On the fifth day of Christmas, my blogger shared with me…
Granny’s house with guests all snowed in!
A Houseful of Christmas, by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
(2001, Henry Holt, ISBN 0-8050-6391-9)
Granny loves to have her whole family over at Christmas, and when the whhhhh of the wind and the shhhhhh of the snow keep everyone there overnight, she couldn’t be happier.
A Houseful of Christmas tells the story of Granny and her pets, Edgar the dog and Fat Cat, and the houseful of guests they have over for Christmas. Aunts and uncles and cousins and sisters and brothers–each mentioned briefly as they all pile into the front entryway at once–come and fill the house with food and gifts and family fun. The snow that has been coming down outside during their celebration makes it impossible for anyone to return home that night, so they all bunk down on the floor. Each member of the family settles down in his or her own way, and Granny is the last to go to sleep with Edgar curled up beside her and her family all around. The focus of the book is on all the different personalities of a family and the joy they get from being with one another. The characters, although not really fleshed out due to the limits of the picture book format, are realistic in the way they’re portrayed–cats sulking, babies crying, children wrestling, parents both comforting and fussing–and readers can probably see themselves or their family members in at least a few of the people featured. As it turns out, the houseful of Christmas isn’t a houseful of Christmas activities: it’s a house that’s full of family and love, just like Christmas should be.
The illustrations are vaguely reminiscent of Quentin Blake (probably most famous for his work with Roald Dahl) in their sketchy pen and watercolor simplicity, but brighter, simpler, and with stronger lines. (Readers might recognize this illustrator from Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type or Duck for President, her collaborations with Doreen Cronin.) The background is minimal throughout most of the book, particularly from when the family arrives until everyone is asleep at the end, and the focus is on the characters and their actions. The only problem with this style of illustration is that it is occasionally difficult to pick out which character is which because the hasty, rough lines often distort or obscure features (such as hair color or face shape) that make the character recognizable, so sometimes the reader is left wondering where the new character came from (when there’s really not a new character at all). Attentive readers may notice the grandfather clock (with what appears to be a portrait of the grandfather next to it) and the movement of the hands to reveal the time as the story progresses.
GirlChild’s Reactions: GirlChild liked the cat that kept being grumpy and showing up in random places. (She learned a new word: scowl! Can’t wait until she finds the opportunity to use it since she so enjoys describing to me the face she is making when she’s feeling a strong emotion!) She told me her favorite part was when Granny was hiding on the floor with her family (because it was hard to pick out Granny in the mass of faces poking out from under blankets). GirlChild loves to be with family, and she would be overjoyed to spend Christmas sleeping on the floor with her grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins all around her! I know this book made her feel homesick for Grandma’s because she asked as soon as we were done reading it if we were going to sleep on the floor with all her cousins at Christmas. (We might have to!) This book is a great pick for focusing on family love and togetherness at Christmastime because Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas without the ones you love around you!