Archive | December 2014

The Cave of Santa Clops by Gig Wailgum

The Cave of Santa Clops

“The Cave of Santa Clops” arrives with a shiny cover with a rich, dark red background and pastel green letters. Its title looks almost like a poster from a 1950s horror movie — or maybe a parody of one from Mad magazine. It all helps to set a playful tone for Gig Wailgum’s newest send-up of Santa Claus. And it turns out there’s many more surprises inside…

I like how the book’s text mimicked the familiar rhythms of the Clement C. Moore poem — but always with a twist.

The stockings were hung. The trees were cloaked.
The gifts were wrapped, and the kids were stoked!

The author dedicates his book to Clement C. Moore (and to Dr. Seuss, and to South Pole explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton, as well as his own children and parents…) And it turns out that much of the book’s action does take place near the South Pole, as an explorer named Mr. Bones reminisces about his encounter with the one-eyed Santa creature.

As a young boy, during a South Pole expedition, Odysseus Bones had wandered away from his parents’ exploration party. There’s a lot of dialogue setting up the premise, which ends up with Odysseus trapped in a creepy cave. There’s some giant talking penguins, and bats shaped like holly leaves. It’s meant to be a little creepy, like the “scary Christmas” surprises in the author’s first book, “A Vist from Santa Clops.”

But that book was set at the cozy home of the narrator, whereas this one leads us to Santa Clops in his very own lair! It turns out that Santa Clops flies in a sleigh pulled by penguins — who can fly because Santa (Clops) feeds them each a magical fish. Odysseus Bones stows away on the sleigh, but soon he’s tumbling through the sky in a shower of coal dust. Santa (Clops) wheels his sleigh in (for an attack?) But in the end, he just wishes his pesky stowaway…a scary Christmas!

My friend Elliott — an H.P. Lovecraft fan — says the book was fantastic! And it’s always nice when a book’s author is also its illustrator. There’s some special care in the layout, with multiple drawings often inset inside of a single page. And even when the children ask questions, the text is drawn inside dialogue balloons over their head.

It may not be the perfect book for every single child — but there’s definitely some naughty little boys and girls who will think this book is terrific!

The Gobblings by Matthue Roth

The Gobblings by Matthue Roth

The Gobblings is a fascinating new children’s book written by Matthue Roth, and its story is filled with surprises. “Herbie didn’t like his new house very much at all,” the book begins, but its second page reveals that their house “was far off in space…” So yes, the nights really are very long and very cold, and all Herbie can see out his window is a gorgeous expanse of stars. Roth’s book is overflowing with exciting surprises, and it’s fun to see them all illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason.

Their last collaboration was a children’s book adapting three stories by Franz Kafka, so it’s intriguing to see what they’ve come up with next. Illustrator Rohan draws Herbie playing with a toy rocket ship (even though he’s actually living on one)! There’s a cleverness to both the story and the illustrations, which are wild, imaginative, and even a little bit surreal. For example, in the fourth drawing there’s tentacles (which are only gradually explained)…

Herbie sees shadows in the tunnels of the walls of the space station — inside of which were creatures “who also went unnoticed by the adults…” The story reminded me of Where the Wild Things Are, with a lonely boy making a matter-of-fact discovery of monsters. Rohan has been compared to Maurice Sendak, and I think it’s a fair comparison. His drawings are realistic while being stylized, and they manage to be both expessive and moody.

In one drawing, Herbie pulls a red wagon with gears past the legs of the distant grown-ups, while under the floor crawl the purple tentacle creatures, huddled in a soft yellow glow. They’ve got pretty red stripes on their beaks — are they friends or foes? — and while Herbie builds himself some friends using robot parts, “the Gobblings” keep watching him!

There’s a wondrous two-page drawing where the spaceship flies through a blue starry sky — and yellow giant gobblings float outside in space, their tentacles seeming to fluctuate. “[T]heir favorite things to eat…was a space station,” writes Roth (saying it was “as tasty and joyous as a birthday dinner.”) It’s a surprisingly harrowing story for a children’s picture book, though it’s full of intense intrigue. Soon the ship has gone entirely dark — and Herbie is cut off from his parents…

But fortunately the gobblings like to eat robots — like the little robots Herbie has been building…

Not Until Christmas, Walter by Eileen Christelow

Not Until Christmas, Walter by Eileen Christelow

Eileen Christelow created the popular “Five Little Monkeys” series of books. But at a Christmas party in 1997, she got an idea for a new story called Not Until Christmas, Walter!. “Someone told me how her eight-year-old daughter wrapped presents for all the family, including the dog, and put them under the tree,” Christelow remembers on the book’s jacket. “The next morning, they found chewed wrapping paper and dog biscuit crumbs. Their dog couldn’t wait for Christmas!”

“And I couldn’t wait to get home to see if I could turn her story into a picture book…”

The author used her own dog Ophielia as a model, and dedicated the book to the dog “with fond memories of walks through the woods.” And she uses bright watercolors with lots of white space to capture the festive snow-covered buildings around the city at Christmas time, filling in simple pen and ink sketches of a little girl and her family. Walter the dog wags his tail while he watches Louise making a painting for her father using yellow glitter stars. “Don’t worry, Walter,” the little girl tells her dog. “I’m going to give you a present too!”

All of Chistelow’s illustrations give the dog a real personality. As the girl shops for an extra-large dog biscuit, Walter presses himself hopefully against the glass door. As she lays the presents out on the family’s coffee table, the dog lowers his nose to sniff them all, and wags his tail enthusiastically. He’s still wagging his tail when the girl goes to sleep on December 23rd. And he’s still wagging his tail the next morning – when the girl discovers all of the wrapping paper has been mysteriously torn to shreds.

And her dog’s nose is gleaming with lots of yellow glitter…

At 40 pages, it’s a little bit longer than the typical children’s story, but the story keeps its happy energy going. The dog ends up in the doghouse, but then the little girl gets lost while looking for a Christmas tree, and it’s ultimately the family’s dog that tracks her down. And I thought Christelow came up with a surprising and funny twist for the ending of the story. The dog is about to steal the new dog biscuit that Louise has wrapped up for him. But just then, Santa Claus comes down the chimney, and startles the snarling dog. Santa also gives Walter a dog biscuit, which makes him look guilty when the little girl discovers him.

Then she realizes that her present is still wrapped, and she has to wonder if there really is a Santa Claus after all…