New Holiday Titles, Act Two:
Oh Come, All Ye Burnt-Out

h1 December 16th, 2006 by jules

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Merry Un-Christmas written by Mike Reiss and illustrated by David Catrow; published by HarperCollins Publishers (September ’06)

Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation by Linas Alsenas; published by Scholastic (October ’06)

Here are two refreshingly funny ’06 picture book titles for anyone who has ever experienced a tad bit of ennui and/or felt a bit burnt-out with the bustling-about of the holiday season. These are two immensely enjoyable books. So, put aside your rum-laden eggnog for a moment, and read ahead. Only the most serious of scrooges won’t enjoy these . . .

Mike Reiss used to be a head writer for The Simpsons. And just like those brilliant Simpsons writers can give us some wicked-sharp cultural commentary in the form of our favorite animated family, in this title Reiss provides a biting commentary on the craziness of Christmas while, at the same time, entertaining children. It’s wonderfully left-of-center, this one . . .

In Reiss’ world, it’s Christmas morning, and Noelle is terribly bored by the motherload of presents she sees under the tree; yes, she got a bike, a pony, and much more, but she’s already got many bikes, a slew of other ponies. She and her father are unmoved by the extravagant Christmas dinner — “turkey with chestnut dressing and mashed potatoes and carrots and peas and five kinds of pie.” Not again? they moan in between yawns. It’s just another boring day, for Noelle lives in Christmas City in the state of Texmas. “It’s the one place in the world where it’s Christmas 364 days a year.” But, fear not, Un-Christmas Day is fast approaching (August 16, for those of you eager to mark your calendars). Everyone in Christmas City loves this day: they undecorate the tree, remove wreaths from front doors, and enjoy the sheer absence of any holiday t.v. specials. Noelle even gets to go to school (“{s}ince schools are closed for Christmas, Noelle’s school was open only one day a year: Un-Christmas Day”)! What a treat for the children! And the best of all the Un-Christmas Day treats? The family eats t.v. dinners. Woo hoo! To top it all off, the Mayor of Christmas City throws one giant switch, and bam! all the Christmas lights are extinguished, and it’s now dark enough to see actual stars twinkling in the actual sky.

As she drifts off to sleep at the book’s end, Noelle tells her mother that she wishes every day of the year could be Un-Christmas Day. “Oh, I bet you’d get tired of it after a while,” her mother tells her.

How clever is this book? Works beautifully on many levels, doesn’t it? Reiss turns the holiday on its head to take a look at our often-ridiculous seasonal excesses, making this one a kick for the parent reading it to his/her child. And for the child? Well, it’s great fun. Remember playing Opposite Day as children (you know, when you told your pesky older brothers that you loved them so much after they told you that you were soooooooooo pretty)? This one’s kinda like that — not to mention it’s a ‘lil thought-provoker for those children who think they just can’t get enough of Christmas.

And Catrow’s wonderfully droll cartoon illustrations delight, as always. Providing lots of details and humor for readers of all ages, he makes this one to pore over. Place your tongue firmly in your cheek, as Reiss and Catrow have done with this merry title, and wish yourself a Happy Un-Christmas.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Linas Alsenas (Fuse, if you’re reading, can you start a Punkin’ Head of Children’s Literature Series? And I say that respectfully; just look at that smile. And he even worked with Sendak, according to that bio. But then, I already knew this, since Maurice told me over coffee the other day. Ahem, it’s Christmas; I can make holiday wishes, okay?). As I was saying, Linas Alsenas brings us the slightly burnt-out Mrs. Claus. She has never — I repeat, never — taken a vacation and is determined to this year. She’s particularly tired of all the snow and figures it’s her turn to see the world; why should her husband get to do it alone every year? So, she hits the road, promising to be home before Christmas Eve. Aw, snap snap. Work it out, girl. Off she goes with a big smile to the beach, complete with a romance novel and fashion magazines at her side. “She’ll get sunburned!” poor Santa worries back at home. Off she goes to locale after locale, making new friends. “I’ll bet she’s terribly lonely!” Santa says. Santa bakes gingerbread cookies alone, hangs decorations alone, and hangs the ornaments on the tree, while Mrs. Claus takes in the sights of the Taj Mahal (on one particularly lovely double page spread). Before she knows it, though, she’s missing the wreaths and snowmen and mistletoe. She really misses poor Santa, who at this point is lookin’ pretty pathetic and awfully lonely.

There’s a lot of humor here (as in this illustration of the roller-blading Mrs. Claus who starts hankerin’ for Christmas trees in the midst of her world tour). Alsenas’ expressive acrylic illustrations are funny in just the right spots (a rascally older man trying to kiss her under the mistletoe as she’s just begun realizing how much she misses home) and sweet — and even innocently romantic — in just the right spots, too, such as in the very end (which, of course, I won’t spoil for you. So there).

Off to consume some eggnog myself. Until next time . . .

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4 comments to “New Holiday Titles, Act Two:
Oh Come, All Ye Burnt-Out”

  1. These look great, J. I’ll have to find ‘em and see if I can bolster my own Christmas Spirit – with temps in the 50s for the past couple of weeks I am really struggling this year. What is up? Isn’t this New England?


  2. Punkin’-headed, eh? I’ll see what I can do. I was gonna do a Turnip-headed Men of Children’s Literature next week, but maybe I can change veggies mid-stream.


  3. he’s a punkin’-head and a puddin’-head, too.


  4. He is pretty adorable. But I can think of some Turnip-headed MOCLs too…


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