December 10th already. This month is flying by so fast, and Christmas will be here so soon! I found this book just a couple months ago and though it is very dated, I dearly love it. The long narrative, the limited color palette, the darling elephant characters – all of it combines into a surprisingly captivating and endearing story about an elephant family’s celebration of Christmas. Take a look at Little Elephant’s Christmas by Heluiz Washburne*, illustrated by Jean McConnell*, 1938.
Apparently there is a whole series of books about this little elephant. I have not seen any of them before, so I was particularly delighted by this holiday story. Anthropomorphized animals are such a big deal in picture books and they can be iffy or some are really great. But something I love about Little Elephant’s tale is how real the whole family feels.
Little Elephant is a totally believable little kid waiting for Christmas, except he is an elephant. Leading up to Christmas, he watches all the presents coming in and his mother prepare the Christmas food. He has been a sweetheart and purchased special gifts for his mother, father, and grandfather.
Father Elephant brings home a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and Little Elephant does his job of helping trim it. He even spreads tinsel all over the tree which was my particularly favorite decorating job as a child, much to my parents’ dismay I am sure.
Finally Christmas Day arrives and Little Elephant wakens everyone. In true 1930s fashion, Mother Elephant and Father Elephant have separate rooms which I found to be humorous. All the commotion of waking up Father Elephant gets Grandpa Elephant up too and the family follows Little Elephant to his stocking which he opens first on Father Elephant’s bed. Presents for everyone follow and are delighted in, and then the big Christmas feast.
Little Elephant gets so stuffed he can barely eat his favorite Christmas pudding, but he does laps around the table to make room! Finally, everyone settles in to play with their new gifts and make their way to bed. The evening ends with Mother Bear tucking in Little Elephant and hearing him mumble, “Gee, that was a nice Christmas.”
There are so many subtle family traditions here that make it unique and interesting to reader and child alike. The book is incredibly long, though it boasts the normal 32 pages, there is a ton of text. It always feels daunting when I pick it up, and then I read a bit and find myself completely sucked in again, reliving a wonderful, familial Christmas with the elephant clan.
Although Little Elephant seems to mostly be a darling elephant, there is a bit of balance in his orneriness without him feeling too terrible or poorly copied. He gets a little out-of-hand with his play of the new, annoying, toys and he has an attitude about a certain course at the dinner; but otherwise, he is sweet, thoughtful, and delightfully wonder-filled.
Lastly, I really love the Grandpa Elephant in the story. I’m sure to most he is a strange side character, acting mostly as filler. But for me, he reminds me of my own grandfather and the many Christmases I spent with him in our home growing up. That kind of connection is something I find remarkable in the book. Not only is it still engaging after 77 years, and the illustrations are gorgeous; but it also still manages to be mostly relevant and meaningful. I guess family and holidays are often unchanged in joys and memories over the passing of time.
Thanks for joining me in admiring this very old Christmas book. While I know many come here to find new books for their needs, I find joy in highlighting both new and vintage. It’s delightful to see beautiful books of the past, but also important to view the insanely huge picture book market of current times in the light of the history that grew it.
Hope to see you tomorrow on my 25 Days of Christmas Children’s Books countdown!
*I cannot find anything to link to about Heluiz Washburne or Jean McConnell. I only occasionally see books with their names on them. Will update if I notice anything and would love info if anyone else has links!