Saturday, December 22, 2012

Reader's Diary #923- Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko: Finding Christmas

For Christmas, my wife and I tend to be book givers. I'm sure it's much to the chagrin of many recipients, but if so, I'm bullheaded enough to think that if I missed the mark, it was on the title, not the gift itself. There's a book for everyone, even those who claim to not to enjoy reading (gasp!), I'm sure of it. Finding it is the hard part. When I struggle to find a good match, I sometimes doubt the pursuit. "Whatever," I think, "I should just give them a Walmart gift card." (Shame.)

I would think Robert Munsch's Finding Christmas is a good compromise gift for a Canadian child. It may not win awards but it's got the typical Munsch humour for which he's known. Finding Christmas is about a girl who searches high and low for presents from her parents. Every year she's been successful in her snooping but this year her parents think they've outsmarted her. They thought wrong.

I like that it's a relatable experience that's not often mentioned in Christmas stories. As a kid, I snooped. I came by it honestly. My mom was the worst for ruining Christmas surprises for herself. By Dec. 25th, all of her presents would have not-so-subtle tears in the corners, where she'd taken a peek. The funny thing is, it's not something I've continued. I know, for instance, that my wife has presents hidden for me around the house— I even know exactly where— but I've got no desire to find out until Christmas morning. And maybe I'm completely naive, but I think she and the kids feel the same way. Still, I know from experience that snooping for presents is as much a holiday tradition for some as is stringing lights, drinking eggnog, or dog-earring the Sears Wish Book.

I also like the message at the end about family being the best present. Not to worry; I've summed it up in a much heavier handed way than Munsch did. In fact, my son guffawed at the end, so clearly the humour wasn't traded in for sentimentality.

Michael Martchenko's illustrations are their usual fun self. I normally like how referential his work is— it's quite common to find characters or objects from earlier Munsch-Martchenko collaborations hidden in the details— and this time he goes all out. The tree on the cover features ornaments of the Paperbag Princess, Smelly Socks, Mmm, Cookies, The Sandcastle Contest, Zoom! Andrew's Loose Tooth, and more. It could be argued that it's a marketing ploy to sell Munsch's back catalogue, maybe even actual ornaments if enough people show an interest, but the kids and I still had a blast trying to identify what stories they were all from.

Again, however, Finding Christmas is formulaic Munsch. The kids seem to enjoy to enjoy the formula, but it's grown tiresome for me. Lots of repetition, lots of building on said repetition, sound effects, and liberal use of explanation points and caps. No wonder he can churn a couple of these babies out every year.

Here's my take on Munsch re-writing a Christmas classic:

Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house,
not a creature was stirring
not even a mouse.
Not even a louse.
Not even a Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap, 
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter
The children still nestled snug in their beds
And visions of sugar plums still danced in their heads

Away to the window I flew like a flash
Tore open the shutters —RRRRRRRIP!
And threw up the sash.

While the children still nestled, still snug in their beds
And visions of sugar plums still danced in their heads
And candy canes waltzed, and peanut brittle krumped

(You get the idea)


Anonymous said...

So, John, given your mixed felings on Munsch, which side of the debate do you come down on with "Love You Forever"? Creepy (stalkerish mother peeking in grown child's window from a ladder) or "Awwww".

Way back when my kids were in preschool, their teachers made a point of reading this during circle time at Mother's Day, with *all* the mothers in the room. They tactfully distributed boxes of kleenex before they started with it; many were the maternal welling eyes and the bemused glances of the children at their parents' strange behaviour. Later we had a grand conversation, while the children were romping outdoors and the mothers (it was all mothers that day) were enjoying the rather finger-printed cookies the children had made for our "treat".

It was split on "I HATE that book" and "Oh - that was so BEAUTIFUL!" I teared up, as did most of us, when it was read, but later I realized that I agreed marginally more with the "ick" camp.

Munsch has his moments, but over-exposure is a hazard for the parents, for sure!

John Mutford said...

Leavesandpages: No mixed feelings about that one. I hate it. As for it being aimed at mothers, it should be noted that my wife also hates it.

Loni said...

I just saw this post! It's been a busy couple of weeks...

I'm glad you didn't hate it. Maybe I haven't read as many Munsch books as others have. I recognize the formula, but it doesn't bother me as much. I'm just happy my daughter liked it.

Also, not a huge fan of Love You Forever. I don't hate it, but I do find it weird.