Wednesday, December 14, 2011

St. Nick Rides Again: The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Charles Santore


Many, many editions of Clement Clark Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" have come and gone over the nearly two centuries since it was first published in 1823 as a newspaper article. Some editions have come to stay, and as the picture book has flourished as an artistic medium over the past 50 years, many significant artists of this genre have found its charming setting and verse irresistible.

Now comes Charles Santore, noted illustrator of children's classic stories, to take Santa for a splendid ride on yet another night before Christmas.

Santore keeps the classic old-fashioned setting, a fine, traditional house with beautiful furnishings and lovely traditional Yuletide decorations just begging for rich artistic detail. Santore makes full use of the picture-book possibilities inherent in Moore's beloved text, the necessary mouse watching and waiting for his chance for a holiday feast, chubby children in their snug beds, a waking father startled awake to throw open the window to a stunning winter landscape shown in a four-page gatefold, the snow-covered lawn, with prowling foxes, the bare trees and white-decked evergreens, Santa's sleigh just silhouetted against the requisite full moon, while his team of tiny reindeer appear large in the foreground.

Santore continues to make fine use of amplified perspective throughout, with long views and closeups of Santa, including that fetching wink that means all's well to the watching Papa as he prepares to ascend the chimney (presciently unlit in obvious expectation of its use as ingress to those waiting, hand-knit stockings.)

Santore's illustrations are perfectly matched to the beloved verse, right down to the nice use of the sleepy cat, not a new element in such illustrations, but done nicely here, making The Night Before Christmas (Cider Mill/Applesauce Press, 2011) a welcome entry into the field of famous illustrators who have made that midnight ride with St. Nick earlier. Publishers Weekly gives this edition a thumbs-up with its coveted starred review, saying, "It’s a gorgeous interpretation of a beloved holiday classic."

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