I can’t let the holiday season slide by without featuring some illustrations from at least one holiday title, and this year it’s Steve Light’s The Christmas Giant (Candlewick, September 2010), which endears itself to me more and more with each reading. And I suppose now is the time to feature this, if one celebrates Christmas. This is the last Sunday before Christmas, which gobsmacks me. Can gobsmack be a verb? I doubt it, but let’s just pretend it can be, okay?
This title is infused with a real joy and a sweet charm. It’s the story of a giant and an elf, two very good friends, who live in the North Pole. You may be scratching your head, but child readers will just run with this. A monstrously tall, bearded giant with hairy knuckles? A wee, hooded, funny-looking elf who fits into the giant’s palm? Best buds? Santa’s helpers? Sure thing. Onwards and upwards then… Makes all the sense in the world to children, don’t you know. Light knows this and simply forges ahead.
The giant, Humphrey, and the elf, Leetree, are responsible for making the wrapping paper for Santa’s gifts. Light demonstrates the duo’s love for this task with funny, little details child readers will hoot over (one of the book’s biggest charms being that he never rushes things and it’s never too cluttered in both narration or composition), all rendered via pen and ink and pastels. Problem is, once they finish this chore every year, they’re seriously bummed out. But they cheer up this year, ’cause Santa gives them a special assignment: to grow the holiday tree for Christmastown. They’re overjoyed and grow the tree with great care and devotion. Finally, the tree is ready and they set off:
But, after stopping to rest and getting a bit of shut-eye, things go haywire, and our clever duo have to come up with a plan to salvage the holiday celebration. I won’t give away the ending, though…well, the last spread kinda does that on its own:
Yup, wrapping paper! These guys have got it covered (in more ways than one), thanks very much.
But what you have to see for yourself are all the illustrations between their brainstorming session and the final product above, ’cause—again—Light fills them with funny moments, not to mention the friendship between Humphrey and Leetree is very convincing and pulls you right in. There’s a warmth to these stylized illustrations. “Muted colors and swirly lines evoke old-fashioned folk art while retaining a fresh cartoon whimsy,” wrote the School Library Journal review. Both art and text employ a certain economy of expression, bringing us characters sweet, genuine, and quirky — but Light is never too ABC After School Special about it.
Publishers Weekly called this “a refreshingly original addition to the Christmas canon.” I’d have to agree. After a while, holiday titles all start to look the same (I know this, as I did holiday-review rounds-up here at 7-Imp in the past but gave it up, as many of the titles were blurring in my vision), but this one stands out.
THE CHRISTMAS GIANT. Copyright © 2010 Stephen Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
As a reminder, 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.
First of all, it’s about time. Someone go and get Obama a pen already.
1). Okay. So. I could probably just list this kick right here and stop (but I won’t), because I love this. There’s this wonderful singer/songwriter/musician named Nicole Atkins, who has this song called “The Way It Is” (I’ve rambled about it here before at 7-Imp), and she is, as I described her before, very much Dusty-Springfield-meets-Morrisey-and-then-they-stumble-into-Roy-Orbison-in-a-bar-and-then-have-a-gin-and-tonic-with-Edith-Piaf. Or “pop noir,” as her music been described before. She has this powerhouse of a voice but knows how to keep it subtle, too. Anyway, so Seth Avett of the wonderful Avett Brothers does this cover here of “The Way It Is.” He pares it down to piano only, altogether different than Nicole’s performance — and beautiful. I guess it’s not for everyone, but I particularly ♥ this song, and he makes it sound, I dunno, like a standard. (I think this is from a couple of years ago; I’m slow sometimes.) Admittedly, he starts off a bit wobbly, but you gotta stick with him.
The only thing better than this performance is THAT BEARD. Or maybe how he has strung his piano with lights.
2). My nearly-seven-year-old daughter told me this week that she loves me more than she loves doughnuts. Seeing as how her allegiance to doughnuts is steadfast and immeasurable, I think I should feel flattered. And grateful.
Here she is, hiding behind an ornament. I try not to bore you all with kid-pics, but anyway.
3). This made me laugh super hard. Thanks, Jill.
4). Sam Phillips was on World Cafe this week, and she performed “Lever Pulled Down,” my favorite song from this year and a mighty splendid song all-around. In fact, if you scroll down to album #1 in this post, you can hear the song for free.
5). I enjoyed this from author/illustrator Elisha Cooper and not only because the notion of a coffee shop tour seems flat-out brilliant to me.
6). The end of A Tale Dark & Grimm: “There is a wisdom in children, a kind of knowing, a kind of believing, that we, as adults, do not have. There is a time when a kingdom needs its children…”
7). After grabbing the nearest book to read to my girls, which happened to be a collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, I ended up reading “The Little Match Girl” to them. Christmas story, I thought. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Then I remembered that I had the (very) short and little-known animated film below on DVD (from Disney and Pixar). So, I showed them that, too. (It’s well-done, the music from Alexander Borodin is beautiful, and there’s absolutely no jibber-jabber-Disney-princess-dialogue whatsoever. In fact, there’s no dialogue at all.)
When the little movie ended, the five-year-old turned and gave me Angry Face — and with tears in her eyes. Lordy. Score one for mama. Having just finished reading the very intense, no-holds-barred A Tale Dark & Grimm to them, I swear I’ve already taken care of their therapy sessions FOR LIFE. Our next read really has to be something light and fluffy. Bubble gum and gossamer, I tell you.
(I enjoyed “The Little Match Girl” immensely as a child, so that should have been a clue to me. I was WEIRD. I liked stories that ended in tragedy and left you feeling rather heartworn, such as this or this. Dude. I gotta remember that my girls might actually be normal.)
This is not really a kick, is it? Ah well, the short film is. It’s lovely.
BONUS: My friends who are there for me when the notion of writing a book makes me want to hide my head under the bedcovers. Literally. Special thanks to Jessica, who really understands this feeling, and patiently listened to me after I pulled myself out from under said covers.
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. What about you?
P.S. I doubt anyone remembers this tiny kick from a couple weeks ago—Delta Spirit’s song, “Flood”—but if you want to hear it, it’s available right now as a free download. It’s a gorgeous song and So Much Awesome, so take advantage of it here if you want some great, new tune-age. (I don’t know how long it will be there as a free download. No, I don’t work for them, but I’d sweep the floor of the Waits Room for free, if I could hear them play live.)
Oh! And happy holidays to all…To those of us who celebrate Christmas, it’s just around the corner, isn’t it? Seriously, I love you people. You kickers. You make me want to get up every Sunday morning.