The Night Before Christmas – Clement C. Moore

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

So, I have a total weakness for Christmas, and all things Christmassy, and a bit of a soft spot for this poem. There are many, many picture book versions of this floating around in the world, and the one we read isn’t even the one I’m linking to above, but most of the ones I saw follow roughly the same illustrative gist.

Unsurprisingly, there is no Bechdel pass and not a person of colour to be seen. This isn’t really surprising given the poem’s origins. And there may well be versions of it that at least show people of colour, but the one we got was pretty ordinary, predictable fare.

So it scores pretty low, but you know, there’s something very timeless and charming about this piece of writing, and it is a classic for a reason. It is one of the more iconic bits of poetry in the Western canon, and it actually mostly stands up pretty well to the passing years.

C loved it – but C, like his mother, loves all things Christmas related, so this isn’t really much of a surprise. He was most put out that there was no sign of Rudolph, and I had to explain that this particular story was from before Rudolph joined the team. Ahem. When your five year old doesn’t realise the story is fiction… 😉

It’s still great though, after all these years. If you’re the sort of person who loves Christmas, well, you probably already are familiar with it, but if not, you should pick it up. Solid stuff.

Alfie’s Christmas – Shirley Hughes

More in the Series – Alfie
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 1 point
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

This is a pretty simple, straightforward Christmas book, with everything you’d expect a Christmas book to have. Presents, Santa, food, family. It has the lot.

No Bechdel pass, and one diversity point only because there is mention of Alfie’s family’s neighbours the “Santos” family. Which is a pretty low bar, but hey, even that low bar is so seldom met.

I do like that Alfie gives everyone presents – that despite the story still subscribing to the whole Father Christmas thing, the giving of gifts is still a feature. I got slightly frowny when Alfie got a scooter and Annie Rose got a fairy-princess outfit, because oh sigh the gender stuff, but in general it’s a pretty nifty little story.

There’s definitely nothing subversive happening here, but a family having a good family Christmas together is never a bad thing. I know a lot of people have jaded attitudes about Christmas, but my own childhood Christmases were always full of family and love and joy, so it does nothing but make me smile.

Also, bonus points for the great uncle from Australia, and the nod to the fact that in the Southern hemisphere Christmas is a summer thing. Hell yeah it is. 😉

Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 point.

This is a strange little book. I’ve encountered Briggs before (Fungus the Bogeyman, and The Snowman, both of which will show up later in this list), but I had never read this one. C also didn’t quite know what to make of it, since Briggs’ Father Christmas is a crotchety old grump who would definitely rather be on a sunny summer island somewhere than trawling through the snow delivering presents.

It doesn’t pass the Bechdel, since the only character who talks to FC is a milkman out very early on his rounds as FC is finishing up. It also doesn’t have any sign of any people of colour.

It’s an interesting book to read with a child though because most of the story happens in the pictures. I am a very text based person, so this is always a bit of a challenge for me, and one which I kind of enjoy, because it does make the whole experience a little more interactive and active. C and I chatted about the pictures and what was happening in them, and I read the bits of text that were there. I think challenging these norms of what makes “a story” with children is really important. So that aspect I really enjoyed.

I don’t know how I feel about this Father Christmas though. I am unashamedly a Christmas person – I love it. And at the end C said to me thoughtfully, “I don’t think Father Christmas is really this grumpy.” I kind of have to agree, kid. 😉

And there is something kind of sad about this lonely grumpy old man who does this thankless task every year he doesn’t even seem to enjoy. I dunno that I can really get on board with that.

It does raise interesting questions about taking people for granted, though, which was kind of interesting to talk about with C.

So I have mixed feelings about it. I want to like it, because I enjoy what Briggs’ does with picture books, and I like his aesthetic, but I’m not sure. What do you think?