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.
Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin
Illustrated by Kurt Wiese
Since her earliest memories, Momo has longed for a red-gold Lhasa terrier, a breed she had seen at the Kargayu monastery where it was favored by the head lama. She lives high up in the mountains along the Great Trade Route between Tibet and India with her father, who carries the mail pouch over the Jelep La pass, and her mother, who runs a tea house for the mule caravans. Momo’s wish is finally granted when a trader leaves a motherless puppy in her care. But two years later, a muleteer steals her precious Pempa with plans to sell him to an English woman in India. Momo runs down the mountain in pursuit, so launching an exciting series of encounters and adventures which ultimately land her in Calcutta.
This is no Lassie of the Himalayas since the dog, despite being the impetus for Momo’s adventure, makes only a couple of brief appearances. It is, rather, the tale of a resourceful girl with unwavering resolve, single-mindedness of purpose, good humor, and quiet courage in face of a novel and often intimidating world. Momo makes a remarkable cultural odyssey, from a materially austere but spiritually rich world in the high Himalayas to the teeming city on the low plains of India with its olla podrida of language and religion. Momo wears a dark woolen robe tied to create a pouch in which she carries her worldly possessions – a tea cup, some bread cakes, and a string of dried cheese beads. In the market town of Rongli, she sees Hindu women in brightly colored saris, Indian traders in dhotis, hill men with banana leaf caps, and at the station platform in Siliguri Moslem women in burkahs and Sikhs with turbans. In the bazaar, she sees her first oranges and bananas, fruits she had only heard described by caravan drivers in her mother’s tea shop. She passes from the clear thin air of the high Himalayas to the rhododendrons and orchids of the lower slopes to the monkeys of the tropical forest to the heavy humidity of the Indian plains.
Louise Rankin, an American who moved to India with her husband in the 1930’s, was blessed with an observant eye. The authenticity of her description of culture and terrain is matched by the verisimilitude of Kurt Wiese’s illustrations. Short of getting on a plane, there is no better way to introduce children to a foreign culture than through a good book, and this is one of the best in the genre.