And now…one final Christmas review~a lively and colourful book from 1962~Kangaroo For Christmas, by James Flora. I was beginning to despair that nothing would jump out at me this December, but not only does the book jump…it leaps off the shelves, across five decades and 32 snow-filled pages. The only thing better than a really cool Christmas picture book is a really cool retro-Christmas picture book, with fantastic sixties-style illustrations, a dad who smokes a pipe, and a kid who says, ‘oh my‘ and ‘we are dreadfully sorry‘. Thanks to Enchanted Lion Books of New York, Kangaroo For Christmas has been spirited out of Mad Men playrooms and digitally restored just in time for Christmas 2011.
While a kangaroo is not a traditional Christmas beast like a reindeer or a partridge in a pear tree, it does make one heck of a present, especially when it comes gift-wrapped all the way from Australia via a little girl’s favourite relative, the appropriately named Uncle Dingo. ”Oh my, isn’t she pretty! I’ll call her Adelaide and she’ll be my best friend.” Clearly, the present is a hit, and young Kathryn takes it upon herself to introduce her new BFF to grandma, who lives across town. Kathryn wraps a scarf around Adelaide and off they hop…straight into a barking dog, honking traffic, a shouting policeman, and all the noise and chaos one would expect in the middle of a city the day before Christmas. Poor Adelaide is so frightened, Kathryn is unable to put the brakes on the kangaroo’s out of control hopping. They CRASH, SMASH and TINKLE their way through the Zwicky household, disturbing Mr Zwicky’s bath and Mrs Zwicky’s mashed potatoes, send baguettes flying as they BOUNCE into the Bon-Ton Bakery, and HIP HOP to the toy shop, where in some sick twist of fate, Adelaide ends up with roller skates on her oversize feet. Eventually they arrive at Grandma’s, but not before the hapless (and presumably exhausted) kangaroo jumps straight into a pan of taffy cooling on Grandma’s porch. And I thought my Christmas was stressful.
Kangaroo For Christmas is a funny and frenetic romp through the streets and homes of a stylistically iconic era, with all the wonderful period details and candy colours indicative of the sixties. Although I don’t recall seeing this book as a kid, it feels familiar, which should not come as a surprise as the creator, James Flora, was a prominent and prolific illustrator during that time. Employed by Columbia Records and RCA Victor in the 40′s and 50′s, Flora was largely responsible for the era’s jazz iconography, designing many album covers and advertising for the music industry. He also produced hundreds of paintings, sketches and woodcuts, which are absolutely stunning, and like a Kangaroo For Christmas, full of the artist’s particular and peculiar sense of humour. Nevertheless, in spite of the vintage, Kangaroo For Christmas, with it’s loopy story-line, many amusing characters, animals, streets, buildings, and especially…the scared silly expression on the face of the kangaroo (tempered somewhat by her long, luxurious eyelashes), make this almost 50 year old book seem BIG and FRESH, and the best Christmas book of 2011 by a leap.
Kangaroo For Christmas by James Flora, originally published in 1962, republished September, 2011 by Enchanted Lion Books ISBN: 978-1592701131
For extra holiday fun…may I suggest The Day the Cow Sneezed, also by James Flora, reissued by Enchanted Lion Books, 2010
And…for other seasonal selections, have a look at my Christmas List of Christmas Books