The Review Before Christmas


‘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.

de Paola - SantaTomie 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)

Reindeer and pugJan 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)

Isadora - SantaRachel 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)

Christmas morningHolly 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)

Opening his packMary 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)

Peeking at SantaGennady 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)

Santa with corgisTasha 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:

Santa with goblinsJacqueline 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)

Santa by the treeThe 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)

SantaWilliam 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:

SantaIn 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)

Seahorse and sleighAuthor 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)

Gator on the roofIf 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)

And that’s all I’ve got for this mega-review

Congrats if you’ve read this one all the way through

Here’s hoping your Christmas is full of good cheer

And lots of time spent with the ones you hold dear

Thanks for sticking with me and all the time that it took

Happy Christmas to all!  And to all a good book!


One thought on “The Review Before Christmas

  1. Oh wow — I was SO going to give you grief if you left off “Cajun Night Before Christmas”! Did you ever find out why mama “t’rows de salt out de door”?

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