Two beautiful and distinctive seasonal children’s books on the review docket today! Thanks to Penguin Random House Canada, I have the pleasure of getting to talk about The Legend of the Christmas Witch by Dan Murphy and Aubrey Plaza, illustrated by Julia Iredale; and thanks to Raincoast Books, I have the pleasure of sharing my thoughts on the picture book Red and Green and Blue and White by Lee Wind, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinksy. Happy reading!
“No doubt you’ve never heard the name of Kristtörn, for the Legend of the Christmas Witch is a story that has been forgotten in time. But in her day, she was as familiar to children as Santa Claus. In fact, she is his long-lost twin sister…”. The children’s book debut of creative partners Dan Murphy (writer/producer) and Aubrey Plaza (actress/producer/writer you may immediately recognize as April from Parks and Recreation!), with illustrations by Canadian artist Julie Iredale, The Legend of the Christmas Witch tells a richly imagined tale of twins separated as young children and the very different paths their lives take. Opening with a rhyming, atmospheric prologue taking place in the Yuletide season, readers learn about ”a wondrous phantom [smelling] of the sea”, traveling from town to town, whistling a ”strange melody“. This phantom, we learn, is the Christmas Witch…a witch who leaves ”peculiar gifts” on doorsteps as she navigates the falling snow, with children pressing their noses to the windows hoping for a glance of her. But who is this Christmas Witch? And where did she come from and what has she to do with “the season of Yuletide”? As an old raven named Malachi takes over upon the Prologue’s end, he let’s captivated readers know that he will divulge everything about the incredible story of Christmas Witch and begins to unfurl an intricate, mesmerizing legend. From a time ages and ages ago, when ”magical beings freely roamed the earth”, twin babies “with red hair and green eyes” are forsaken in a forest. The twins, a girl named Kristtörn, and a boy named Kristoffer, have magical gifts and a deep connection. When the twins are separated as children, and Kristoffer is taken in by a kind couple far, far, away, Kristtörn finds her life in the forest with a witch named Lutzelfrau. Even as she grows and cultivates a fascinating life with Lutzelfrau, Kristtörn never, ever forgets her long-lost brother and vows to find him one day. With story elements that include everything from notes about winter solstice, the rise of misplaced suspicions about witches, to unbreakable sibling connections, hair-raising travels to the disparate poles, as well as a look at the Kringle family and the legend of Santa Claus, The Legend of the Christmas Witch thrums with activity and turns. Julia Iredale’s gothic-leaning, gorgeously moody and unmissable artistic style is such a perfect match for Murphy and Plaza’s sophisticated and inviting storytelling. Iredale’s gouache and digital illustrations are fantastical and evocative- the illustrations and close-ups of Kristtörn are especially stunning as are the rich outdoor scenes with various hues of greens, browns, and blues and bursts of snow. With undercurrents of old-world Hans Christian Andersen-like storytelling, The Legend of the Christmas Witch is a delicious fable to sink one’s teeth into: unusual and inventive, with elements of tragedy and surprise that capture attention from opening to the last word. (…Perhaps more stories featuring The Legend of the Christmas Witch may be in store for the future?). Readers who adore layered, moodier fairytales and children’s stories about powerful, magical witches, or those looking for a noteworthy and unexpected winter tale, The Legend of the Christmas Witch is a fantastic pick.
“On a block dressed up in Red and Green/one house shone Blue and White. Isaac helped his family decorate their big window for Chanukah/Across the street, his best friend Teresa helped her family trim their Christmas tree.” A story inspired by events that took place in Billings, Montana in December of 1993, Lee Wind and Paul O. Zelinksy’s Red and Green and Blue and White tells an important, poignant story of the holiday season. Best friends Isaac and Teresa cannot wait for the holidays and celebrations to begin: Isaac and his family are Jewish and celebrate Chanukah; while Teresa and her family are Christian and celebrate Christmas. The front window displays of each of their homes reflect their family’s respective holiday celebrations; though readers learn from the opening of the story that Isaac and his family’s house is the one home on the block glowing ”Blue and White, Menorah light”. One night, “shadows” make their way to Isaac’s house and a stone shatters through their front window, breaking the glass and extinguishing their menorah. When help is called and adults meet and discuss, the question arises about whether or not Isaac’s family should ”light the menorah again”. Isaac lights the menorah the next night, knowing that if they do not, ”it would be like hiding they were Jewish [and] that didn’t feel right”. In support of her best friend, his family, their religion and their celebration of Chanukah, Teresa makes a heartfelt, visible display ”For Isaac” in her own home window- so now the light from her home shines ”Blue and White/Menorah Light/From Two Homes Tonight!”. The actions made by Teresa and her respective family is then shown to extend more deeply and widely than ever thought, culminating in a celebration ”of the true spirit of the holidays [and] the true meaning of community”. A deeply beautiful, heartfelt story, author Lee Wind’s spare yet lyrical storytelling is met to perfection in award-winner Paul O. Zelinsky’s multi-layered, intensely bold and deeply coloured digital artwork. Red and Green and Blue and White is highly recommended reading and a must-add to the holiday collection of a school and/or public library. Extras: Be sure not to miss the Author’s Note at the book’s end which includes a significant, salient point about being an UPstander versus being a BYstander. A link to author Lee Wind’s website is also included for readers interested in learning more about the real-life story behind this picture book.
I received a copy of The Legend of the Christmas Witch courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review; and I received a copy of Red and Green and Blue and White courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.