Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Celebrating Winter Celebrations

Phyl­lis: Win­ter has come down like a snowy blan­ket, and ani­mals in our world have migrat­ed, hiber­nat­ed, or are shiv­er­ing their way through the months ahead. But ani­mals in pic­ture books have oth­er ideas. Why not be a part of December’s cel­e­bra­tions of Hanukkah, Christ­mas, Sol­stice or help a friend in frozen need? These books make us feel as cozy as a cup of tea, a light­ed tree.

Le Loup NoelMichael Gay’s The Christ­mas Wolf was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in France as Le Loup Noël. For­tu­nate­ly for us, it was also pub­lished in Eng­lish in 1980 by Green­wil­low Books. Father Wolf and his fam­i­ly live in the moun­tains in an aban­doned pow­er­house. When the wolf cubs won­der why Father Christ­mas nev­er comes to them, Father Wolf decide some­thing must be done and heads to town. He is run off the road by a truck and lands in the dump, where he fash­ions a dis­guise from a hat, boots, a long coat, and sun­glass­es. But it’s hard to hide his wolfish ten­den­cies at the store in town, where a revolv­ing door baf­fles him, and sales­peo­ple won­der when he says that his wife prefers a bone to jew­el­ry. In the toy sec­tion his excite­ment caus­es him to for­get his dis­guise, and his tail gives him away. In the out­cry, Father Wolf hides in a win­try win­dow dis­play, final­ly return­ing home emp­ty hand­ed that night. The same truck that ran him off the road, return­ing from town, man­ages to hit him, and when he howls in pain Moth­er Wolf finds him and helps him home. The truck dri­vers, fright­ened by the howl, leap from the truck, which pitch­es down the moun­tain­side, scat­ter­ing the presents it car­ried. In the morn­ing, the ani­mals find presents every­where — in trees, on the ground. A ban­daged and recov­er­ing Father Wolf real­ly has brought Christ­mas to the delight­ed ani­mals. The last two spread show a pleased Father Wolf and wife and ani­mals glee­ful­ly open­ing presents, read­ing books, play­ing a gui­tar, and find­ing all sorts of Christ­mas sur­pris­es. Even though each side of a spread shows a sep­a­rate image, Gay’s art flows seam­less­ly as we jour­ney along with Father Wolf and feel immense sat­is­fac­tion along with him at the end.

Storm Whale in WinterThe Storm Whale in Win­ter by Ben­ji Davies, is a sequel to The Storm Whale in which a lit­tle boy, Noi, res­cued a strand­ed whale washed up by a storm. Noi, who lives with his father and six cats by the sea, keeps search­ing the water for his whale friend with no suc­cess. Win­ter descends, and Noi’s father leaves for one last fish­ing trip, even though the sea is fill­ing with ice. When he doesn’t return by dark­ness, Noi thinks he sees his father’s boat out to sea and hur­ries across the ice to find it. The boat, when he reach­es it, is held fast by ice, and Noi’s father is not aboard. Afraid and not know­ing what else to do, Noi curls up tight in a blan­ket. Sud­den­ly the boat feels a BUMP. The storm whale and his whole fam­i­ly have come to help. They punch through the ice, singing, and push the boat back to the shore, where Noi’s father had been brought when res­cued by oth­er fish­er­men. The art shows Noi togeth­er with his father in the spring, paint­ing the boat which they rename The Storm Whale in hon­or of the night Noi’s friend had come back, then sail­ing togeth­er among the whales.

Both of these are sim­ply told, straight­for­ward sto­ries, and yet both touch the heart unsen­ti­men­tal­ly. Father Wolf wants to make his chil­dren hap­py with the gift of Christ­mas, and Noi wants both to find his friend and also his father. Both sto­ries end with goals achieved, but not until after dif­fi­cul­ty, which makes their suc­cess even sweet­er.

The Hanukkah BearJack­ie: The bear in The Hanukkah Bear (by Eric Kim­mell and illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka; 2013) has an eas­i­er time of it. He wakes up mid-win­ter to a deli­cious smell, which he fol­lows to the house of 97-year old Bub­ba Bray­na. She doesn’t see as well as she used to, nor hear as well. But she still makes the best latkes around. And this night she makes twice as many because the Rab­bi is com­ing.

