Or, strictly speaking, Father Christmas.
In last year’s festive Word Wednesday I included a host of books to cheer the soul (and in one case, break the heart). This year, I want to focus on a book that has defined our festive reading in 2018 and an author that may well define our festive reading forever more.
The Night Before the Night Before Christmas.
There has always been a child-like glee about the concept of “Christmas Eve, Eve” and now the 23rd of December has the book it deserves. The Night Before the Night Before Christmas is a glorious mash-up of the classic Twas the Night Before Christmas and Dr. Seuss’ own riff on it, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The three books share the same cadence and rhyming pattern and make excellent reading companions. (I recently read The Night Before the Night Before Christmas and The Night Before Christmas, back to back, at my children’s school and my listeners were mesmerized.)
The words of TNBtNBC, by Kes Gray, are backed up by lovely illustrations from Claire Powell. Like many of the best children’s picture books, it’s the perfect marriage of concept, read-out-loudability, and engaging artwork. The author has also worked in a central mystery to keep you guessing all the way through. What has Nicholas forgotten? Strangely, the answer to this riddle poses yet more questions, so do prepare for some slightly outraged interrogation before you turn the lights out for sleep.
There’s nothing not to like about TNBtNBC. It’s the story of Santa and his elves frantically getting everything ready for the big night. It marries the traditional view of Santa (provider of popguns and sugar-plums) with more modern realities “Toys had been tested, batteries loaded. Instruments tuned, computer games coded.”
Funny and entertaining, The Night Before the Night Before Christmas is original and fresh, whilst respecting the traditions and mythology of the festive season. It even finds space to play a couple of wonderful homages to the original 1823 text. This is a book that has the power to be a perennial Christmas favorite, no matter how old your children.
You can pick up a copy of The Night Before the Night Before Christmas, here in the US and here, in the UK.
Matt Haig and Father Christmas.
Already a tradition in our house are the Father Christmas books from Matt Haig. I’ve been a Haig fan ever since 2013’s The Humans, which I rate as one of the finest reading experiences I’ve ever had. Thus far, Haig has written four Christmas Books: A Boy Called Christmas, The Girls Who Saved Christmas, Father Christmas and Me, and this year’s The Truth Pixie. All are marvelous, though The Truth Pixie is different to the other three (and technically, not Christmassy).
Haig’s Father Christmas trilogy is pitch perfect. Much like The Night Before, the Night Before Christmas, the strength of the books is that they uphold the traditional Father Christmas mythology whilst updating it, and keeping it relevant. There are so many explanations for those little, in-the-face-of-it-absurd, traditions that many of us have.
The books have a great depth of feeling to them. In his adult books, Haig lays bare the human condition. and in the Christmas books, he gently repeats this feat. These are books for the underdog, books for those with a sense of wonder, books for those who want to achieve the impossible. (“Impossible” is an elvish swear word.) The books are funny and filled with magic. It’s impossible not to be cheered reading them, particularly, out loud to captivated children.
If you follow Haig on Twitter you’ll know he’s a man filled with compassion and empathy. His ideals shine through in the Christmas books. One particularly strong theme across the books (certainly, 2 & 3) is media bias. This has led to fascinating discussions with my son about the impartiality (or otherwise) of the press, and the importance of a free media. Considering much of the book also concerns chocolate coins and flying reindeer, this is no mean feat.
Haig is a well-known advocate for mental health and he often stresses the importance of looking after one’s own well-being, the perniciousness of anxiety, and the struggle of feeling alone. These themes permeate these books, though again, in a gentle manner. The plight of Amelia in TGWSC and FC&M, should give comfort to any child who feels uncomfortable in their own skin or is struggling to work out where they fit in the world.
The Whole Truth…
Finding one’s place forms the core of Haig’s latest book. The Truth Pixie is a short, small format hardback and a poem. Beautifully illustrated by Chris Mould, this is a long picture book (118 pages) but it can be read in one sitting. To be honest, it almost has to be consumed all at once. There are few obvious places to take a break, and once you’ve started, you want to know how things are going to end.
The Truth Pixie is a key character in all of Haig’s Christmas books and it’s great to see her get a book to herself. Across the books, Haig uses the Truth Pixie to examine the nature of the truth. Why lying, though universally considered to be a bad thing, is something we all have to do, if we’re not going to spend the whole time offending people. The Truth Pixie is sad and alone because nobody wants to hear the truth all of the time.
Which is how we find her at the start of The Truth Pixie. What follows is a fable about the nature of truth and the importance of acknowledging that life isn’t always rosy. The Truth Pixe then goes on to narrate how life has darkness and light, rough and smooth, and how the lows help you appreciate not only the ups but also the middle humdrum bits too.
“Don’t forget who you are. You are a fighter. As the dark in the sky makes the stars shine brighter. You will find the bad stuff has good bits too. The bad days are the days that make you you”
The whole of the latter half of the book is quotable, and provides comfort for anybody reading, young and old, that even when things are bad, better times will come. Whilst not strictly a Christmas book, The Truth Pixie is an excellent read to give comfort over the season. A season that can be joyous, but can also be painful, for a host of reasons. Books like the Truth Pixie are lodestones to hold onto, to guide us towards happier times.
Whilst researching these books I discovered that early next year, Haig is collaborating on an album with Andy Burrows – called Reasons to Stay Alive (Another of Haig’s books, I reviewed here). Coincidentally, (perhaps) Burrows also sang one of my family’s favorite Christmas songs – “Light the Night” from The Snowman and the Snow Dog.
On that note, I’ll leave you for 2018. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my Word Wednesday column, during the year, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Hopefully, you’ve discovered some interesting books along the way.
The column will start up again in January but until then, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year and, however you’re celebrating over the holiday season, I hope you have a wonderful time.