Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Ben's House Without A Christmas Tree Art Project, 1995

Four short novels by Gail Rock
(screenplays by Eleanor Perry):

The House Without a Christmas Tree. I started loving this made-for-television movie back in 1972, watched it religiously for several seasons; and then it seemed to disappear. I was so happy when it reappeared in my life, first on VHS and now on DVD. What I always liked best were the transitions before each commercial when the final scene would freeze and then morph from realistic to a cut and paste bulletin board version of the same image: Dad's truck, the night kitchen, the Christmas Star. Does anyone else remember that? After the commercial break, the sequence would occur in reverse: the construction paper school building, Grandmother in the kitchen, and the Nativity Stage slowly becoming real as the action resumed. Even now, we wait for the moment of our favorite changes and try to guess which one is coming next. You'd think we'd have them memorized by now -- but maybe not if you're only watching once a year. Of course, that's part of the charm.The movies appeared first: The House Without a Christmas Tree (1972, winning an Emmy in 1973), followed by The Thanksgiving Treasure also called The Holiday Treasure (1973), The Easter Promise also called A Dream for Addie (1975), and Addie and the King of Hearts (1976). Then came the books by Gail Rock (in 1973, 1973, 1975 & 1975, respectively). I had not read any of them until a year or so ago, when I got the gift idea of giving copies of the book along with copies of the movie and felt I should read before sending.

While reading House Without a Christmas Tree, I could see the movie playing in my mind's eye and hear it in my mind's ear -- I guess if we have a "mind's eye," then we also have a "mind's ear," right? The voice-over narration that accompanies the movie and much of the dialogue comes across word for word as printed in the book. My usual pattern is to read the book first and think of the movie as a visual aid; but in this case, it's the opposite, the novel serving as script / reference work. Well, that works too.

Two short novels by Kate Douglas Wiggen:

The Birds' Christmas Carol
(1887) is another Christmas favorite from even earlier in my memory, the story of beautiful little Carol Bird, who was born on Christmas morning as the choir boys were singing "Carol joyfully . . . Carol merrily" and, sadly, dies on Christmas night ten years later, to the faint strains of "My ain countree": "A wee birdie to its nest . . . To his ain countree." How I loved hearing this book read aloud by Grandma or Mama, especially Chapter Four, when the next door neighbors, "the little Ruggleses" get ready to
attend the dinner party that Carol is hosting in their honor. Bath time, etiquette lessons, the feast, the presents -- it was all so much fun! And then came the sad ending.

Wiggen's best-known heroine, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, was a nice girl, but she never won my heart the way Carol Bird did. There are antique copies to be had, floating around on the used book market, and also a lovely reissue, illustrated exactly as the original. I have one of each, a new one from amazon and an 1892 treasure -- a gift from my mother.

I only recently discovered another Christmas story by Kate Douglas Wiggen, The Romance of a Christmas Card (1916), containing a plot about breaking into the greeting card business (something I've always wanted to do myself) and a subplot about mothers and children and childbirth. Wiggen has a lovely name for Christmas Eve, calling it " . . . the Eve of Mary, when all women are blest" ( 74). She is also amazingly astute in her description of post-partum depression, when one character advises another not to be too critical of her sister - in - law's lack of interest in her newborn twins: "Eva's not right; she's not quite responsible. There are cases where motherhood, that should be a joy, brings nothing but mental torture and perversion of instinct. Try and remember that, if it helps you any" (37). Insights such as that more than make up for any sense of datedness.

Two Special 40th Anniversary Editions
by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez:

"It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown":
The Making of a Television Classic

"A Charlie Brown Christmas":
The Making of a Tradition

If you're a fan of the Charlie Brown shows, then you need these two beautifully designed books! Each one contains an illustrated script of the entire show, fond reminiscences of the incomparable Charles M. Schulz, photographs and personal histories of the child actors chosen at the time to perform the voices of the Peanuts Gang, and other original production materials and behind - the - scenes anecdotes. I look forward to flipping through these books every year -- yes, on the right hand corner of each page is a little flipbook animation sequence! These would both make great gifts, as some members of my family are about to find out!

A few additional titles from awhile back:

The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. I have long been curious about all of his titles (e.g., Sophie's World) but this is the only one I've read so far. Gerry's mom placed it beside my bed when we went to England for Christmas 2002, so I read it to myself that year, and then the next year to Ben and Sam as a read-aloud for Advent 2003. The cover is brightly illustrated to resemble an Advent Calender, with miniature pictures of angels, castles, ships, sheep. Each chapter begins with a similar illustration, opening the door to another place and time. We followed along on a world map to track the fascinating progress of the characters, as each day they crossed another threshold, disappearing into world history. We learned so much on this intriguing journey and could hardly wait to see how the mystery would resolve itself on Christmas Eve

A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd, the text behind the BB Gun Movie of the same name. The movie is nearly true to the text, with lots of local color. A kind of an American version of A Child's Christmas in Wales, featuring Northern Indiana between the World Wars.

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. Ho hum bug. Nothing more than a lot of gift book hype. You can skip it . . . but don't skip Christmas!