Thursday, December 09, 2010

A "Movable" Christmas Feast: T'was the Night Before Christmas and The First Christmas

Clement Clark Moore's classic poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" has schooled (and made Christmas Eve insomniacs of) generations of American kids in what goes on during that long winter's night while they are supposed to be nestled all snug in their beds. The story has been reworked in august and celebrated versions such as Tomie de Paola's early American The Night Before Christmas, Jan Brett's fanciful The Night Before Christmas (Tenth Anniversary Edition),Tasha Tudor's Victorian The Night Before Christmas, James Marshall's comic Night Before Christmas (Blue Ribbon Book) and diverse others, all text-true and worthy of a family read before that propitious bedtime.

But the search for a different way to tell that story goes on, in takeoffs such as Cajun Night After Christmas (The Night Before Christmas Series) and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. and a world of other spoofs, parodies, and innovatively illustrated variations.

Jon Goodell's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Ani-Motion), (Accord Press), first issued in 2009 just before the similar "Scanimation" sensation of Seder's Gallop!: A Scanimation Picture Book and sequels, is back for a well-deserved look this season, complete with a 1950s-style Rockwellian but elfin Santa and a sweeping vision of his sleigh silhouetted before a full moon. The designers of the "Ani-Motion" windows, Jeffrey Charles Cole and Heather Bewr, provide a creative placement of their moving "windows" on almost each page, beginning with a soaring comet across the winter sky which bodes the coming of Christmastide, a chubby little saint who rubs his expansive belly at the appropriate time, and closing with a toy train which chugs cheerily around the Christmas tree as Santa surveys the results of his gift-giving and prepares to ascend the chimney. The conventional art is quite charming, and the Ani-Motion windows add a bit of interest for kids who may be just a little jaded with the familiar poem.

Another familiar story of Christmas is of course, the Biblical account of the first Christmas, one which also has been told in many versions and formats over the centuries. English illustrator Sophy Williams' new The First Christmas: A Changing-Picture Book (Templar/Candlewick Press, 2010) tells the story of the nativity in a straightforward text which smoothly combines accounts from several Gospel texts.

But the chief appeal of this version is in its well-integrated use of what Candlewick calls "Changing-Picture" design. This design technique is familiar to elementary art teachers and features two different illustrations, cut into strips, which reassemble themselves into two complete pictures when pulled across the other. The cover features a die-cut circular opening which when closed shows the manger scene with Mary and lambs; when opened the illustration transforms to a golden-lit illustration of the Three Kings on their camels, guided by the star. Inside the book the illustrations can be changed by lifting a die-cut, shaped flap on right-hand pages, such as the street scene in Bethlehem which transforms to the scene of the Annunciation. Another shows the shepherds in the fields with their flocks, which then transforms to the door of the stable, with one little shepherd worshipfully offering his lamb to the Child. All illustrations are done in jewel-like colors, illuminated by golden heavenly light.

Both of these innovatively-designed books offer youngsters a chance to interact with the stories on their own, making them not just suitable for a Christmas Eve readalong but inspiring youngsters to read or look at the pictures as they manipulate the illustrations for themselves. Both provide a creative way to introduce these memorable and beloved texts in a novel medium suitable for a wide range of ages.

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