Many kids (and critters, as you’ll see in a moment) just can’t get enough of Christmas. And so Merry Christmas in advance, and especially to you, Splat the Cat! The feline has written a letter to Santa, but there is some question as to whether he has been a good cat year-round and actually deserves a very big present. Certainly Splat’s little sister isn’t too impressed by his record. And Seymour the mouse partly agrees.
Suddenly overwhelmed by self-doubt, Splat goes on a mission to do good.
Not everyone appreciates this.
“The dishes weren’t dirty,” said his mom.
“I know,” replied Splat. “And still I washed them!”
Rob Scotten has written and drawn this sprightly 2009 story of a worried Splat, wondering whether he’s been good enough after all. He finds out at the very, very end.
The end of one book brings us to the beginning of another.
Or perhaps, to two books. You can follow the evolution of artist Jan Brett’s work by comparing a couple of his Christmas children’s books. Both are beautiful, with the more recent showing Brett’s ever-greater sophistication and attention to detail.
First, The Wild Christmas Reindeer (1990). Santa has asked Teeka for help to get the reindeer ready for their big annual ‘do. (Youngsters may want to know that reindeer in the Arctic Circle have two names, the ones we know them by in Rudolph’s song, and the ones they call themselves!)
First the little girl must gather the large creatures and convince them to come in to the stable from their many days of freedom out on the range. Teeka spends a lot of time running around, with the reindeer first giggling at her crossness and frustration, then later being upset by it.
Teeka eventually discovers that anger doesn’t work; it’s best to hug reindeer into ship-shape, and she does so…. on Christmas Eve. Just in time.
Side panels on each page show the elves working on a different chore on each day of December. This is a feast for the eyes.
A few years later, Jan Brett asks, Who’s That Knocking On Christmas Eve? (2004). Turns out they’re nasty, hungry trolls trying to come in from the cold, in order to ruin Christmas dinner. And two children must outwit these party-poopers and keep their delicious dinner safe for the family.
Each two-page portrait features pictures within pictures, seen and scenes from different viewpoints. Stunning. Read them both! (Then check out janbrett.com for some fun crayon colouring projects and a free 2011 calendar.)
No Christmas reading list would be complete without a lavish book about a wooden nutcracker who comes to life. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (2009) features words adapted by Wren Maysen and pictures by Gail de Marcken.
The introduction notes that the tale was first published in 1816, “and has been adored by both children and adults for almost 200 years. It’s a story that reminds readers of the importance of family, the strength of a promise, the magic of childhood, and the adventures inspired by love.”
The nutcracker is a Christmas gift, a present immediately broken by a boy who rather greedily wants the biggest nut cracked. His sister Marie decides to nurse the nutcracker back to health, and stays up late to do so. Too late! As the clock strikes midnight, the evil Mouse King and his court come to wreak havoc. The toys, led by the nutcracker, must go to battle to protect themselves.
The war between the two camps has a long history, and Marie gets to hear all about it. It all goes back to a mouse and a princess…. The boy who saves the princess finds himself cursed in turn, and Marie now hopes to save her new friend.
Finally, one last book. Uncle Vova’s Tree (1989) marks the Russian Orthodox tradition of Christmas. (Those using different calendars celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, 7 or 19, by the by.) The careful, pencil-drawn faces are in delightful contrast to the bright colour of clothing and backdrop. You can see every line in old Uncle Vova’s face. Artist Patricia Polacco has outdone herself.
All these books will bring Christmas cheer into your home.
– Eleanor Brown, December 10, 2010