Thursday, December 8, 2011

6. Christmas Eve at the Mellops'

Written & illustrated by Tomi Ungerer
Phaidon Press, 2011
$12.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages

Four little pigs brighten the rooms of a cold, dilapidated house with the spirit of Christmas, in this charming reissue of a German classic.

When each of the Mellops brothers surprises their papa with a Christmas tree, they find they've all had the same idea and they burst into tears. Oh no, "what a to-do."

Four trees are just too many. And it wouldn't be fair to pick one brother's tree over another, so Mr. Mellops suggests that the boys look for people in need to give them to.
The problem is everyone they ask already has a tree -- at the orphanage, hospital, prison and military barracks.

Poor Casimir, Isidor, Felix and Ferdinand, they really want to help someone and as the lug their trees back home, their ears wilt with disappointment.

But just as these well-meaning fellows resign to throw away their trees, they see a girl pig quietly sobbing on the sidewalk. Could this be the person they've been looking for?

The girl pig explains that she lives with her ailing grandma, then leads them back to her rickety house.

The mood inside is forlorn. Her grandma lays in bed: her eyes, dark scribbles, her hooves, dangling over the edge of the bed frame. Plaster has peeled off walls exposing brick and a mouse scrambles across a chipped floor board.

In other rooms of the same house, the brothers find an old soldier shivering in a wheelchair next to an empty wood stove, two scared children huddled in a corner, and an old pig grimacing by a photograph of a woman who's no longer with him.

All at once, the boys' heads flood with ideas to cheer up the lodgers in the house. Every room will have a tree, they shout. Then they dash home to gather things sorely needed in each of the four rooms.

Isidor pulls clothes and blankets out of their armoir, Felix hammers open their "people" banks to buy gifts and medicine, Casimir chops wood to heat the rooms and Ferdinand fills a wheelbarrow with food.

Soon the house is happy and warm, and every tree is just where it's needed, cheering at a bedside and brightening rooms. And the Mellops boys? Well they're hearts are filled to brimming, and as they leave, they gleefully skip home arm-in-arm.

And just in time. For their mom and day have a few surprises of their own: an armful of gifts and a family tree decorated with all the things the boys love: pig angels, pretzels, candles and even marzipan sausages for the dog.

First published in 1978, this is one of those books that's so sweet and earnest, it make you go all melty inside.

The four little pigs are so eager to help and try as they might, they can't quite find a way to do so. Then just when they're about to give up, they stumble upon just the right spot to let loose their goodwill.

Tomi Ungerer, tagged "an archivist of human absurdity," is one of the world's most acclaimed author-illustrators.

Among his classics, The Three Robbers, Adelaide, Otto and Moon Man, all recently reissued by Phaidon. For more books in the Mellops series, click here!

No comments:

Post a Comment