Book: Henry and Mudge and the Snowman Plan by Cynthia Rylant, pictures by Suçie Stevenson
1999, Simon & Schuster
You can’t go wrong with Henry and Mudge. On Day 7 we have The Snowman Plan, which continues our snowy theme. In this story, Henry and Mudge see a sign for a snowman contest.
This is obviously very exciting!
Henry tells his father, who is busy painting a chair green, and has gotten green paint all over himself. But his father is as enthusiastic about the Snowman Plan as are Henry and Mudge.
There are many interesting snowmen in the competition, but most especially Henry and his father’s, which is a depiction of the father painting a chair green.
In the end they win third place, for “most original”.
It’s nice that Henry and his father are as excited about winning third place as if they had won first. This is a very charming book, extremely positive and fun, with expressive illustrations, and small children will find it very funny.
For this New Year, I hope we all find something we are as excited about as Henry is about the Snowman Plan, and as Mudge is about dessert!
Book: Five Little Foxes and the Snow by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres
1977, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
For Day 6 we have Five Little Foxes and the Snow. While The Mitten was about a boy who wanted his grandmother to knit him snow-white mittens, this little book is about a bunch of little foxes whose grandmother won’t let them play in the snow because their paws will get cold.
For five days the snow continues to fall, and to grow deeper and deeper around little foxes’ burrow. Each day one of the foxes asks their patient grandmother if they can play in the snow. Each day she puts them off by saying their paws will be cold, and suggesting another activity. Meanwhile she spends her time knitting by the fire.
Of course, when Christmas Day arrives they receive their gifts — five pairs of colourful mittens, so they can finally play in the snow!
This is a very cute and cozy little book. The main appeal comes from the illustrations, which have a very warm 70’s quality to them. The depictions of what the little foxes got up to are very detailed and amusing, and will be familiar to anyone who has ever been snowed in as a child — or snowed in with children!
The five little foxes had gingerbread men and warm cider on their snow days, but you can enjoy them whether you have snow or not. Just be sure to keep warm!
Book: The Mitten adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett
1989, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Day 5 moves from Sweden to Ukraine. Jan Brett adapted a traditional tale about a boy named Nicki who wanted mittens made from wool as white as snow.
His grandmother, Baba, warns him that they will get lost in the snow. But she knits them for him and sure enough, he loses one in the snow when he goes out to play.
But the mitten looks so cozy and warm that a whole bunch of animals (including a mole, an owl, a badger, and a bear) that pass by decide to crawl inside. The Mitten stretches and stretches, but the last animal (a little mouse) is one too many. The bear sneezes and the Mitten shoots up into the sky.
The story is fairly simple, but the best thing about this book is the illustrations. All the pictures are surrounded by birchbark and embroidery in folk art patterns. To the left of the main picture we always see a smaller picture of what Nicki is doing (inadvertently scaring the animals towards the Mitten), and to the left we see the next animal coming along. They are very pretty illustrations, and full of fun little details.
Hopefully this story will inspire you to go play in the snow — or just seek out somewhere warm and cozy to eat something hearty and do some knitting.
Book: Peter and Lotta’s Christmas by Elsa Beskow
2002, Floris Books
Day 4 is Peter and Lotta’s Christmas. This book is by Swedish author Elsa Beskow. It’s about two children named Peter and Lotta who go to live with their aunts and uncle. While there they experience their first proper Christmas.
The story is actually quite long for a picture book and covers two Christmases and the year in between. On their first Christmas Peter and Lotta don’t know anything about the holiday or its customs, so they are very excited about the Christmas tree, getting gifts, etc. They are, however, very frightened by the Christmas Goat!
For anyone not familiar with the Christmas Goat or Yule Goat, you can read about it here. It is certainly nice to have a story which examines Christmas traditions which are somewhat different from the ones we usually see portrayed. Because Peter and Lotta don’t know that the Christmas Goat is actually just their Uncle Blue dressed up, they are told a fairytale which causes them to go on some interesting adventures over the next year.
By their second Christmas the children have learned a lot. They are no longer afraid of the Christmas Goat and learn who he is. However, they enjoy this Christmas even more than the first, because this year they got to give gifts as well as receive them.
Peter and Lotta’s Christmas is a real treat, especially for Elsa Beskow fans. It has her classic illustrations and lots of lovely details about rural Swedish life in this time period. Because of this it is not a quick read, and is a bit like the Little House on the Prarie Books in that it is a detailed depiction of daily life. The description of how the children made presents for their family is particularly nice.
