Friday, November 13, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the house
not a creature was stirring
not even a mouse.

We have read this one, in various incarnations, since my oldest was a tiny baby. Plug in the title as a search term on either Amazon or Barnes and Noble and you'll pull up hundreds of results. It's one of the most retold stories of Christmas ever, probably only second to the Nativity.

Today my baby and I went to the bookstore in search of a very late birthday gift for my sister and we got sidetracked in the children's section, looking at all the Christmas books that have been put on display for the season. What caught my eye was this great new interpretation of The Night Before Christmas by Rachel Isadora.

I was already familiar with Isadora's retelling of a number of fairy tales (Princess and the Pea, The Fisherman's Wife, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Hansel and Gretel), but every time I open one of her books, the energy of the paintings just blows me away.

Isadora's artwork is reminiscent of Eric Carle's, but she gives hers a more global flavor. This version has distinctly African characters and is in saturated color that leaps off the page. This is no Currier & Ives version of Moore's poem. It's gorgeous and thoroughly modern. Love it.

Also still around is one of our favorite artist's takes on this classic, Mary Englebreit's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

This one is vintage Englebreit, with cute-as-pie elves and mice and all manner of detail in every two-page spread. The pictures are playful, engaging and nostalgic. My littlest one requests this book year round. It's candy for the eyes.

Even more nostalgic, but in a completely different way, is Gennady Spirin's version.

This one is closer to what I'd call the "classic" interpretation; everything looks quaintly European and softly lit. Spirin's paintings always make me think of the renaissance masters, the way they play with light. He has many books which cover a range of Christmas songs and themes and they are all lovely. This one is of a caliber to leave out on your coffee table.

Last is Robert Sabuda's take on the Night Before Christmas; a high-contrast pop-up book, also suitable for the coffee table, if you have older kids. This one is NOT recommended if you have babies or toddlers, since it likely wouldn't survive the season.

It's strongly graphic and very cool, modern and yet retaining an element of the classic about it; I'm always reminded of traditional scherenschnitte pictures, though they're not really like that. Every time I look at this one, I think "How did he figure out how to do that?"

I love all of these and yet none of them is precisely like the edition I remember so fondly from my childhood. Sadly, that book is long gone and despite many long searches through the scads of other versions, I've never been able to locate that exact one. Still, I'm glad there are so many of this classic to choose from so my children, though with different "visions of sugarplums" dancing in their heads, will have the same fond memories.

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