Bub­ba Bray­na wel­comes the bear, whom she mis­takes for the Rab­bi, and inter­prets his grunts and growls as the Rabbi’s part of the con­ver­sa­tion. He devours the latkes. Bub­ba Bray­na laughs at his appetite and wipes of his face. “You eat like a bear,” she says in a teas­ing way. She gives him a scarf and wish­es him a hap­py Hanukkah.

Bub­ba Bray­na is charm­ing in her sim­ple gen­eros­i­ty and accep­tance of a Rab­bi who eats with his paws. And she is gra­cious when the real rab­bi comes with neigh­bors, and the chil­dren see tracks and tell her it was a bear she had fed.

Some may see this sto­ry as fun at the expense of some­one who doesn’t see or hear as well as she used to. But I love it for the qual­i­ties in Bub­ba Bray­na that allow her to be gen­er­ous with a messy imag­ined Rab­bi, laugh at her own mis­take — and solic­it her friends’ help in whip­ping up anoth­er batch of latkes. Would that we all could over­come our mis­takes with such grace.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band ChristmasOne last ani­mal sto­ry, or sort of. Rus­sell Hoban’s otters are the peo­ple we wish we could be. We have includ­ed this book in the past, but it is so good, so warm, we just have to men­tion it again. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christ­mas (1971) was writ­ten by Rus­sell Hoban and illus­trat­ed by Lil­lian Hoban. I have loved this sto­ry for most of my adult life. We found it when our kids were young and read it for years – all year long. It is always fun to watch the Jim Hen­son 1977 Mup­pet pro­duc­tion of this sto­ry, but the book is my favorite telling.

Ma Otter says to her friend Irma Coon, “It’s been such a rock-bot­tom life for so long, just once I’d like to bust out with a real glo­ri­ous Christ­mas for Emmet — some­thing shiny and expen­sive.” And Emmet says to his friend Char­lie Beaver, “Some­times [Ma’s] got to have some­thing fine and fan­cy.” When they hear of the tal­ent show with the fifty-dol­lar prize, Emmet drills a hole in Ma’s wash­tub to be part of the Frog­town Hol­low Jug Band and Ma sells Emmet’s tool­box to buy fab­ric for a fan­cy dress to wear as she sings in the con­test.

But no one had count­ed on the River­bend Night­mare band with their elec­tri­cal instru­ments and rau­cous (rock-us?) sound. After the Night­mare per­for­mance, Ma sound­ed like a whis­per. Emmet’s band sound­ed like “crick­ets and night peep­ers.” Still, as they walk home, Ma says, “I guess I ought to feel pret­ty bad, but the fun­ny thing is I don’t. I feel pret­ty good.” And they start to make music. And their music is heard…and appre­ci­at­ed by all the cus­tomers at Doc Bullfrog’s River­side Rest. A free sup­per and a night of enter­tain­ing fol­low. And they all go home with a reg­u­lar job at Doc Bullfrog’s and mon­ey in their pock­ets.

Ma and Emmet are so spunky. Hoban’s lan­guage is so enter­tain­ing. We all have days that we want to call “rock-bot­tom.” And we hope for times when maybe we should feel pret­ty bad, but we feel pret­ty good. This sto­ry is a clas­sic and bears read­ing again and again.

The Shortest DayPhyl­lis: The sparest of poet­ic texts (121 words by my quick count) flows through Susan Cooper’s The Short­est Day, a sol­stice cel­e­bra­tion.

Jack­ie: An end note tells us Coop­er wrote the poem for “The Christ­mas Rev­els,” a sol­stice cel­e­bra­tion begun by John Langstaff in 1957 and revived in 1971 and cel­e­brat­ed in cities all over the coun­try.

Phyl­lis: The dark art, soft as a winter’s night, is lit by can­dles in win­dow and torch­es in hands as “every­where, down the cen­turies of the snow-white world came peo­ple singing, danc­ing, to dri­ve the dark away.” They hang homes with ever­greens and burn fires to wak­en the new year’s sun. When the sun returns, they “car­ol, feast, give thanks, and dear­ly love their friends, and hope for peace. And so do we, here, now….”

And we, too, wish­ing you dear friends that in the com­ing year we dri­ve the dark away, com­mit to cel­e­bra­tions, and find peace and joy.

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