Jan Brett’s Christmas Treasury is an old favourite loved by kids of all ages and adults alike. Jan Brett (born 1st December 1949) is an American illustrator and writer of children’s picture books. Her fans and critics agree that “no one can render snow and Scandinavian winter more gorgeously”, and her book illustration art is universally recognised as being among the finest in children’s books today.
Up until the early 1990s, Jan illustrated other authors’ books as well as writing and illustrating her own. Since then she has mostly illustrated her own stories, which is where I think her talents shine brightest.
She illustrates with meticulous attention to detail. Her ability to render nature, traditional dwellings and interiors, folk costumes, colourful characters, forest animals and feisty trolls are a testament to her versatility.
Most of her books are designed with decorative borders that exquisitely frame the story within. Jan is well travelled and the research for her stories, architectural and natural settings as well as costume designs draws upon the cultures of the countries she chooses for her stories.
This lavishly illustrated Christmas Treasury combines 7 of Jan Brett’s highly acclaimed best-selling books: The Mitten, The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Trouble with Trolls, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Hat, Christmas Trolls, and The Night Before Christmas.
In an introduction to this Treasury Jan Brett wrote:
“Travelling has always been an inspiration. I went to Norway to look at trolls, but they were very elusive…I did visit the reindeer for The Wild Christmas Reindeer and returned several years later to look at sleighs for The Night Before Christmas…The traditions in each country I visit amaze and delight me. I love to use them as a starting point and the details become an intricate part of the background as the story unfolds”.
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Wishing everyone a Merry Reading Christmas!
The Mitten is an adapted Ukrainian folktale about a lost mitten that becomes a shelter for several forest animals. The border illustrations herald the unfolding story as the main character Nicki searches for his lost mitten. Nicki’s Grandma’s dwelling and their traditional Ukrainian clothes are typical for the Slavic villages of this area. For someone coming from this part of the world, they evoke a great sense of nostalgia which harkens back to my grandparents’ house and my childhood.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer story is set at the North Pole. Teeka has the task of preparing Santa’s reindeer for pulling the sleigh on Christmas Eve. But the reindeer get anxious and won’t co-operate. Teeka has to find a way to complete the challenge…
Here the side borders on each page tell a parallel story of Santa’s elves, busily crafting presents in their Christmas workshop – carving, knitting, baking, making toys, clocks, Christmas wreaths and decorations. Each panel is a caringly detailed and evocative scene that can be read independently of the main story.
Trouble with Trolls is set in the snowy Scandinavian winter. Treva and her dog Tuffi must get to the other side of Mount Baldy to visit Treva’s cousin. A group of trolls start following them and are on a mission to get Tuffi! Treva must outsmart the greedy trolls and get herself and her dog safely to their destination.
Jan Brett’s winter landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful, I can almost breathe the frosty air of the German Schwartzwald (Black Forest) mountains, which I visited a few winters back. Treva’s jumper, hat and boots with traditional folk motives are culturally appropriate and rendered with meticulous authenticity.
A delightful parallel sequence is depicted in the underground dwelling of the trolls, exposed at the bottom of each page. We can see the interior with its quirky details and troll-children sorting food supplies and playing, while their parents are above the ground pursuing Treva.
No Christmas Treasury would be complete without the traditional classic song The Twelve Days of Christmas. Jan Brett’s endearing characters – birds, animals and people are full of traditional Christmas charms. The decorative borders tell a story of their own – a family’s Christmas reunion and preparations leading up to the celebrations in their family home next to a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. At the bottom of each of these ornamental borders are a delightful pair of animals holding out “Merry Christmas!” signs spelled out in a different language on every page. The elegantly illustrated music score sheet for this Christmas song follows the stunning visual rendition of this classic.
The Hat is a companion story to The Mitten shown above. Lisa pulled out her winter clothes and put them outside to air. The wind blew one of her stockings off. The hedgehog becomes stuck in a sock and wears it as a hat. All animals make fun of him at first, but it is Hedgie who gets the last laugh.
The story is set in a Scandinavian village, Lisa’s dress is embroidered with folk motifs, while her woollen mittens, socks and scarf are all knitted with traditional red and white jacquard designs. The vignettes in the decorative side borders tell a wordless story featuring animals. This story unfolds in parallel to that of Lisa searching for her sock (appropriated as a hat by the hedgehog) which is depicted in the main illustration frames.
Christmas Trolls return from The Trouble with Trolls story shown above. This time the trolls want to steal Christmas toys and food. But our clever Treva teaches them a lesson in courtesy, kindness and Christmas spirit. By the end of the story, the trolls grasp and experience the ultimate joy of giving and sharing.
This story depicts the cosiest interior of Treva’s home and the messy treehouse of the trolls. Majestic Scandinavian forest in winter spellbinds. Jan Brett’s signature decorative borders are delightful as usual and show both the trolls and other forest inhabitants as they are witnessing or participating in the main story that unfolds in the central pictures.
Last but not least in this Treasury is another classic, Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. Bright, bold and celebratory, the entire book acts as a crescendo culminating in this bright, bold and glorious version of this popular poem illustrated countless times by many artists around the world. One can never tire of poring over every glorious detail of Jan Brett’s pictures, every square inch celebrating the spirit of Christmas!