We are a week away from Christmas in this picture book countdown. I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted already from the holiday. I’m also behind. So when I sat down today to write this post, I was a bit disheartened to remember I had chosen a very long book. I mean really long, as in, it probably shouldn’t even count as a picture book. But then I sat with it, read through it, and felt myself take a deep sigh. I needed the moment of peace. I needed to be told a story from someone like this whose storytelling reminds me of my grandfather. So I am at peace with today’s book and hope you need something just like it too. Take a moment with A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Chris Raschka, (1954) 2004.
I somewhat sheepishly admit that I had never read this book before. I also have not seen the movie which in my research about wonderful Christmas picture books, I had not only discovered this tale, but was told many times that I needed to watch the movie too. So I have the movie from the library this weekend, hoping to rectify my apparent mistakes; but before I ever watch something, I like to read about it.
I understand this is somewhat of a classic for many people. If you are unfamiliar, as I was, the story was originally published in two separate pieces. “Memories of Christmas” was a radio broadcast in 1945 on the BBC. The second was an article for Picture Post in 1947 called “Conversation about Christmas.” They were edited together by the author, Dylan Thomas, in 1950 and published in Harper’s Bazaar as “A Child’s Memories of Christmas in Wales.” Four years later, a version was published posthumously in book form and given the current title. There are many illustrated versions since then, and I have been attempting to get my hands on several of them for comparison. This is the only one that arrived in time for the holiday so far, and thus it is today’s version.
I dare not try to summarize the book, as really, you just need to read it. And also, summarizing feels incredibly wrong when the book itself feels like a conversation. Within a page or two, I felt like I was sitting and listening in as someone recalled their memories. They are honest in the very beginning that some details are hard to remember precisely or in exact order.
There is a purity about the tales. You can feel the boyhood mischief and unspoken moments offscreen or out of earshot of the protagonist.
There is not a great story arc, really. It is a bunch of moments and scenes from the festivities all written down from the eyes of a child. It is lovely and refreshing to read.
I post so many pictures today, one, because it is long; and two, because I found them enticing. I don’t often gravitate towards Raschka’s loose, rough style; but I found his illustrations for this edition to be hauntingly beautiful. They lack the clean edges and perfection just like the memories lack the clean details thanks to passing time. I love their colors, and the moments chosen to picture. There is a fogginess to the illustrations that fit so well with shared memories.
I find the simplicity of the story something that I long to open again already. It hearkens back to memory my own childhood Christmases. And it also helps me realize the little things are always the most important to children. Forget about the frenzy for perfection and let the holiday come as it may.
While the book as a whole has proven a bit too long for my young toddlers, they have enjoyed me reading it aloud while they play. They occasionally run over to spy what illustration graces each page turn and then frolic off to play again, listening as it must have been listened to so many years ago on the radio.
I hope you’ll give this book a look. And please let me know if you have your own favorite editions of the story. I am curious to see them all!
See you tomorrow on our book countdown to Christmas.