December Book List: Holiday Classics

Reindeer cookie
Creative Commons License photo credit: Samdogs

Everyone seems to have one special holiday book from their childhood that stands out because of the special memories it evokes.  For me, the book is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  This book was originally written by Robert May for his employer, Montgomery Ward, to give away during the 1939 Christmas season.  The song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Johnny Marks was first recorded in 1949, and the rest is history.

Although Rudolph is on the list of holiday books posted this month, I have decided to write about a specific type of books I collect: Pop-Ups.

The earliest moveable books were created in the thirteenth century, and were for adults, not children. My interest in Pop-Ups began when I was a school librarian and read an article stating that Pop-Up books were the least expensive way to collect art.  As I thought about this, I saw these books in an entirely different light, and marveled at the paper engineering that makes these books possible.  Today’s Pop-Ups are incredibly complicated, and several names stand out: Robert Sabuda, Jan Pienkowski, Nick Bantock and David Pelham.

Three of Robert Sabuda’s Pop-Up books are on the holiday list. The Christmas Alphabet is a series of windows that open to expose the mostly white pop-ups behind each letter.  It is fun to ask a child what they think will see.  They will probably guess “angel” for A, “candle” for C and “ornament” for O, but they will never guess “friends” for F, “quartet” for Q or “zzzzzzz” (Santa sleeping) for Z.  Some of the pop-ups almost explode off the pages of the book. For example, “unwrap” for U, “snowflake” for S and “poinsettia” for P.  But, my favorite pop-up is “gift” for G.  As you open the window, you will see a small square box with ribbons appearing to be untied.  Follow the arrow on the top of the box and you will find your gift:  a kitten!

Sabuda also created the Pop-Up book The 12 Days of Christmas, a unique retelling of the Holiday classic.  All of the pages are laid out in the same way.  When you turn a page you see one pop-up that takes up ¾ of the space, then you lift a flap for the next part of the song.  Opening the book you see a very large partridge with five green pears, and when you open the flap you find two turtledoves in a fancy birdcage with a bow attached.

Sabuda uses the unexpected to keep the song fresh.  For example, the four calling birds are in a cuckoo clock that is getting ready to chime, the five gold rings adorn the antlers of a giant reindeer, the six geese a-laying are sitting on top of a piece of pie with a fork nearby, the seven swans a-swimming are in a holiday snow globe and the nine drummers drumming are tiny mice holding drumsticks.  Although it does not appear to be as complicated as some of the pop-ups, I particularly like ten pipers piping.  When you open the flap you see a chain of angels that appear to have been cut like paper dolls, and the scissors are part of the pop-up, too.  However, eleven ladies dancing may be the most complicated.  You see an open musical jewelry box, complete with a mirror on the back, and you can almost see the tiny ballerinas spinning.

The retelling of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas by Robert Sabuda is particularly striking.  The pages are laid out the same way as in The 12 Days of Christmas, and the members of the family are mice.

When you read “When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter,” you see Mr. Mouse springing into action.  His pillow has been thrown aside and he is heading for the window.  Look carefully and you will see the shade pull and the tiny town outside the window.  When you read “More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, and he whistled and shouted and called them by name” eight reindeer leap off the page at you.  They are harnessed together with a silver cord which Santa is holding, and each pair of reindeer holds their heads in a different direction.  The most elaborate pop-up is on the last page, “But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night’!”  You see the entire village complete with houses, a church, a bridge and a gazebo with Santa and the reindeer circling in the background.  When everything unfolds off the page it is always fascinating to me that all the objects fold down and the book closes.

While I was researching the list of holiday books, I thought about my favorite Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and decided to buy a new copy.  Can you imagine my surprise when I found a 1950 spiral-bound pop-up copy of Rudolph? The reindeer on the cover looked like I remember, so I bought the book immediately.  This copy is a bit worn and the simple pop-ups are simple. However, I look forward to sharing them with my grandchildren Abbie, Elizabeth and Emma, hoping that it will become a lasting memory for them, too.

May the holidays bring you and all those you love peace, joy and very special memories to last a lifetime.