‘Twas the day before Christmas and what else can I do?
I think everyone knows what I have to review.
Of course I mean Clement C. Moore’s classic poem
Over 500 words and I bet we all know ‘em.
There are sugarplums dancing, a non-stirring mouse
And a dad who’s the only one up in the house
We learn names for the reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh
And there’s snow that’s so bright it makes night look like day
Saint Nick is described as both red-faced and fat
And he’s smoking (but don’t pay attention to that).
There’s a wink and a nod and you know the end, right?
“Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
(Now some versions out there use ‘merry’ instead
Although ‘happy’ was the first that anyone read.)
Now this poem first appeared in 1823
And it was first published anonymously
‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ was its original name
Except for some word changes, it’s stayed mostly the same
A hundred years later, we all still can quote it
(Although some have said that Henry Livingston wrote it.)
It’s been lampooned and copied in so many ways
That over one thousand versions are out there these days!
Which brings me right back to today’s new review,
I’ve read bunches of versions. Let’s look at a few.
Let’s start by examining those variations
Where we’re really just looking at the illustrations
Since there’s really no difference at all in the text
(The more specialized versions are coming up next.)
Continuing this poem just might take too much time
So for ease of reviewing, I’ll step away from the rhyme.
Tomie de Paola, Caldecott Medal winner for Strega Nona, set his artwork at his family home in New Hampshire and bordered each page with quilt patterns. The borders contribute to making the pictures seem very angular, which just gives the whole book a more old-timey feel. (Holiday House, 1980)
Jan Brett gets bonus points from this reviewer for giving the family a pug as a pet and including this adorable dog in many of her pictures. As always, her artwork is full of gorgeous color and so much rich detail that your eyes don’t know where to look first. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998)
Rachel Isadora draws from her ten years living in Africa, combining oil painting and printed paper to create a unique take on this story, which is set in an African village. The pictures feature traditional African fabrics, landscapes and toys, as well as a Santa Claus unlike any I’ve seen in any other version. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009)
Holly Hobbie was inspired by her memories of her childhood holidays as well as those she spent with her own young family, creating truly beautiful illustrations from transparent watercolor, pen and ink and gouache. She also adds in the element of a very young child who is awake to witness everything, which somehow just adds to the magic of it all. (Little, Brown and Company, 2013)
Mary Engelbreit brings her use of vivid color and bold patterns for her take on the story, which includes a greater focus on the elves who are there to help Santa deliver his toys. Gaiam used Ms. Engelbreit’s illustrations to create an animated version of the story, with a slightly expanded sub-plot, narrated by Kevin Kline. (HarperCollins, 2002)
Gennady Spirin’s beautiful watercolor paintings are almost photo-realistic in their appearance, with such exquisitely crafted lines and shading. The book may tell an American Christmas story, but his Russian heritage shines through in the color and style of his artwork. (Marshall Cavendish Children, 2006)
Tasha Tudor populates her wonderful version with rabbits, cats and corgis, reminiscent of her Corgiville books. Ms. Tudor apparently illustrated three different versions of the story, but I can’t imagine either of the other ones being more adorable than this, with its Vermont setting and super cute animal characters. (Little, Brown and Company, 1999)
And sometimes the verse stays exactly the same
But the pictures make each book a whole new ball game
Here are a few versions I have selected
Where the artists gave us something so unexpected:
Jacqueline Rogers puts a really new and different spin on the story in The Night Before Christmas: A Goblin’s Tale. She follows a family of goblins who celebrate Christmas much as we do, in a cozy home under a tree. When Santa comes to visit these little green fuzzy bug-eyed critters, they give him a bit of a hard time, but he gives it right back to them. The artwork is beautifully done in acrylic paint. (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2003)
The Teddy Bears’ Night Before Christmas features photo illustration by Monica Stevenson. Ms. Stevenson tells the story through photographs of stuffed animals and toys, mostly teddy bears. It seemed a little weird to me at first, but Santa Teddy won me over with his adorableness and the knowledge that stuffed-animal-addict-little-girl-me would have LOVED this one. (Scholastic, 1999)
William Wegman brings his famous Weimeraners into the act and creates a version populated by dogs, filling in for the reindeer, Santa and the family. This one is a little bizarre, particularly in the pictures where the characters have dog heads, but human bodies and hands. Mr. Wegman’s dogs have appeared in multiple books, as well as segments on Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live. (Hyperion Books for Children, 2000)
There are so many ways that this story’s been told
That, for some folks, it’s gotten a little bit old.
So a handful of authors have changed up the plot
Some have been just a little and some a whole lot.
Let’s look at some versions where the verse got a tweak
To bring us new stories that are each quite unique.
Some had cool themes or an unusual twist
Here are some of the ones that made this year’s list:
In A Creature was Stirring, Carter Goodrich pairs the original poem with new verses written by a little boy who can’t get to sleep. The old verse is on the left page and the new verse, from the boy’s perspective, is on the right. While the boy is worrying that his wakefulness is going to get him into trouble, he sees Santa’s sleigh about to fall off the roof and he jumps in to save the day. This is a cute new spin on the story with awesome colored pencil and watercolor artwork. (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006)
Author Philip Yates presents a hilarious version of the story in A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas. Here, the verse gets the full-on pirate treatment, complete with plenty of pirate slang, but don’t worry if you’re a landlubber. Mr. Yates provides a glossary at the end to help steer you through the terminology. Fantastic pencil and ink illustrations by Sebastia Serra add color and personality to the characters and contributes to the overall fun of this great book. (Sterling Publishing, 2008)
If your vocabulary is looking for a stronger challenge, give Trosclair’s Cajun Night Before Christmas a try. I was given this book as a child, but not knowing much about Cajun culture, I found it a little baffling. I still greatly enjoyed illustrator James Rice’s pictures of Santa’s skiff being pulled by alligators. Hands down, though, the best way to enjoy this story is to listen to the great Coleen Salley read it aloud, which she did in an audiobook version. (Pelican Publishing, 1973)