One of the slightly selfish pleasures of being a parent is enjoying books with your children that you remember from your own childhood. I was thrilled when our boys wanted Where The Wild Things Are read to them each bedtime, and equally happy to rediscover Richard Scarry, whose books I remember really well from when I was tiny.
So I was pleased to see, in an idle moment or two online, that there were a number of festive books starring Mr Frumble, Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm and everyone else from Richard Scarry’s Busytown, and we tracked down four, two of which are in print and two now out of print. It’s my duty, I thought, to jot down some thoughts on these for the blog, for anyone thinking about getting some nice stuff this Christmas. Needing no further incentive to buy yet more books, here’s the result… By the way, if you click on most of the pictures, you’ll see a larger version.
Richard Scarry’s Best Christmas Book Ever
This one’s great. It’s like a good quality annual, with amusing stories featuring the usual Scarry animal inhabitants of Busytown, two Christmassy songs (Jingle Bells and Silent Night) and even a simple board game spread across two pages. Our two, of course, love the story of the terrible twins Abe and Babe… But there’s plenty of other lovely stuff in here. The good news about this one is that it’s in print as a very handsome hardback (£5.73 new from Amazon).
Richard Scarry’s The Night Before the Night Before Christmas
Anyone who knows Scarry’s other books will realise that Mr Frumble is not the best person to help Santa Claus deliver his presents. And so it proves here, with the hapless pig getting St Nick in a bit of a fix only (of course) to save the day.
For me, this one didn’t quite have the same quality as the other three. Not that it really matters what I think of it – it’s been a popular story and the book was stolen away by a small boy as I sat down to write this post…
The pictures are as lively as ever, and you have to say that Busytown looks good in the snow with its lights shining (on the right). Pleasingly, it also assumes a bit of Christmas restraint, when Santa Bear, believing it’s the 24th, finds trees undecorated and lights unlit when in reality it’s only the 23rd. Not many of us hold out with our decorations until Christmas Eve, I suspect!
This one is also newly back in print (£3.91 from Amazon).
Father Cat’s Christmas Tree
The third book is a short, simple story about the Cat family and Lowly Worm. Unlike the first two, this one isn’t in print, but you can get hold of it pretty easily from sites like Abebooks.
It’s a nice little tale of remembering the past, framed as a story a father tells his children about a tree he’s known all his life.
Planted in a field, it’s overtaken by the expansion of Busytown, threatened with development – and then preserved, in memory of its rather heroic intervention in the life of the town’s mayor. A simple message put across with the usual lovely pictures and light touch.
The Animals’ Merry Christmas
Depending on your point of view it’s either a charming relic (it was first published in 1950) or is a little dated. It’d be a shame if that put people off, as it’s got lots going for it. Mostly about animals celebrating Christmas, with a dash of Santa Claus too, the stories written by Kathryn Jackson are nicely pitched, with some simple morals, and the illustrations are really good – bright, confident colours that seem nicely of their time.
We love the frontispiece snowflake designs, which you can see on the right. This is another which is out of print now, but which turns up on second hand sites such as Abebooks.
You can tell that Scarry is still developing his style here – some of the illustrations of animals (especially the tigers in the last story) anticipate his later animal characters, and The Bare Polar Bear shows his talent in depicting a town (later realised in Busytown) – but the way in which he draws his subjects is really different.
Probably with any Christmas book for children, adults have to have a certain tolerance for sweetness, and a distinct lack of humbug, but I’d defy anyone not to get a bit misty-eyed at the illustrations to Mr Hedgehog’s Christmas Feeling…
Frankly I don’t really care what the children make of this one – it’s already become one of my favourites, just for the way it looks….
And having just typed that, Twin number 1 has been through and pinched it from me!
A note from Ali:
Today’s Christmas Craft
This one is written by Alana Reynolds of the Letter B blog and published here on AlphaMom (somewhere I wouldn’t usually recommend … but hey! a good idea is a good idea). Alana uses Crayola Model Magic to create stamps to make gift tags, Christmas cards and wrapping paper. It’s a fab idea, and although rather more complicated than using potato prints, it looks a lot less stressful! And your kids can have fun actually making the stamps as well as using them. We’ve just decided that we’re going to buy charity cards this year because we’re quickly running out of time, but I’m tempted to change my mind..