As you can see from the illustration, Peter and Lotta have cake, saffron buns, and pepparkakor at Christmas. We only had some zimtsterne, which are not Swedish but have all the right spices, and really any gingerbread would do. Yule Goat is optional.
Book: The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg
1991, Penguin Books Ltd
Day 3and we are still in full festive mode. We ventured out once to play in the snow, but the rest of the time is best spent snuggling up with hot chocolate and books.
The Jolly Postman is a deserved classic, and the Christmas sequel is just as fun. For anyone unfamiliar, the Jolly Postman delivers letters to various fairytale characters, and all of the letters come in “envelopes” in the pages and are removable.
The Christmas version allows for the addition of Christmas cards (such as one from Goldilocks to Baby Bear) and gifts. Humpty Dumpty receives a puzzle from all the King’s horses and all the King’s men. The Gingerbread Boy receives a tiny book with an even tinier book inside it from Pat O’Cake Bakers. Red Riding Hood receives a board game from Mr Wolf. All of these are removable and playable.
Part of the fun of this book is all the careful little details that make up the mix of fairytales and English village life, such as the Cat and the Fiddle pub, or the milkman delivering to King Cole’s castle. The illustrations are very lively and fun to pore over.
The Jolly Postman’s Christmas Mince Pie Tally
2 mince pies
24 miniature mince pies
1 cup ginger beer
1 miniature bucket of tea
1 cup of tea
1 glass sherry
1 slice Christmas cake
The Postman finishes his day with a Christmas cake and sherry, but you could just as well have tea and mince pies, or hot chocolate. Anything that makes you feel warm and snug!
Book: Bertie’s Escapade by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
1949, J.B. Lippincott Company
For Boxing Day we have Bertie’s Escapade. While The Wind in the Willows is obviously far more well-known, this more obscure work by Grahame is also interesting in its own right. It’s a much shorter book, originally published in First Whisper of the Wind in the Willows.
The story concerns a pig named Bertie who decides he is going to go carol-singing on a Winter’s night. He convinces a pair of rabbits to come along. Their names are Peter and Benjie, but I don’t think they are meant to be Beatrix Potter’s rabbits, just named after them.
Bertie isn’t actually a very nice pig. He’s extremely bossy and even threatens to bite Benjie when the rabbit is reluctant to come along. But Benjie is right to be cautious, as Bertie’s plan doesn’t really work out at all and the carol-singers end up being chased off by dogs.
Bertie makes the best of it, however, and he, the rabbits, and a mole (probably not Moley, as he is married, has a job as an elevator operator, and a somewhat gruff personality) have a supper party by stealing a bunch of food from a Mr Grahame. I don’t know if Kenneth Grahame really did have a pig named Bertie and rabbits named Peter and Benjie, but it is an interesting way to end the story.
Bertie’s Stolen Midnight Supper Menu
This is definitely a fun little book, notable more for comedy than sentiment, but reading something funny while eating far too much indulgent food is a very good way to spend Boxing Day.
Book: The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
1987, F. Warne Publishing
Christmastide again! I have no excuse for the long hiatus I’ve had from here. I’m just sorry that I’ve yet again let everything else get in the way!
But I’ve still got a massive amount of books in mind to discuss. I thought that this year we could do something a little different, and have a series of mini posts for the 12 Days of Christmas.
Today’s book is The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. It’s the story of a poor tailor who is commissioned to make a coat and waistcoat for the Mayor of Gloucester, who is getting married on Christmas Day in the morning. While suitable for all ages, there is a lot of vocabulary which children may not know. However, I think it really does not matter, as most of it is there to create atmosphere.
But the reason I would recommend this book for Christmas Day (or perhaps even more appropriately, Christmas Eve) is for the peculiar section near the end where the tailor’s cat Simpkin goes walking in the snow at night on Christmas Eve. He goes through a series of little vignettes which act as a sort of morality play, or perhaps his own personal Christmas Carol experience.
It is all full of the particular atmosphere, mystery and melancholy which are so suited to a cold Winter night. The illustrations, which are more detailed and emotional than usual for Potter, reinforce the impression.
If that is the kind of mood you are looking for, then this is a great book to curl up with on a bleak Winter night. Tea is optional, but recommended