Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban.
Parents Magazine Press, 1971.

I have very fond memories of watching the Muppet production of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas on HBO in the early 1980s. It's such a sweet story with great music. I already knew "When the River Meets the Sea" from John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, and since Robin the Frog and Emmet Otter were both voiced by Jerry Nelson, they even sounded similar.

I got the DVD of the special when Big Sis was a baby. As she grew, she would watch it over and over. It's still smudged with her little fingerprints (and scratches, grr). I even took the girls to a Saturday morning screening at the Orpheum downtown, when they were both tiny.

I love Russell and Lillian Hoban, too. The Frances books? Such fabulousness. Yet I had never actually seen a copy of the Hobans' Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas in person, until I found one at the Art & Book Fair on Mother's Day a couple years ago.

If you've ever seen the television production, Lillian Hoban's illustrations should look familiar. The Henson people did a marvelous job adapting the characters into puppet form.

The story in the book is the same: Emmet and Ma live near Frogtown Hollow, and are very poor. Pa is dead, and although he was loved and missed, he didn't leave them with much. What little income they have comes from Ma's laundry business and Emmet's handyman work. A talent contest is announced for Christmas Eve. The prize is $50. Ma has a lovely singing voice, but she would need money for fabric to make a proper dress. The only way she can think to get the money is to pawn Pa's tool chest, which Emmet uses for odd jobs. Emmet's friends want to form a jug band, but in order to make a washtub bass, Emmet would have to put a hole in Ma's washtub. They each decide to take the chance. If Ma wins, she wants to buy Emmet the guitar he was admiring in the music shop window. If Emmet wins, he could put a down payment on a piano for Ma. They leave each other notes, which neither of them see.

Christmas Eve arrives. There are many contest participants. A big city band called The Riverbottom Nightmare Band arrives, and although the jug band and Ma do well, The Nightmare wins. Now Emmet and Ma are left to tell the other what they did to enter the contest.

On the walk home, Emmet's band and Ma begin to sing together. As they pass the Riverside Rest, the restaurant's owner, Doc Bullfrog, hears them and offers them a job. In the end, they wind up bigger winners, earning employment doing what they love.

We own the DVD of the Henson television special, which you can also rent via Amazon Instant Video. It is no longer on Netflix and Hulu, but for now, at least, I did find it on YouTube. Enjoy!

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  1. LOVE this. I've wanted to watch the movie for ages but didnt know about the book. Pure loveliness.

    1. Some of the used copies on Amazon are outlandishly priced. The reissue from the '80s is more expensive than the original from the '70s! I think mine cost about $3. I knew I had to grab it, though. I do love the special! :)


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