How many of you associate Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women with Christmas? I know very well that it isn't exactly a Christmas book, but it does contain some of the most memorable Christmas scenes. Of course, if you've ever seen one of the movie versions, especially the 1994 film, the New England snow and indoor blankets and fireplaces seem like characters unto themselves.
I was beyond ecstatic when I learned that a new picture book based on one of those Christmases was coming out this year.
|A Little Women Christmas by Heather Vogel Frederick, based on the work by|
Louisa May Alcott, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014
Heather Vogel Frederick, if you don't already know, is the author of the Mother-Daughter Book Club middle grade series, which is set in Concord, Massachusetts. Each book in the series revolves around a classic the club is reading together, and in the first book, the club reads Little Women. Frederick grew up in Concord herself, and her adaptation is warm and faithful.
While my favorite Christmas scenes in Little Women come earlier in the book - the opening lament about the lack of presents, giving their Christmas dinner to the poor family - Frederick chose to adapt the memorable chapter after Beth's illness, when Father comes home from the war.
Bagram Ibatoulline's art is amazing. I'm not even sure I can add anything to that statement. The beauty speaks for itself.
We checked out one more Alcott-related picture book this week.
|An Alcott Family Christmas by Alexandra Wallner. Holiday House, 1996.|
This one was written and illustrated by Alexandra Wallner. We checked out a couple of Wallner's titles for Women's History Month.
This book has the bright folk art illustrations that mark all of Wallner's books. I found it a bit problematic, however. I've been a big Alcott fan since I was a child. My grandmother gave me a copy of Louisa Alcott: Girl of Old Boston, and I read it over and over. When I was older, I finally read Little Women, and as an adult, I've watched documentaries and read biographies. It is well-known that Alcott based much of Little Women on her own life. The March girls (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) were largely modeled on the Alcott girls (Anna, Louisa, Lizzie, and May). I enjoyed the way certain aspects of the Alcott's lives were mixed into the Marches' story in the 1994 film, such as when Jo tells Professor Bhaer about Transcendentalism. Popping a little more reality into the fiction worked for me.
Fictionalizing nonfiction bothers me, though. As I read this book with the girls, I found myself questioning things. Why are the Alcott's excited for this Christmas goose? I thought they were vegetarians. And gee, this Christmas seems exactly like the one in Little Women, except Bronson Alcott is present, since it takes place years before the Civil War. Only the names have changed. Near the end, it mentions that Louisa was saving the memories of this Christmas, because she knew she would write about them later in a successful book. This doesn't seem true to character, either. Little Women was a departure for Alcott, and not the kind of book she necessarily wanted to be known for, according to other things I've read and watched.
Lovely illustrations. It just doesn't ring true to me. It was published only a couple years after that last film version, and it reads as fiction. Perhaps she should have left Bronson Alcott out of it, and just adapted part of Little Women, like Frederick and Ibatoulline did.
I know from previous posts that I have some Little Women fans among my readers. Does your favorite scene in the book take place at Christmas? What about the movies? I love the gorgeous snow, and the girls singing "Ding! Dong! Merrily on High" in the 1994 version, and I always loved the very cozy Victorian atmosphere of the 1933 version, starring Katharine Hepburn. I know a lot of people prefer the 1940s MGM film, but it was never my favorite. My love for Margaret O'Brien aside, she should not have been cast as Beth. (I'm sorry, '49 fans!)
I found a fun blog post over at the Quirk Books site, titled "Let's Have a Little Women Christmas!" I've actually done quite a few of these things, come to think of it, although the last couple of years we've gone less Victorian, more mid-century kitsch. I like to shake it up.
For more Louisa May Alcott in picture book form, see my posts about An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving and Louisa May's Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women.
By the way, as of last night, each girl had a new old book by their bedside. Little Sis took my copy of Louisa Alcott: Girl of Old Boston, and Big Sis took off with my old copy of Little Women. Not sure if any reading will occur, but I appreciated the sentiment.
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