Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reader's Diary #921- Michael Kusugak, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka: Baseball Bats for Christmas

I was checking back over all my Christmas posts from past years, when I realized that I'd never reviewed Michael Kusugak's Baseball Bats for Christmas, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka.  Definitely time to right that wrong.

At The Eye of Loni's Storm early this month Loni reviewed Robert Munsch's new Christmas book Finding Christmas. She commented that she judge's children's books based on her son's and daughter's reactions to them. That's why I have mixed feelings about Munsch. While I usually find his books formulaic, my kids have always gotten a kick out of them, so I read them anyway. For the most part, I see where Loni is coming from. I've seen some of those "critically acclaimed" picture books with the rich oil paintings and dreary stories— I would have picked Robert Munsch over those any day.

With Baseball Bats for Christmas by one-time Munsch collaborator, Michael Kusugak, I initially dismissed it is one of those children's books that only adult critics would like. It certainly didn't hold the attention of my own kids the way A Promise is a Promise or Hide and Sneak, two of his other works, did. But we have a basketful of Christmas picture books that we take out ever year and now I find myself looking forward to reading it. It's about a young Inuk book named Arvaarluk living in Repulse Bay, Nunavut in 1955. That Christmas a well-intentioned pilot dropped off a load of trees, but flew off without an explanation. Arvaarluk and his friends had heard of, but had not seen, trees ("standing-ups") before. They knew about Christmas, but not Christmas trees. They also knew about baseball. They soon conclude that the trees must have been meant to supply them with baseball bats, and so, they set to work making some. Those and the rubber ball they'd been donated by the manager of the Hudson's Bay Company meant they had all they needed for a great time playing baseball well into the spring and summer, excited to get a new load of standing-ups for the upcoming Christmas.

It's a fine story, and the premise itself is amusing, but I think it's the nostalgic tone that turns my kids off. Not that they hate the story, it just doesn't thrill them. It makes them smile, but not laugh. In some ways, especially when Kusugak gets sidetracked (and he tends to in this book) with descriptions of the church ("On the wall were pictures of the Pope, the Bishop, and "Queen Elizabeth") it reminded me of Roch Carrier's classic The Hockey Sweater.

But I do like reading about Christmases years ago, especially before the media had created a globalized idea of Christmas customs. There was a comfort, a coziness in the community, made only possible with naivete about the world at large. I'm not a "good old days" sort of guy. Usually. But maybe just a little bit, at Christmas.

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