Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My True Love Gave To Me

Toward the end of November and early December many households traditionally begin to get out their Christmas decorations.  It's a time for family and friends to gather, opening up boxes and containers filled with all the trimmings commemorating the season.  Even if you are alone, the memories each represents surround you, keeping you company.

These items are symbols of specific Christmases, gifts given to remind us of particular individuals and events, portraits of our favorite things or depictions of a beloved Christmas carol.  For those who embrace this holiday and are true book nerds, it's also a time to revisit your collection of holiday titles.  Among my one hundred sixty-two volumes are a small group of books highlighting various versions of the carol The Twelve Day of Christmas.  No one is certain of the carol's origin; it is believed to have started as a game. What we can establish without a shadow of a doubt is the hilarity found in The Twelve Days Of Christmas (Disney Hyperion, September 12, 2017) written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. 

On the FIRST day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me . . .

As an elephant wearing a Santa hat enters a room, another elephant is delighted with this first gift.  An older elephant, a parent, immediately has misgivings.  What are they going to do with a pear tree and a bird?

As each verse unfolds, the words convey the familiar presents are being delivered with joy by the giver to an equally delighted receiver.  By the third day the larger elephant is genuinely dismayed.  By day four this elephant is getting a bit grumpy as the other two are happier and happier. On day five when the gift-bearing, Santa-hat-wearing elephant appears outside their home, the parent elephant is mad.

Relief is evident when five golden rings are delivered.  This soothing feeling is short-lived though.  Days six and seven have more birds arriving in the room.  Each of the following days has a menagerie of creatures filling the space normally shared by the parent and child elephant.  The two younger elephants are oblivious of the other's discontent.

On the twelfth day, the older, larger elephant has reached a breaking point.  Before the final verse is uttered everyone stops.  They are stunned into silence.  The recipient of these twelve days of Christmas gifts makes a gesture which changes the entire atmosphere.  The final page, a wordless image, will assuredly have readers laughing knowingly.

In the making of picture books page turns and pacing are critical to the success of a title.  In this book Greg Pizzoli adheres to the most familiar words for this carol.  His placement of the text is superb.  This allows him to use his illustrations to create the humor generated by the contrast in reactions to the gifts. 

Upon opening the dust jacket readers can see by holding it to the light portions are varnished and foil has been used as an accent.  Some of the characters used by Greg Pizzoli in his version of this song are featured around the Christmas tree.  The background of garlands, Pizzoli red, stars and snow is continued to the left, on the back.  A replica of the tree is a space for every single gift given.  As a base for the tree five, bowed presents including the ISBN are underneath it.

The book case is a crisp white with two decorative borders along the top and bottom, one in tiny red checks and the other of green with a pattern of white Xs alternating with white flowers with red centers.  To left on the back is a Christmas tree, candy canes, hearts and yellow stars.  On the front, to the right, is the title with the two younger elephants, the house, stars and hearts.  The technique used to depict these elements mirrors embroidery but could also be digital as if written in code.  (I like that this is open to the interpretation of the reader.)

The opening and closing endpapers are green with a pattern of stars, circles and dots in white, smaller dark gold dots, and ornaments in pale green, white and red with different designs.  Turning to the first page we see the Santa-hat-wearing elephant reading a book.  (Perhaps it's this one.) Another page turn gives us the title page with a crackling fire burning in the fireplace.  Two stockings hang from the mantle.

Rendered in silkscreen with digital collage the illustrations each span two pages.  Most of them have a white background with the paler red carpet along the bottom.  When we get to the twelfth day, the background goes black including the three elephants, two happy and one furious.  Then Greg dedicates a single page to each of the twelve days except for the third and second day which share a page.  Then two double-page wordless pictures continue the story before the final verse is sung on the third large image.  This is followed by the single page surprise.

The color palette is limited but beautifully in keeping with the song and the holiday.  Greg Pizzoli conveys a full range of emotion with a few lines, looks in the characters' eyes and body posture.  The two elephants and all the gift critters (The maids are mice, the ladies are cats, the lords are frogs, the pipers are rabbits and the drummers are pigs.) are full of Christmas cheer and wearing appropriate attire. (Careful readers will see a familiar crocodile.) This is in direct contrast to the parent, larger, elephant who goes from dismayed to full-blown anger.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the fifth day of Christmas.  On the left the two true loves are holding the five rings between them.  The two turtle doves wearing tiny Santa hats are seated near them as are two of the four calling birds.  To the right the partridge is sitting in the pear tree, the three beret-wearing French hens are moving about and the two other calling birds are flying above the larger elephant.  This parent has just spoken PHEW!  The parent is holding a large bag labeled BULK BIRDSEED.  A nearby bowl is filled with seed.

This title, The Twelve Days of Christmas, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli is the kind of present sure to bring on merriment every time it is opened.  Laughter is meant to be shared.  Shared laughter creates unforgettable memories.  You'll want to add this book to both your personal and professional collections.  

To learn more about Greg Pizzoli and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Greg has a blog here.  You can follow Greg on Instagram.  Greg is interviewed at Blue Willow Bookshop, 88 Cups Of Tea (podcast)and Art Of The Picture Book.  

Mental Floss has an article you will want to read titled 12 Things You Might Not Know About "The Twelve Days of Christmas"

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