________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 9 . . . . December 22, 2006


The Huron Carol. 

Jean de Brébeuf. Illustrated by Frances Tyrrell.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 1990/2006.
32 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 1-55263-802-2.
Subject Headings:
Carols, English-Juvenile literature.
Carols, Huron-Juvenile literature.
Christmas music-Juvenile literature.
Grades 1-7 / Ages 6-12.
Review by Marilynne V. Black.
***½ /4 


Woodland Nutcracker. 

Avril Tyrrell, reteller. Illustrated by Frances Tyrrell.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 1999/2006.
32 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 1-55263-804-9.
Grades 1-7 / Ages 6-12.
Review by Marilynne V. Black.
***½ /4

Two Christmas favorites, illustrated by award winning Frances Tyrrell, The Huron Carol and Woodland Nutcracker, have been re-issued as picture book paperbacks. Each can be used as a read-aloud with younger children or as a self-read for older students. In addition, each can be extended by comparison with other versions, such as Ian Wallace's newly published The Huron Carol (Anansi Press, 2006), or, in the case of The Nutcracker, by listening to the music.  


'Twas in the moon of wintertime

when all the birds had fled, 

That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light 

the stars grew dim
And wond'ring hunters
Heard the hymn: 

"Jesus your King is born
In excelsis Gloria!"
Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped His beauty 'round (From
The Huron Carol.) 


internal art

     In 1643, Father Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary, retells the story of the Nativity for the Huron nation. First written in the Huron language, and later translated into French then English, The Huron Carol has become a Christmas classic. The eloquent text and dynamic illustrations capture the Huron culture. Each double-spread features sparse text on the left surrounded by a thin golden border and ample white space. A variety of native, as well as winter icons, are scattered throughout. For instance, snow flakes, constellations in the form of native animals, slabs of birch bark, and angels in native costumes add impact. On the right hand side, an arched "window" shows Huron lodges, hunters on snowshoes, and three chiefs from different tribes coming to pay tribute to the infant and bearing gifts of fox and beaver pelts. Rich hues of brown accentuate the pictures while the detailed borders display more native motifs in icy blue and white that extend the magical wintry tone.  The lyrics and score are appended as is a page-long account of Father de Brebeuf's ministry to the Hurons.

     In the Woodland Nutcracker, Avrill Tyrrell retells the story of the Nutcracker ballet based on E.T.A. Hoffman's original.


    Late that night, everyone except Clara was asleep."Perhaps Nutcracker can't sleep," she thought. "I'll bring him up here with me."

    She slipped out of bed, crept downstairs, and stopped in amazement at the living-room door. The moonlit room was invaded by field mice. Some scampered across the supper table, filling little sacks with left-over food.

    Others, armed with axes and bows and arrows, stood guard upon the floor.

    The tin soldiers, led by Nutcracker, marched toward them. This would be a fierce battle. The tiny weapons were needle sharp.

    In her little bare paws, Clara stepped bravely between the two armies.

    "Truce," she cried, waving a white table napkin, "no one fights on Christmas Eve. The mice are hungry, the food is for their children." (From Woodland Nutcracker.)


     Thus begins the story of bear cub, Clara, and her journey as "guest of honor at the palace of the great bear, Ursa Major." 

internal art

     At the ice palace, she is entertained by Yuk Tuk, the Olympian polar bear presenting her ribbon routine, a mice and squirrel marching band, Mother Grizzly and her hockey team in maple leaf decorated sweaters, as well as juggling pandas, and koala trapeze artists.

     The text is beautifully complemented by Frances Tyrrell's magical illustrations. As with The Huron Carol, the text on the left with small vignettes is balanced by the full-page illustration on the right. Using the same motif, an arched window insert surrounded by intricate borders, the pictures are wonderfully detailed with woodland animals such as hares, skunks, mice, and owls, as well as holiday motifs such as plates of Christmas treats, snow globes, fans, lanterns, and wreaths. Vibrant hues in the insert depict the bear family in period costumes, the hot air balloon ride through the aurora borealis, and the icy palace. One can almost hear the tinkling of icicles and the strains of Tchaikovsky's enduring music. 

Highly Recommended.

Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary school librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia in the spring of 2005. 

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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