Friday, December 10, 2010

11. Clement C. Moore's Classic Retold

The Night Before Christmas, performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, written by Clement C. Moore, paintings by Eric Puybaret, Peter Yarrow Books, $19.95, ages 4-8, 26 pages. Enchanting to look at and joyous to listen to, this stunning remake of Moore's classic poem brings together the magical art of Puybaret and the stirring voice of the late Mary Travers, reading the poem aloud on CD. Performed at Travers's house just before her death in 2009, the reading is the singer's last recording and is sure to leave you tingly inside. As the lead singer of the 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, Mary got the nickname, "One take Mary," and befitting that, the trio agreed that her first run-through was her best, and chose that one for the CD. In this wondrous adaptation, Santa is an elegant, bell-shaped fellow with a long tapering hat that flows behind him like a wisp of smoke and his reindeer are dashingly draped in green cloaks with top-hats balanced on their heads. Scenes have a clean, bright Scandinavian feel, and sparkle with spare, whimsical details that hint at the magic unfolding.

Round little faces with top hats peak out from vases on a mantel and the arm posts of a couch look like wintery dolls, with smiling fir-lined faces and green coats with pearl buttons. On a nightstand beside the children nestled in their beds, a toy fisherman with wire arms and a banana shaped body happily slumps against a lighthouse dangling stars. Though it's deep into night, the house glows. Stardust and candies sparkle and float above the sleeping children, starlight pours through big windows around the living room and warm lights suggestive of candles give every page a cozy feel. There is magic in the air and as Santa carries over his brown sack to the tree, you'll feel the anticipation building. On the next spread, every toy is lovingly arranged and looks like it was crafted by hand from the richest materials, wool felt, wood and angora-like yarn. A marionette in bright pink pantaloons and a silky, yellow ascot dangles from fine string and below him an elephant looking as soft as cashmere sports a whimsical green circle around his eye that matches the pattern on his jumper. Every page is so magical, you almost expect magic dust to float off the page and spritz you in the face. Just a delight, this is a book to buy in twos, one to give and one to keep. (One of the best surprises in the book comes at the end in a note written by Peter and Paul about Mary's recording: "With a habitual loss of her hair and a smile of delight, though without her long golden locks that had become so famous, she began reading to an imaginary child seated before her," they write. "She whispered, as if telling the child a secret or intimating that it was almost bedtime. When she finished, we were breathless…" ) Preceding Mary's reading on the CD is a whimsical rendition of the poem sung by Paul, and following it, a recording of "A'Soalin" by the trio. 

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