Books and Christmas go together like Jingle and Bells. From Scrooge to Eloise, our literary Christmas friends have the power, year after year, to renew and revitalize whatever tale it is we need to tell ourselves to endure and even enjoy this bittersweet season. I began collecting odd and interesting Christmas books last year, and now I think I have enough to get us through until Christmas Eve. Or not – you know how this tends to go.
There may be some obvious omissions: I haven’t found a really neat Nutcracker yet, for instance. But I hope you’ll meet some new friends, and see your dearest Christmas companions in a new, twinkly light.
We’ll start right here at home, with Christmas through a classic American lens.
The Night Before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas), illustrated by Grandma Moses – The Night Before Christmas is an enterprise like none other – Amazon has over 13,000 listings for this title in Books alone. The verse is so familiar it offers a virtual blank slate for the skills of countless illustrators. In her joyous imagining of Clement Moore’s poem, Grandma Moses’ pictures portray the tale just like a child – in pure deep colors, with narrative details splashed around where they are easily seen. Everything seems to happen at once, in dream-like vistas where distance and perspective serve the elements of the story, not reality. If you don’t mind an ex-library book, you can get the 1991 reissue for $1. A clean 1976 reprint of the 1961 original runs about $30, unless you find it at a used book sale for .50. Which I did. Sorry.
American Folk Songs for Christmas by Ruth Crawford Seeger (Pete’s stepmom), illustrated by Barbara Cooney
This book deserves a feature post of its own, and that’s just my intention. What I didn’t realize when I bought my vintage copy was what an incredible artist Ruth Crawford Seeger was, or that illustrator Barbara Cooney created Miss Rumphius – one of my most favorite children’s’ books. (We’ll peek inside for a future post.) Newly reissued in paperback by Loomis House Press, as of 2013 you can give the joyful, distinctly American music to yourself or some sweet family you love. The Seeger Sisters’ recording of American Folk Songs for Christmas is available for download from Smithsonian Folkways.
Not really Christmas but every adult needs a copy of Cold Weather, a brief essay by E.B. White (available in One Man’s Meat, White’s collected essays for Harper’s). It would be cheating to just reprint the whole thing here, but I might quote from it very liberally soon as part of this series. My chapbook edition is number 103 of 125 printed by hand right here in Madison, WI. Couldn’t find it on the internet – that doesn’t happen often. I guess my .25 was well spent.
A Pint of Judgment by Elizabeth Morrow (mother of Anne Morrow Lindbergh), illustrations by Harry Berson. This little treasure, originally published in 1939 with pictures by Susanne Suba, is set in the home of thoroughly modern, turn of the century, distinctly New York family. We’ll peek inside this one, too.
As often happens with Christmas intentions, it’s taken about 6 times longer to get this home-made present ready for you than I planned, and it’s not as pretty as I wanted. Still, I hope it fits. More books tomorrow. Which is today. Ooooh, do I hear reindeer??! (no, just the world’s largest raccoon…sigh…)