Monday, December 21, 2009

A down-home Christmas

One of the earliest copies of Clement Moore's "The Night Before Christmas" or "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" resides right here in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It was handwritten by Moore and sent in 1825 to his godfather, Jonathan Odell, a prominent resident of Fredericton. Over the years, this bit of literary trivia has captured the city's imagination to the point where you'd sometimes think that this is what Christmas must be: an artifact shipped in from afar, a bit of fame whose coat-tails must be clung to.

And yet, this region represents a picture-perfect Christmas postcard all on its own. Juliana Horatia Ewing knew this when, in 1867, she wrote the region's first Christmas story while living in Fredericton with her husband, Captain Alexander Ewing, an officer in Her Majesty's 22nd (Chesire) Regiment. The story, "The Three Christmas Trees", was published in the collection The Brownies and Other Tales (1886) and can be read online here. One hundred and fifty years later, Ewing's prose stills delights and the picture of that "small town of a distant colony" remains quaint, sure, but fits snugly into this spiritual narrative of the link between our world and the world beyond.

Flash forward to the 1950s where you will find these three hidden Nova Scotia gems: In The Wee Folk: About the Elves in Nova Scotia by Mary Alma Dillman (1953), the first story is "Xmas Eve in Teaberry Hollow" wherein Santa and Mrs Claus rescue Peter, the young elf who gets caught in a blizzard and becomes frozen solid; Alice Dagliesh rounds out her collection The Blue Teapot (1959) with the tale of a family who get their first set of electric Christmas lights; and Julia L. Sauer's 1951 novel, The Light at Tern Rock, tells of an eldery woman and a young boy who spend their Christmas tending a lighthouse off the coast of Nova Scotia.

For an non-Avonlea take on Christmas in P.E.I. try David Weale's picture books, The True Meaning of Crumbfest (Acorn Press, 1999) and Everything that Shines (Acorn Press, 2001). In the former, a young mouse sets out to discover the origins of the plentiful crumbs that come to his people each year in late December. The latter is not so much a Christmas book, but rather a book about dealing with grief that happens to be set in the holiday season.

Newfoundland's Kevin Major has penned two contemporary Christmas classics: The House of the Wooden Santas (1997 Red Deer College Press) and Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards (Groundwood, 2005).

The House of the Wooden Santas is an advent book with one vignette a day for the 24-day lead up to Christmas. As you can see from the illustration above, Imelda George's wood carvings add to the quirky yet lush feel of the book.

Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards is a tribute to holiday picture postcards from all over the world. Images of hundred-year-old cards are combined with contemporary illustrations from Bruce Roberts as the tale (and poetry) of Aunt Olga and her family unfolds.

Finally, from Newfoundland is David Budge's The Mummer's Song, illustrated by Ian Wallace. This picture book is a simple rhyming tribute to the practice of mumming between Christmas and New Years' in rural Newfoundland. An afterword by Kevin Major explains the tradition to novices.

For additional Christmas books from the region, click over to the Portolan Bibliography where you can search "Christmas" and so much more besides.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An advent calendar of sorts

The holidays are upon us, a time of family, giving, quiet reflection and ... the shameless Hollywood exploitation of picture books. Quick, clear your mind of images of Mike Myers' Cat or Jim Carrey's Grinch; you'll only soil the grey matter. Instead I offer you a YouTube-inspired Advent Calendar for you and all the young children you happen to know.

These animated picture book adaptations are fun and sophisticated. What's more, they are true to the original text. Most were developed by Weston Woods Studios and many are available through the Scholastic Video Collection which I strongly encourage you to buy.* A goodly number were produced in the great Czech animation studio under the direction of Gene Deitch. Enjoy one a day until Christmas or save them for a slow January Saturday. Oh, and don't forget to pick up each of these classic picture books the next time you're at your local library.

December 1st
Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins, 1968

December 2nd
Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, 1969

December 3rd
The Foolish Frog by Pete Seeger from Pete Seeger's Storytelling Book, 2000; also published on its own in 1973.

December 4rth
Changes, Changes by Pat Hutchins, 1971

December 5th
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, 1989

December 6th
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, 1947

December 7th
Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, 1993

December 8th
Bill Martin Jr. reading his book Brown Bear, what do you see? published 1983

December 9th
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, 1960

December 10th
Dr. De Soto by William Steig, 1982

December 11th
Happy Birthday Moon by Frank Asch, 1984

December 12th
Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss, 1965

December 13th
There Was An old Lady by Simms Taback, 1997

December 14th
Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman, 2001

December 15th
The Zax by Dr. Seuss in The Sneetches and Other Stories, 1961

December 16th
Mercer Meyer telling his story There's An Alligator Under My Bed published 1987

December 17th
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight by Jane Yolen, 2000

December 18th
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food by Jane Yolen, 2005

December 19th
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, 1963

December 20th
The Caterpillar and the Pollywog by Jack Kent, 1892

December 21st
Pete's A Pizza by William Steig, 1998

December 22nd
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, 1955

December 23rd
A Picture for Harold's Room by Crockett Johnson, 1955

December 24th
Harold's Fairy Tale by Crockett Johnson, 1956

Bonus holiday offer
These three Hans Christian Andersen adaptations used to appear on TV all the time in the 1970s. I remember them distinctly from my childhood. The subject matter is heavy, so make sure you watch them first before you decide whether or not to share them with a child.

The Selfish Giant

The Little Match Girl

The Happy Prince

And here's a final link that is definitely fun but I know it would frighten my four-year old. Slightly older kids will definitely enjoy the shivers.
What's Under my Bed? by James Stevenson, 1980

*Not a paid advertisement. The Scholastic Collection has far more videos than are linked to here.