You may recall from my previous blog post that, on Thanksgiving Day just past, twenty-four Christmas storybooks wrapped in festive holiday paper jumped into a red bag and headed home three hours away with four of my grandkids. Their mission was to open and read one together each night from Dec. 1 through Dec. 24, then let me know on Christmas Day which one each of them liked best. It was an Advent alternative to the popular chocolate candy version.
It was a job this distinguished panel of judges did not take lightly.
When the time came to tally the results and name the favorites, the vote ended in a tie. Sooby and Zoomie, pictured above on the ends, both chose Christmas Wonderland by Vilhelm Hansen, while Pooh and Bootsie opted for Santa's Toy Shop.
The way both books focus on Christmas preparations make them ideal reading as the nights count down to the holiday itself. Both have been around to entertain multiple generations of children with their imaginative characters; simple, uplifting story lines; and superb illustrations.
Christmas Wonderland, in particular, is a masterpiece of rich, detailed illustration. Published in 1981 and given to daughter Cookie by her aunt and uncle on the Christmas she was two, this masterpiece by popular Danish illustrator Vilhelm Hansen presents the delightful antics of a group of gnomes as they immerse themselves in all things Christmas.
Besides the artwork--which is, in itself, reason enough to open the book and share it with a child--another particularly engaging aspect of Hansen's book is the way he invites child listeners to answer questions. "Can you count how many birds there are in the tree?" he asks at one point, and "How many names do you know?"
Finally, many humorous situations arise when the gnomes go about their Yuletide business in unorthodox ways. For example, you might imagine how their decision to tune their fiddle using pliers and an oil can affects their Christmas caroling. Or what happens when they share a cup of hot tea with a snowman ("Ice cream would have probably been better."). Then there is the happy mess that occurs when mother gnome falls asleep and lets her rice pudding boil from the stove-top pots onto the kitchen floor.
Santa's Toy Shop, with its illustrations by The Walt Disney Studio, is a Little Golden Book from my own childhood. Published in 1950, it takes us to the North Pole where Santa and his elves are frantic to get all their toys made by their Christmas Eve deadline. Finally, with no time to spare, Santa loads his big bag with all the vintage toys I remember--including train sets, model airplanes, wooden alphabet blocks, checkerboards, and old-fashioned dolls (whose smiles we have seen him detail with a paintbrush).
Santa's one regret is that there is no time, after all this effort, for him to play with any of the toys himself. But the ever-resourceful Mrs. Claus whispers a solution in his ear as he departs from the North Pole: he should stop at the last house on his delivery route to engage in a little playtime along with his milk and cookies.
It was fun to sit here on those December nights and imagine how the kids' bedtime ritual was playing out, and we all agree that the Christmas Book Bag was a fun and worthwhile Advent project. Since I couldn't read the books with them in person, I had no choice but to revert to the less original version of the countdown, the one involving a piece of chocolate candy every night.
I tried not to let it bother me, though. A Googie has to do what a Googie has to do.