Paddy’s Christmas by Helen Monsell
Illustrated by Kurt Wiese
While Mother, Father, Aunt, and Uncle Bear are sleeping in the cave for the winter, Paddy is out playing in the woods. Tumbling down a hill, he comes to rest at a log cabin and through the windows he witnesses the celebration of Christmas. He rushes back to the cave and asks excitedly, “What is Christmas? … It’s pretty, it’s lots of fun, and it makes you feel good from the inside out.” Uncle, Aunt, and Mother Bear each reluctantly visits the cabin in turn and returns with an interpretation – decorating with holly and mistletoe and singing songs, receiving presents, and giving gifts. Paddy finds that decorating the cave is pretty and playing with his gifts is fun, but only when he gives presents to his family does he feel fulfilled.
Many spirit-of-Christmas books are saccharine, preachy, and oddly enervating, but not this one. Paddy is frolicsome and pesky, while the adult bears want nothing more than to be left in peace so they can go back to sleep – which they do repeatedly. Self-sufficient and independent, the little bear gathers the running cedar and decorates the cave, he juggles the pine cones which his aunt has given him, and he collects the gifts (a stick for his father, nuts for his uncle, red feathers for his aunt, and a stiff grass broom for his mother) all by himself. He has an invigorating curiosity and resourcefulness that are infectious. Read this book and you’ll feel like going outside to scavenge in the woods for holiday ornaments too.
Anyone who has seen The Story About Ping or The Five Chinese Brothers will recognize Kurt Wiese’s illustrations. German-born, Wiese moved to China in his early twenties to try his hand at business. With the advent of WWI, he was captured by the Japanese, turned over to the British, and detained as a prisoner of war in Australia. This was a fortuitous incarceration, since the unique fauna of down-under inspired an interest in sketching. After a detour to Brazil, Wiese settled in rural New Jersey where he embarked on a remarkably prolific career (well over 300 books) as a children’s book illustrator. His bears in Paddy’s Christmas are filled with the cheerful vitality that characterizes his work.