03 December 2018

Christmas Reading Has Commenced!

Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky
(I've done many reviews of this book, which I adore: here's a good one:)
This is my favorite of all the "Dear America" books I have read, because the characters seem so real to me, possibly because Lasky based them on her mother and aunts and uncle, and on the real house her grandparents lived in.

The Swift family is facing a grim Christmas. The Depression deepens weekly and Sam Swift is in danger of losing his job. The book's narrator, eleven-year-old Minnie, who idolizes Amelia Earhart, thinks that instead being of the time of plenty Christmas always is, the Christmas of 1933 will be a season of dwindling, with the family continually needing to close down rooms of their home to save on the coal bill and eating an endless succession of au gratin main courses and aspics to cover the fact that they can barely afford meat for the table.

The book opens with the arrival of a telegram that will change their lives: their orphan cousin Willie Faye Darling is being sent to them via train from a little town in Texas. Even though she is another mouth to feed and body to clothe, Sam and Belle Swift welcome Willie Faye into the family. Minnie finds her extraordinary: she's never seen a movie, doesn't know who Buck Rogers is, and owns only two pairs of underwear and a cat, which she explains to the astounded Swift family, that she had to suck the dust out if its nostrils three times a day to keep it from smothering in the Dust Bowl conditions of her home town. Willie Faye knows so little, Minnie thinks, that she will have a lot to learn from the Swifts. She doesn't realize that the family will learn some precious truths from this undersized refugee as the two girls cope with making Christmas gifts when they have no money, dealing with a tragedy that happens to a classmate, and finally facing a startling event in their own home.

I think this is a magical book. It reminds me of some of the stories my mom told about the Depression, and I love some of the offbeat characters, like Minnie's older sister Lady, a creative rebel who can work magic with fashions, and her nine-year-old genius brother Ozzie, who builds radio sets and helps his older sisters with their science homework. The only thing that mars the book is a bit of a fairy-tale epilogue. A worthy tale to add to any Christmas library.

Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special, Darrell Van Citters
Remember the first animated Christmas special ever made for television? Nope, it wasn't A Charlie Brown Christmas, or even the stop-motion animation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was, in fact, the 1962 Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, which was scored by two Broadway veteran songwriters, and adapted directly from Dickens' tale, with a delightful framing sequence that has the nearsighted Magoo as an egotistical actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge in a Broadway play (with a great song about Broadway to boot). This book is all about the making of that special, and it's a delight as well, telling how the idea of the special came about, how it was made almost "in tandem" with UPA's theatrical release Gay Purr-ee, and of the changes that were made to the story to fit it into a 52-minute timeslot. So if you've ever wondered if the scenes with Scrooge's nephew Fred, with Ignorance and Want, and with Belle and her husband were ever included in the original teleplay, you'll find out here. (The one mystery about the story that everyone asks about, why the Spirit of Christmas Present came first, is sadly not solved; in the original script the ghosts were in the proper order—however, as Van Citters notes, it gives you more insight into Scrooge and his relationship with the Cratchits before going into his lonely childhood). There are also nice tidbits about the actors—I didn't know Paul Frees' death was actually a suicide!—and the production (the original sponsor was Timex, and the minute the author mentioned the commercials I could remember them). If you are as big a fan of the story as I am, you will adore this book!

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