young children, ranging from a goat that kindly plays Santa for all his barnyard friends, to a polar bear who nobly donates his fur so Santa’s helpers can have beards, to my personal favorite, “The Golden Sled,” in which a little bear manages to behave as good as gold and therefore receives his wish — a golden sled — at Christmas. Ahhhh! I must have read that story hundreds of times as a child, until one magical Christmas, my dear father bought me a Flexible Flyer, painted it gold, set it out on our snowy porch on Christmas Eve, and arranged to have me discover it — my very own Golden Sled mysteriously left by Santa! So sweet!
There is nothing of literary greatness here, just happy little stories, with perfect illustrations; an over-sized, delightful,nostalgia-trip! I’ve loved this since before kindergarten and still love taking it out of the box every Christmas. Good, childish fun.
This is a WWII-era story.
Anna and her mom live in post-war Europe, in a bombed-0ut, poverty-stricken city, among people who have suffered tremendous losses. It’s wintertime, and Anna needs a new coat. She’s grown right out of her old one. The problem is, her mom doesn’t have the money. Strong and resourceful, though, Anna’s mom sets about trading her few remaining keepsakes to townspeople who can provide the materials and skills needed to make a coat — the farmer trades his sheep’s wool for a lovely old pocketwatch which had been Anna’s grandfather’s; an old woman agrees to spin the wool in exchange for a needed lamp. The process is a slow one. It takes time for sheep to grow wool, for old fingers to spin, for lingonberries to ripen to a crimson red in order to make a proper dye. So, the year winds all the way around to Christmas before Anna’s coat is completely finished. It is a beauty! Along the way, Anna and her mom have become acquainted with the kind people who’ve had a part in the process, and in a celebration of Christmas and friendship and new beginnings after sorrow, they all gather to enjoy Christmas cake together.
Ziefert based this story on the experiences of a girl whose mother procured a coat for her in just this way. The fact that there is reality behind this tale definitely enriches the story. It is told quite matter-of-factly, without saccharine sentimentality, which I think reflects the resolve of the WWII generation accurately. Lobel’s illustrations are lovely, interesting scenes. The colors present a weary community, but the content, kind smiles of the characters add warmth, and Anna’s brilliant red coat offers fresh, hopeful dashes of color as it appears. Great, well-loved little book.
Lucy and Tom are a young brother and sister created by Shirley Hughes who star in a number of luvvly-jubbly books about their fairly-ordinary nursery-school days.
Here Lucy and Tom are getting ready for a very British Christmas — stirring up Christmas pudding, making Christmas cards adorned with the essential robins, collecting fantastic presents for everyone, such as a doggy-shaped eraser and hand-stitched comb holder, and heading to the market for a Christmas tree. Christmas Day comes with bulging stockings, a walk to church, and a big meal with extended family complete with crackers. When Tom gets a bit overwhelmed and grumpy, dear Grandpa takes him out for a little walk in the snow, with the red sun setting behind the gray chimneys of London. Very sweet.
Hughes’ keen descriptions of the lovely, simple days of these two are accompanied, of course, by her magnificent illustrations of a very mommish-mom hanging up paper chains, a small living room crowded with loving familymembers, and even baby Elizabeth, fast asleep in the middle of her crumpled pile of wrapping paper, looking “like a hamster.”
I’ve been collecting Lucy and Tom books for one of my children. They are definitely some of our Swanson family favorites. Might have to look a bit for them, but they are totally worth it.
Christmas delight from the Lord of Fantasy!
As Tolkien’s children were growing up in the 1920s, Tolkien began a tradition which he upheld for over twenty years, of writing a brilliant letter, annually, to his children from Father Christmas. The letters described the events, whether comical, exciting, or hilariously-disastrous, that had taken place at the North Pole during the past year, and featured the North Polar Bear — his bumbling assistant — as well as pesky Goblins, helpful Elves, the Polar Bear’s nephews — Paksu and Valkotukka — among others. They were illustrated in fantastic ink sketches, written in a trembling, elven-esque script, enclosed in exotic envelopes with colorful North Pole stamps and illumination-style addresses, and delivered mysteriously to the house. Lucky kids!
The stories Tolkien spins are, of course, incredible. The Polar Bear turns on the tap for the Aurora Borealis fireworks, which he is not supposed to touch, releasing two-years’ worth of Northen Lights in one monumental explosion of color and light. Father Christmas and the Cave Bear rescue Polar Bear from the Goblins. The Red Elves are needed to help dig out Father Christmas’ house from a tremendous lot of snow. Ingenious.
Tolkien drew delightful, quirky, Nordic scenes to accompany these, and( you will not be surprised to hear) invented a couple of languages to boot. A Goblin alphabet and a letter written in Goblin is included in the book.
There are quite a few packagings of the Father Christmas letters. The one I like best is the one pictured, edited by Baillie Tolkien and published by Houghton Mifflin. Though a slim paperback, it’s dimensions allow for nice big colorful prints of Tolkien’s illustrations and reproductions of several of his imaginative envelopes. About 16 of his letters are included in this volume. We enjoy re-reading them every year. What an incredible thinker, writer, artist, human being!
For sheer ridiculousness of plot and picture, this one takes the cake.
Alice Jayne finds the Christmas Crocodile beneath the tree on Christmas Eve, complete with large red bow around his thick green neck. Which he eats.
This Christmas Crocodile is infamously hungry. And although he doesn’t mean to be bad, he just cannot help himself from consuming virtually everything in sight — presents, shoes, wreath, roast. Alice’s family is full of consternation! They come up with all kinds of ideas as to what should be done about him — giving him to the orphans, the zoo; Uncle Theodore is all for doing away with him altogether…if you know what I mean. In the meantime, he is relegated to the cold, dark, lonely cellar. But…he escapes. He finds his way up the stairs, eating everything along the way, until he finds a bedroom door open a tad, and inside that door, he finds…toes. Ten of them. Pleasingly pink. Delicately yummy to lick…and…nibble…
Well! You simply have to read this book to find out how on earth this family solves their Christmas Crocodile problem. Wacky, preposterous plot. David Small’s priceless, eccentric illustrations are perfect, complete with one innocent, woebegone crocodile who steals our hearts. This tickles my funny bone. I’m guessing it will make your kids merry as well.
Here are Amazon links to all of the titles. Reminder: I am an Amazon Associate, which means if you click through to Amazon by one of my links, and purchase a product, I receive a small dash 🙂
The Animals’ Merry Christmas (Little Golden Books (Random House))
A New Coat for Anna (Dragonfly Books)
Lucy and Tom’s Christmas (Picture Puffin)
The Father Christmas Letters
The Christmas Crocodile