Those of you who have read (rather than sung) a picture book version of the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, probably know that it can get a little dull, despite the illustrations, and a little odd at times. Susan Jeffers overcomes this in her new book The Twelve Days of Christmas by creating a narrative with the song tucked in the middle, changing the lyrics, "My true love gave to me," to, "Santa gave to me." It works beautifully, wrapping the song in a story that will appeal to children, especially any who have ever done a little pre-Christmas gift hunting...
On Christmas Eve, Emma, the narrator of The Twelve Days of Christmas does a bit of sneaking and tip toeing and discovers a present from Santa - a beautiful snow globe that plays the music for The Twelve Days of Christmas. Emma is enchanted and excited, but this soon turns to sadness when she stumbles and drops the snow globe, cracking it. Heartbroken, she falls asleep on an arm chair, the box holding the snow globe tucked in her arms.
The carol unfolds, Santa whisking the little girl away on his sleigh, the gifts of the song appearing as they travel over the wintry landscape to the North Pole. Finally, the twelve pipers piping herald the arrival of Santa, playing them right up to the front door.
After walking through the workshop and making their way to Santa's room, he asks Emma if she has anything to show him. Handing over the box, the two sit down for cocoa and cookies while Emma explains how the snow globe broke. As she drifts off to sleep, snuggled into Santa's arm chair, she dreams that reindeer are flying her through the air. On Christmas morning, Emma wakes to find the most marvelous surprise - her snow globe, repaired! If you pay close attention, you'll notice that the ornaments on Emma's Christmas tree are all people, animals and things from the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Susan Jeffers is the illustrator of my favorite picture book adaptation of The Nutcraker, a review of which can be found on my list: A Few of My Favorite Holiday Books. Jeffers has illustrated several retellings of classic fairy tales and stories, from Cinderella to Black Beauty to Lassie, which was written by Rosemary Wells. Wells, best known for her Max & Ruby characters, collaborated with Jeffers on the McDuff series of picture books (see below for cover images) that my older son adored when he was little. The stories about the little West Highland Terrier are wonderful and perfectly paired with Jeffers's illustrations of a 1930s, art deco era rarely found in picture books but perfectly homey and welcoming in these stories. Jeffers also has a fascinating, detailed process for creating her rich illustrations, explained in her The Making of the Nutcracker page on her website. In her Author's Note for The Twelve Days of Christmas, Jeffers explains that, as an illustrator of children's books, she loves being presented with the opportunity to interpret iconic figures from children's literature in her work. She also loves dreaming up the scenes that she will illustrate, a habit going back to her childhood days waiting patiently in the church choir loft for her turn to sing during the sermons. Jeffers's ability to capture a complex scene with many characters and details is best seen in The Nutcraker, although, as the story in The Twelve Days of Christmas escalates, the settings become filled with more and more delightful details and her gift is evident.
Source: Review Copy
Other books by Susan Jeffers
(a few of the sadly out-of-print but well worth seeking out)