|A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas,
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Written by Dylan Thomas
Cover art by Trina Schart Hyman
Holiday House, 1985
Ages 8 and up
48 pages, 3000 words
Humor, Christmas, Memoir
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve of whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
Dylan Thomas rambles elegantly about the Christmases of his childhood, somewhere around 1924. His book is full of anecdotes about the eccentric uncles ("There are always uncles at Christmas. The same uncles.") and aunts and their holiday habits. But mostly this book is a reminiscence about a world long-gone. Not just nostalgic candy cigarettes and erector sets, but also enormously exaggerated snowfalls and childhood pranks expertly seen through the eyes of a boy and the lens of an old man.
This is the sort of classic which I probably would never have gotten around to reading but for the copy I received, where the words magically came to life through Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations. The text is lyrical enough for younger readers, but the meaning may escape them. Certainly many of the historical references will leave them wondering, particularly if they are unfamiliar with European culture. But, like Victor Hugo, Thomas groups his examples in great bundles so one is sure to catch the meaning through context. For example, when listing the marvelous Christmas confections, Thomas mentions, "Hardboiled, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh." My mouth waters at the crunchy-chewy-sticky goodness of a bowl full of Christmas sweets despite the fact I've only ever eaten marzipan.
Kids will certainly relate to the excitement of a snowball fight, the dreadful practicality of a new pair of mittens, the familiarity of skulking in a room full of tipsy relatives singing at the top of their voices. I enjoyed Child's Christmas as a kid and I pick up something new each time I read it. (This year I get the joke about the "Happy Families" game and I finally know the difference between jelly beans and jelly babies!) Try it as a read-aloud and pair it with reminiscences of your own. Kids are fascinated by stories of grown-ups as children, especially how things were so different yet so similar.
1. If you enjoyed A Child's Christmas in Wales, you may like the audio version read by the author himself before he died. It's intriguing, but may be too hurried for young listeners.
|Caedmon audio edition, 2002
2. If traditional illustration isn't your style, you can try these more recent versions.
|1993 edition illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
|2004 edition illustrated by Chris Raschka
|A Christmas Carol
Reviewed for MMGM, December 2016
|A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Reviewed May 2012
|Peppermint humbug recipe courtesy Feast Magazine
5. Looking for candy cigarettes, jelly babies, space ships, rock candy, licorice pipes, and the like? You can find them all at Ballyhoo, old-fashioned ice cream parlor and candy shop, if you're ever in Pennsylvania.
|Rob and Val, owners of Ballyhoo, Purveyors of fine ice cream and bubblegum cigars!
Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!
Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for December 19, 2016.
MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?