Richmond Hill, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic, 1995. 32pp, cloth,
Folk songs, English-England-Texts.
Preschool - grade 4 / Ages 4 - 9.
Review by Diane Fitzgerald.
The animals in this book are:
-- the preface
one gray partridge,
two rock doves, three ruffled grouse,
four common loons, five river otters,
six Canada geese, seven whistling swans, eight raccoons,
nine red foxes, ten moose, eleven red squirrels
and twelve beavers.
The bird in the potted pear tree
is a California partridge,
and the courting couple are black bears.
Christmas books appear in number every year, and most fade away with the
season. This one, Woodland Christmas, seems like nothing
special in concept: the text is "The Twelve Days of Christmas"; the
lovers of the song are anthropomorphized bears; and each day's gift is
illustrated. But the animals (both those that are characters and those,
like the singing birds, that are gifts) are indigenous to North American
woodlands, and their costumes and habits (fur hats and tricorns; skating
parties) recall 18th-century European settlements in the New World. And
the illustrations also tell the story of an entire courtship and wedding
over the twelve days.
The backgrounds -- lakes and chateaux set amid pine-wooded mountains
-- are full of Canadian resonance. And every page has the frost and feel
of winter, from the bright, snow-white first day, to the twelfth night,
when the newly married bears skate in a wedding procession under a
The illustrations are detailed, highly appealing, and imaginative.
On the fifth day, for example, when the courting bear (who looks suspiciously like Santa Claus) gives his True Love five golden rings, we see him present them to her in a jewellery case;
but on the facing page we also see five otters curling in the snowy water
to form rings of gold. And the twelve drummers drumming are, of course,
beavers, who use both sticks and drums and tails and water to make their
Younger children will enjoy spotting all of these details, and
following the progression of the courtship, from the day the Santa Bear
skates over carrying a potted pear tree, through meeting his True Love's
family, and finally the wordless double-page spread of the wedding
procession, with the bears, the family, and all of the animals from the
twelve days joining in. Older children might also enjoy looking into the
natural history of the animals depicted. And for any child, or parent or
teacher, with a musical inclination, the book closes with the complete
words and score of the carol.
The idea, and Tyrrell's illustrations, are curiously affecting; by
blending the old carol with indigenous imagery, Woodland
Christmas is more successful in making our part of the world seem
like the natural home of the ancient holiday than anything since the
"Huron Carol" (Tyrrell's illustrated version of that, by the way, like
this book, was nominated for a Governor General's award). And using the
carol and the animal heroes likewise lends romance to the natural and
Holidays still have the power of mystery for young
children; Woodland Christmas successfully blends that
mystery with images of our own history and landscape. It should become a
lasting part of a Canadian Christmas.
Diane Fitzgerald is an elementary-school teacher in Saskatoon.
Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
The Manitoba Library Association
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