November 17, 1995. Vol. II, Number 5

image Woodland Christmas.

Frances Tyrrell.
Richmond Hill, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic, 1995. 32pp, cloth, $16.99.
ISBN 0-590-24430-2.

Subject Headings:
Folk songs, English-England-Texts.
Christmas music.

Preschool - grade 4 / Ages 4 - 9.
Review by Diane Fitzgerald.


The animals in this book are:
one gray partridge,
two rock doves, three ruffled grouse,
four common loons, five river otters,
six Canada geese, seven whistling swans, eight raccoons,
nine red foxes, ten moose, eleven red squirrels
and twelve beavers.
The bird in the potted pear tree
is a California partridge,
and the courting couple are black bears.

-- the preface

bear Christmas books appear in number every year, and most fade away with the season. This one, Woodland Christmas, seems like nothing special in concept: the text is "The Twelve Days of Christmas"; the lovers of the song are anthropomorphized bears; and each day's gift is illustrated. But the animals (both those that are characters and those, like the singing birds, that are gifts) are indigenous to North American woodlands, and their costumes and habits (fur hats and tricorns; skating parties) recall 18th-century European settlements in the New World. And the illustrations also tell the story of an entire courtship and wedding over the twelve days.

The backgrounds -- lakes and chateaux set amid pine-wooded mountains -- are full of Canadian resonance. And every page has the frost and feel of winter, from the bright, snow-white first day, to the twelfth night, when the newly married bears skate in a wedding procession under a star-spread sky.


The illustrations are detailed, highly appealing, and imaginative. On the fifth day, for example, when the courting bear (who looks suspiciously like Santa Claus) gives his True Love five golden rings, we see him present them to her in a jewellery case; but on the facing page we also see five otters curling in the snowy water to form rings of gold. And the twelve drummers drumming are, of course, beavers, who use both sticks and drums and tails and water to make their music.

Younger children will enjoy spotting all of these details, and following the progression of the courtship, from the day the Santa Bear skates over carrying a potted pear tree, through meeting his True Love's family, and finally the wordless double-page spread of the wedding procession, with the bears, the family, and all of the animals from the twelve days joining in. Older children might also enjoy looking into the natural history of the animals depicted. And for any child, or parent or teacher, with a musical inclination, the book closes with the complete words and score of the carol.


The idea, and Tyrrell's illustrations, are curiously affecting; by blending the old carol with indigenous imagery, Woodland Christmas is more successful in making our part of the world seem like the natural home of the ancient holiday than anything since the "Huron Carol" (Tyrrell's illustrated version of that, by the way, like this book, was nominated for a Governor General's award). And using the carol and the animal heroes likewise lends romance to the natural and historical setting.

Holidays still have the power of mystery for young children; Woodland Christmas successfully blends that mystery with images of our own history and landscape. It should become a lasting part of a Canadian Christmas.

Highly recommended.

Diane Fitzgerald is an elementary-school teacher in Saskatoon.

Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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