CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 5 . . . .October 27, 2006
Christmas Eve Magic.
Lucie Papineau. Illustrated by Stéphane Poulin.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2006.
32 pp., cloth, $18.95.
Christmas stories. Canadian (English).
Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 3-7.
Review by Alicia Jinkerson.
Long ago and far away, there was a small town where, one Christmas Eve, magic spread its wings, warming to hearts of everyone who lived there.
"Tra-la-la," sang the twirling snowflakes.
"Ding-a-ling," tinkled the dancing bells.
"Mmmm, yum!" exclaimed the children in front of the pastry shop window.
Indeed, the spirit of Christmas shone brightly in the eyes of all the children - all except one.
This picture book offers a greatly simplified rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol utilizing a cast of animals living as humans. Scrooge is represented by an orphan pig named Barton. Barton detests Christmas and spends a great deal of time jealously guarding his toys and rebuffing the attempts of his servants to bring joy into the cold dark mansion. On Christmas Eve, a mouse visits his bed, and, at the stroke of midnight, he finds himself shrinking to the same size as the mouse.
Barton is then shown Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. The transitions between these scenes are roughly hewn, jumping from scene to scene with each turn of the page and little warning. The only window Barton has into the lives of others is when the mouse shows him a group of orphans celebrating Christmas the best they can. Later he sees one of them ill, lying in the arms of the others. When Barton awakes, he leaps out of bed, directs the servants to decorate the mansion and rushes out the door. On the next page, the orphans and servants are portrayed celebrating at the mansion, and he declares everyone to be his "friends forever."
This picture book simplifies the tale of A Christmas Carol to such an extent that much of the beauty of the tale with the elements of empathy and community are lost. For example, the above excerpt taken from the opening page is really quite a delightful opening with the singing snowflakes. However, the tale quickly descends into the mercenary as we find Christmas to only be explained in terms of pastries and toys. If that is the spirit of Christmas, why does Barton need to join in? One character complains: "He could have shared his food with us," added a little girl. "Or his toys. He won't play with anyone. He never shares with anybody." True, Barton does learn about sharing, but even that concept is flawed as we observe him sharing a meal with his new friends, rather than giving away his toys.
The illustrations, oil on canvas, are the one redeeming feature of this picture book. The illustrator has utilized rich colours to alternately reflect a cold environment or a warm cozy hearth scene as each page generally utilizes a central colour or tone. The illustrations have great depth and offer a traditional old English backdrop for this tale. My only reservation about the illustrations are the beady black eyes that all the animals possess. The beady black dots as eyes offer a vacant look,
particularly in the case of Barton the pig.
Another rendition of A Christmas Carol is always welcome over the holidays, and if you can handle the watered down message, this simple tale with lovely illustrations is still an enjoyable read.
Alicia Jinkerson is a children's librarian and former elementary school teacher in Vancouver, BC.
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