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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Christmas Vacation

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! We even had snow! Keyword is "had" - it's mostly melted now. It lasted long enough for me to take the girls to see the movie White Christmas at the beautiful Orpheum Theatre downtown last night, though.

Today was the last day of school for the semester. I came early and helped the first graders make graham cracker "gingerbread" houses. Little Sis's was so pretty! I'm afraid she dropped her bag on the way out the door, but it's okay. She grinned and said, "Well, I guess I'll have to eat it!"

And yesterday, I brought green-colored crinkle cookies, ornament print-outs, and my daddy's childhood copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas for the third graders. This was probably Big Sis's class's last year for The Grinch. They're growing so fast!

This afternoon, I came back to the school for the All-School Sing! They belted out songs like "Jingle Bells," "Feliz Navidad," "Rudolph," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and the teachers led the kids in the special actions for "The 12 Days of Christmas" invented by the now-retired original drama teacher.

So now we're home! I'll probably blog all weekend, as I have so much to show you. I love this time of year so much.

I'll leave you with two songs. I love Perry Como's "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," because of its sense of humor. "And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.  HA ha HA ha HA ha Ha ha HA ha HA ha HA"  I love to sing along with that part LOUDLY when we hear it on the radio. The girls do not like it. Honestly, I love Christmas break and I'm never in a hurry for it to end, but I like to tease them.

I plan to watch many, many holiday movies over break! I believe in stretching all things Christmas-related until Epiphany - January 6th - so I have time! National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is no longer free on Amazon Prime. I may have to buy the DVD, or we'll just rent it. But here's the great Darlene Love singing the opening song.

Oh, what the hay, let's do one more. In honor of the snow. Come back, snow, come back!

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Kangaroo For Christmas

Kangaroo for Christmas by James Flora.
Originally published by Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962.
Reprinted by Enchanted Lion Books, 2011.

Little Sis adores Jim Flora's illustrations. His record album covers? She can look at books of those for hours. Kangaroo for Christmas was reprinted by Enchanted Lion Books a few years ago, so I leapt at the chance to pop a new copy in one of our Advent calendar bags this year.

The story itself is silly: a little girl gets a big present delivered to her house, courtesy of Uncle Diego. Out pops Adelaide, a big brown kangaroo. Kathryn hops on Adelaide's back, excited to show her off to Grandma. Of course, all sorts of mayhem ensues. It's light on Christmas, heavy on fun, and the illustrations are spectacular, of course. The book alternates between black & white and full color spreads, and both are equally awesome.

I captured this peaceful moment between bathtime and bedtime: the girls taking turns reading it aloud on the kitchen floor, while I worked on dishes.

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The Forever Christmas Tree

The Forever Christmas Tree by Yoshiko Uchida, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

I love discussing Christmas customs around the world with the girls. Last year, Big Sis's 2nd grade class did a week-long social studies unit on international holiday customs. When she told me that the following day's lesson would be about Japan, I showed her a picture a friend of mine took in Osaka. It was of the long line outside the local KFC on Christmas Eve night. Kentucky Fried Chicken has become the thing there. Of course, Christmas is a minor secular holiday in Japan. I just find it very interesting.

I found this book on the library website this year, and requested it. Published in 1963, a good decade before the start of the KFC craze, it is the lovely story of a little boy and girl in Japan, learning about Christmas for the first time.

Yoshiko Uchida was the daughter of Japanese immigrants. During the WWII, the family spent three years in an American internment camp, an experience she wrote about in the novel Journey to Topaz. She became a well-regarded writer of children's books, fiction and nonfiction. Several of her books are still in print. Unfortunately, this sweet book is not one of them. The illustrator is Kazue Mizumura, about whom I can find little information.  Mizumura was the illustrator of a great many children's books, few of which seem to be in print today.

The book takes place in a a little village high in the snowy Japanese hills. A little boy named Takashi is lonely. His parents are working in the fields or at home, and his older sister, Kaya, is in school. Their only neighbor is a grumpy, friendless old man that the siblings have dubbed "Mr. Thunder."

One day, Kaya rushes home from school, excited to tell her little brother about Christmas. She learned about it at school. She tells him about the first Christmas, then tells him about Christmas trees, covered in light and colored balls and candy.

Little Takashi is quite taken with the idea of Christmas, especially the tree part. He longs for a Christmas tree of his very own. The next day, he and his dog scout the grounds around the house, but he can find no tree that fits Kaya's description of what a Christmas tree should look like.

Then his dog takes off running, right into grumpy Mr. Toda's yard. He knocks over a little potted fir tree. When Takashi spies the tree, he knows it would make a perfect Christmas tree. He tells his sister, but she tells him Mr. Toda's tree would be out of the question. She convinces Takashi to help her make decorations anyway. They can hang them on their old pine tree.

Takashi cannot stop thinking about Mr. Toda's fir tree, which has now been planted in the front yard. He and Kaya tell their parents about Christmas, and what a Christmas tree should look like. Takashi cannot stop daydreaming about the little fir tree. When the children go out into the cold to decorate the pine tree, they realize their decorations would only cover a single branch. The persimmon tree is too bare.

They cannot resist. They quietly step into their neighbor's dark yard, and decorate the little tree.

The next morning, Takashi steps outside to find Mr. Toda puzzling over his tree. The decorations are so beautiful, it seems to shine in the morning sun. Mr. Toda sees Takashi, and demands him to come over. He asks the boy if he knows who did this to his tree. "Kaya and I did it. It's... it's a Christmas tree." Mr. Toda has heard of Christmas trees. He isn't sure what to say. Just then, Kaya and her parents arrive in the yard. The parents bow and apologize, but cannot help smiling at the sight of the tree.

Mr. Toda is not angry. Indeed, it's his first Christmas tree, and he likes it. Kaya asks if she can show it to her friends. Mr. Toda nods, and the two children run off to call all the children of the village to see.

Mr. Toda tells Takashi and Kaya that they may trim the tree every year, if they would like. It can be their "forever Christmas tree."

The illustrations are lovely, and the story is long, but simple to follow. It's a lovely way to introduce children to the idea of how our beliefs and our Western traditions are not universal. It's also a nice way to show modern children that Japan isn't all anime and kawaii cute.

More tomorrow!

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