Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Second Hand Score: The Christmas Bower

Imagine my delight at coming across a book that has liberal doses of two of my favourite things: birds and Christmas. (Oh, and fantastic illustrations, too.)I can't recall where I picked up The Christmas Bower by Polly Redford - one of my usual used-book haunts, no doubt.

I can't find too much info. about the author of The Christmas Bower, Polly Redford, but she seems to have written a few other books about wildlife in the 1960s. It's obvious she knows something about wildlife from her telling of The Christmas Bower. Noah and his ornithologist Uncle Willie, who works as the curator of birds at the Museum of Natural History, are wild about birds, and Redford gets all of the birding references right -- their lingo, equipment, and fanaticism, even mentioning the birder's journal, The Condor. The rest of the family is preoccupied with the family business, Hartman & Company, "the biggest, best, department store this side of New York." Now that Christmas is upon them, the family must decorate the store in a way that outshines all other years. This year's theme? Birds. But not just fake ones, real ones too. You can probably see where we're going. The idea of lovely birds in cages, sweetly trilling and just quiety being beautiful is quickly put to rest. Birds escape and chaos ensues.

When I first flipped through the book, what drew me in immediately, was the fabulously distinctive illustrations by Edward Gorey. I knew his art looked familiar to me and then I realized it's because he illustrated one of my all time favourite kids' books, The Shrinking of Treehorn, the tale of poor Shrinking Treehorn and his wonderfully oblivious parents whose inattentiveness would cause great distress to today's parenting gurus.

Although The Christmas Bower was written in 1967, it didn't have a dated feel. (It seems to be actually set in the 1920s or so, based on the dress. The only things kids might find amusing is the fact Noah' parents sleep in single beds. Very 1960s TV if I recall!) Noah seemed mature beyond his years and all of the characters were distinctive and amusing in their own way. I especially adore the fabulous Mrs. Ogle, the stereotypical wacky bird lady with a lot of money and time on her hands. I've done a quick scan and you can pick up copies at on-line sellers of used books relatively inexpensively. It's worth adding to your collection of Christmas books, and if you don't have a collection, this would be a great one to start with!

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