CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 16. . . .December 20, 2013
The Night Before Christmas.
Clement C. Moore. Illustrated by Barbara Reid.
Toronto, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada, 2013.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Children's poetry, American.
Preschool-grade 4 / Ages 4-9.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
'Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse.
Clement C. Moore was technically right when he said, "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse", because, in Barbara Reid's illustrated version of this classic Christmas poem, (first published anonymously in 1823 as "A Visit from St. Nicholas" or "The Night Before Christmas") there is not one mouse but a dozen mice stirring in their rustic house situated in a log in a moonlit, snow-covered forest.
Reid's trademark plasticine illustrations, filled with colour, texture, detail and movement, bring this 190-year-old poem to life, and prereading youngsters hearing the poem, with its rich, sometimes period, language, will delight in Reid's visualization.
Reid begins with an exterior shot that sets the rural, outdoor scene and then moves inside the two story mouse log house where readers/listeners see a harried mother and father mouse who are coping with the demands of their two infant offspring while trying, with limited success, to get their other eight very rambunctious youngsters to hang their stockings "with care" on the fireplace mantle. The next pair of pages, a double-page spread, carry the "quiet" lines: "The children were nestled/all snug in their beds,/While visions of sugarplums/danced in their heads". Reid's images reveal that actually only two of the 10 children are asleep while most of the rest are involved in various bedtime avoidance activities employed by children, including asking for something to drink and playing a game of catch between the bunk beds. One young mouse is even revealed to be reading a book while sitting on the toilet. And so the poem's storyline continues with Reid's illustrations employing a most playful take on Moore's poetry. And while St. Nick's reindeers are portrayed as reindeer, St. Nick is not Norman Rockwell's rosy-cheeked Santa, but he is, most appropriately, a mouse.
Reid's illustrations also help in clarifying what was meant by some of the yesteryear's terms employed by Moore. For example, when Moore say, "And Mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap", Reid's illustration shows Mamma asleep in their four poster (nails) sardine can bed wearing a pink scarf on her head while dad, the "I" of the line, has on a red nightcap. There will be time after the first few readings of this book for adults and children to consider why dad would need to wear a nightcap. And this book is one that children will want to return to many times in order to see all the details in Reid's illustrations, details that would likely have been initially overlooked due to the pace of reading/hearing the text.
Reid's version of The Night Before Christmas is a must-buy, and it will become a core component of libraries' Christmas collections. It would also make an excellent home purchase.
Hmm, I wonder if this mouse family might claim Nib and Lola from The Subway Mouse as part of their family tree? And could that fox in the forest be related to the fox in Fox Walked Alone?
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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