Merry Christmas everyone! Hope this one turns out to be as good as can be within all the restrictions one has to live with.
This year I was once wondering about picking up a Christmas-themed mystery but though I knew I would enjoy one of those, I decided to go with this little book instead which I had discovered by chance (my mother did actually having come across it in a second-hand shop and picked it up essentially because she loved the illustrations), which is in some ways a quintessential ‘feel good’ Christmas story and a really heart-warming one.
Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas is known to many because of the muppet adaptation but I had never come across that so the book was entirely new to me when I first read it. The story is set around young Emmet Otter who lives with his mother Alice Otter in a run-down riverside place in Frogtown Hollow. Emmet’s father (a ‘snake-oil salesman’) is dead, so they have little to live on; his mother takes in washing and he has his father’s toolbox with which he does odd jobs and also a boat with which he picks up the washing. The people of Frogtown Hollow in general are having a hard time. Money is little and hard to come by and it isn’t Emmet’s family alone that is in trouble, with Jake Beaver and Grover Muskrat having been laid off from the mill. Still amidst all this Emmet and his mother have a happy life, with their work and evenings spent reading and singing together or sliding on the slide his father had built. Yet both Emmet and his mother dream of having a proper Christmas where they can give each other something expensive rather than the mufflers and mittens Alice knits or the sewing box or pie crimper that Emmet carves for her—both are musical so it is instruments that they want to give each other. Then a ray of hope comes their way as Hetty Muskrat and her son Harvey bring to Alice and Emmet news of a talent contest that is to take place at Frogtown Hollow on Christmas Eve, with the prize being 50 dollars. Both are interested with Alice wanting to use her voice as her talent and Emmet with Harvey and two other friends planning to put together a ‘jug-band’. But this isn’t without its risks for Ma Otter will have to invest in a new dress and Emmet must use Alice’s wash tub to make a bass (which requires a hole to be drilled through it)—but the two decide to risk it, Emmet taking the tub, and Alice selling Emmet’s tool box to invest in what is needed. Each has left a note for the other and as is usual in these stories, the other doesn’t find for they are gone too. At the talent show, there are many animals with various talents—dancers, acrobats, poetry reciters, and also musicians. While both the jug-band and Alice have practiced hard, before them come on stage the River Bend Nightmare, a band with electric instruments and fancy lights. Poor Alice and the Jug-band know they are doomed, and now that they’ve lost what brought them their living, what can they do? But it is Christmas after all, and there is magic in the air, and a miracle in store for them too. To know what it is, you will have to read the book.
This is an endearing and delightful read which can’t fail to warm up your heart in the season. It is sweet without being overly so, the characters are likeable and overall, without their being anything actually Christmassy in it (though it is about Christmas), it captures the perfect Christmas spirit.
The author Russell Hoban was an American author who lived in England and wrote across a range of genres including fantasy, science fiction and magical realism (including Riddley Walker which a friend recommended to me but I am yet to get to), but also wrote a number of children’s books many of which were illustrated by Lillian Hoban his first wife. Among these is this book, and the colour illustrations (crayon from what I can see) are absolutely gorgeous. I love them so so much. The story itself is a short one (may be 15-20 minutes reading) but one will spend a lot longer simply staring at the pictures. Below are a couple which I took pictures of from my copy.
What Christmas-themed books have you been reading? Any you’d recommend? Have you read Emmet Otter? Did you love it as much as I did? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!