Friday, December 21, 2012

DECK THE HALLS by Norman Rockwell

Rockwell, Norman. Deck the Halls. New York: Atheneum Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-1-4169-1771-7, $ 16.99. All ages.

I close Deck the Halls and smile. I smile because it brings back warm Christmas memories. I smile because I smiled so many times throughout this book. And I smile because I know I will smile again the next time I read it.

Deck the Halls is illustrated with 14 of Norman Rockwell's Christmas paintings. The title page opens with Rockwell's Golden Rule, Saturday Evening Post cover from April 1, 1961. The multi-cultural and multi-faith communities represented in it are a beautiful reminder of what is most important, even more than Christmas. Turn the page though, and you're off on a journey accompanied by the familiar lyrics of "Deck the Halls" and pictures celebrating the quintessential American Christmas.

You'll find yourself giving a wry smile when Mom and Dad are caught stitching Santa into his "gay apparel" and you just might find yourself chuckling (or trembling) at the exhilarating (or terrifying) memories elicited by Rockwell's Young Love Sledding. You might find yourself savoring the delightful curiosity of the young boy and pup studying the "...blazing Yule before us" in Is He Coming? (or Little Boy Looking Up Chimney). Then again, you might begin drifting into contemplative silence of how "fast away the old year passes..." as you observe and join the Little Girl Looking Downstairs at Christmas Party. Most of all though, I hope you find yourself feeling some of the joy and wonder that is—"heedless of the wind and weather"—displayed on the faces of Couple Ice Skating.

This is a book I plan to read multiple times. In fact, I just might hold my family hostage before we open presents on Christmas morning—or Christmas Eve (patient, we are not!).

Stephanie Ashley

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Wahl, Jan. Illus. Leonard Weisgard. The Golden Christmas Tree. New York: Golden Book, 1988. ISBN: 978-0-375-82647-1, $ 8.99. Picture Book

This is a gentle book that quietly celebrates the possibility of peaceful collaboration and joyful celebration.

"All was hushed in the forest for the animals' Christmas. The elephant brought a great fir tree from far away"—and thus, Jan Wahl starts her story of belonging and community where each animal has a special role. Elephant brings the fir tree and cardinal announces its coming. Kindness and compassion appear as "wolf [helps] the red deer" and they are joined by "the badger and a family of foxes—guided by bats who whistle soft carols." In allusions to the Christian Bible, squirrels tell of the first Christmas and, once more, the lion lies down with the lamb.

Back to the forest, however. All the animals contribute to the making of a Christmas tree. Leonard Weisgard ably illustrates the light-hearted playfulness of baby foxes, the befuddled confusion of llamas, and the pride of a tiger as he strings purple bead after purple bead. Monkeys enthusiastically adorn branches with baubles and giraffe arrives to place a star atop the tree. Now it is time, and all the animals of the forest gather together, and it is "hushed in the forest, hushed, hushed, hushed, hushed."

It is that "hushed," golden moment that is far too often absent, and I find myself longing for the silence and peacefulness that ritual provides in the chaos of the holiday season.

Stephanie Ashley

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

POLAR SLUMBER by Denis Rockhill

Rockhill, Denis. Polar Slumber. Green Bay: Raven Tree Press, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-974199-28-3, $16.95. Ages: Picture Books (Pre-school to Grade One). Bilingual text also available.

Polar Slumber is the perfect bedtime story. A young child ventures out into freshly fallen snow. Warmly bundled in a knitted sweater, scarf, and mittens she forms a large snowball. Rather than make a snowman, though, she shapes a polar bear's snout.

That night, as she falls asleep, her playful, outdoor imaginations of the day seep into the warmth of slumber. She is invited by a mother and baby polar bear—her "gentle, furry friends"—to "explore the northern beauty on [a] moonlit arctic journey."

All along, she is watched over by the mama and baby polar bear as a snow owl swoops overhead and she pets an adorable, large-eyed seal and runs her hands over a wolf pup. They travel until their "eyelids grow heavy...[and they] snuggle together" as her soft covers morph into a polar bear or perhaps the polar bear morphs into her soft covers.

From what I can tell, Denis Rockhill is both author and illustrator of Polar Slumber and he competently fulfills both roles. The knitted texture of the young girl's clothes and blanket nicely offset the delicate, peaceful feel of the wintery blue and white of the arctic animals and surroundings. An additional curious feature worth mentioning is what appears to be an alternative story along the bottom of every other page. Done in graphite, it adds yet another dimension to a lovely book.

Stephanie Ashley