Book: Good King Wenceslas by J. M. Neale, pictures by Arthur Gaskin, with an introduction by William Morris
1904, Village Press
It’s Day 11 and we are coming towards the end of the 12 Days.
Good King Wenceslas was written in the 19th century, and this book was made soon after, although this particular reprint is from 1904. There is a short introduction by William Morris, and the illustrations are by Arthur Gaskin, who was part of the Arts and Crafts movement. You can find an online version here.
This Christmas carol (if you haven’t heard it) is about a king who sees a poor peasant gathering wood in the snow on Saint Stephen’s Day. The king is determined to personally bring the poor man meat, wine, and wood, and so he and his page travel through the wintry weather to carry them to him.
While the vocabulary might be a bit tricky and old-fashioned for younger readers, that doesn’t really matter as the story is quite straightforward.
The best thing about this book is that, because it is influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, the entire design is beautiful and intentional. Its typeface is designed to look like a medieval manuscript and has detailed illuminated letters and borders. The pictures have a medieval quality and look to be engravings. The simplicity and sincerity matches to tone of the song.
It’s important at this time of year to remember that caring for all those in need is not an extraneous act, but the most essential kind of justice.
With the seriously wintry and bitter weather we have been having this year, remember to look out for each other!
Book: The Tomten adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
1990, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
It’s always difficult to go back to work or school after a holiday, especially when you have to get up in the dark. On Day 10 we have the story of the Tomten, who works all the winter night.
This version of The Tomten is another Swedish story, adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg.
Perhaps because it’s based on a poem, this is not a very plot-heavy book, but more about mood, mystery, repetition, description, and atmosphere.
The Tomten lives on an old farm. Every night he goes through the farmyard and the house, speaking to the animals and looking after them. To each animal he speaks a variation on a little poem about how Winters and Summers come and go.
The whole mood is a little melancholy. The Tomten seems a little lonely because he can’t speak to the humans in the house, and they will never see him, because he only comes out at night.The Tomten has seen many hundreds of winters, so it makes sense that he would have a good perspective for the animals who are longing for summertime. And he will carry on as long as there people at the farm for him to help.
This is a lovely book with evocative prose, and especially beautiful pictures of the snowy farm lit by brilliantly bright moonlight and snowlight.
It certainly makes me feel better about getting up in the cold and dark!
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!