CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 21. . . .February 6, 2015
A Moose Goes a-Mummering.
Lisa Dalrymple. Illustrated by David Sturge.
St. John’s, NL: Tuckamore Books/Creative Book Publishing, 2014.
32 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.
Review by Beth Maddigan.
Knock, Knock, Knock.
“Any mummers ‘llowed in?” they all shouted.
“It’s open!” called a voice from the kitchen.
Chris held his breath. Would they know it was him?
The hares’ whiskers twitched.
“On the second day of Christmas, we all see who you be.
Two geese in gloves,
And you’re Chris Moose in a spruce tree.”
The traditional carol The Twelve Days of Christmas has been reinterpreted, spoofed, and parodied many times for adults and children. In A Moose Goes a-Mummering, the reinvented song is used to tell Chris Moose’s tale of wanting to be a stellar mummer – disguised so well that no one knows who he is. No easy feat for an animal as large and distinguished as a moose.
Mummering is a Christmas tradition in Newfoundland & Labrador. While it has taken many forms depending on the region in which it is practiced, the most commonly celebrated version sees disguised community members travelling to their neighbours’ houses and asking to be invited in. As everyone tries to guess who is under the camouflaged folks’ borrowed clothes, canvas bags, and other improvised bits of costume, the mummers dance and sing, creating a party wherever they travel. By the late twentieth century, mummering had all but faded into memory in most larger communities in the province, but it has been increasingly honoured in the last decade through art, song, and celebration.
The re-invention of The Twelve Days of Christmas in this book is witty and easily follows the metre and rhyme of the traditional song. The stage is set by the main character, Chris, who believes he finally has a costume that will conceal his identity – a spruce tree. He quickly learns, however, that his costume will need some additions to be a truly great disguise. Each house he visits has a family of animals that discover his identity but who are willing to assist with his concealment and join him on his mummering journey the following day. These animals build the cast of 12 needed for the song and prove themselves worthy mummers in their own right.
The cartoon-style illustrations in this book are fun and add to the text as readers will be eager to turn the page and see what happens to the cast of mummers as the next group of animals joins in and travels on to visit a new neighbour. The illustrator has interpreted the text appropriately and added many details readers will enjoy, such as animals peeking through windows and costumes fitted over wings and tails. There is, however, a lack of detail in the facial expressions of some of the animals, and this reader believes it detracts somewhat from the merits of the story.
The interwoven, reinterpreted Christmas carol is one of the strongest aspects of this text. The editorial decision to capitalize the ducklings’ role in the song, however, tends to be a distraction. Adults attempting to sing the revised tale aloud to a group of children may appreciate the cue, but individual readers, singers, and children are likely to misinterpret the emphasis which common convention now sees as an increase in volume (i.e. shouty caps) as opposed to an elongation of the phrase to mimic the song (“five golden rings” become “five COLD DUCKLINGS”). The emphasis is unnecessary because the text flows very well into the rhythm of the song. However, this is a minor issue, and after multiple readings the emphasis becomes less of a distraction.
While there is no lack of picture books for libraries and schools to select and highlight in celebration of the season, this book stands above many of its contemporaries. It is well-suited to read aloud to a group, or share one-on-one. While there is a significant amount of text, the repetition and involvement through song and story will keep young children engaged and older children delighted. The book highlights a tradition that has seen a resurgence in popularity in its home province and will hopefully bring the tradition to a new group of readers across the country in a whimsical, melodic way.
Beth Maddigan is Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Education Librarian.
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