A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Brett Helquist, abridged by Josh Greenhut

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my blogger shared with me…
a classic Christmas story retold!

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Brett Helquist,
abridged by Josh Greenhut
(2009, HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-165099-4)

If you’ve read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this book will seem familiar to you…very familiar. It is not a dumbed-down paraphrase for children; it is simply a (very) sparing abridgement that makes this Christmas classic short enough to share with younger children or for older children who aren’t yet ready for the full-length version to read independently. The language is original, the phrasing is original, the tone is original—all the most important events of the story are told as the author told them, just without all the words. The opening scene at the counting house gets one page of text, each of the ghosts gets three or four, and the conclusion is just three, but somehow the whole story is told and told well.

I initially picked this book because I recognized the illustrator—Brett Helquist—as the same one who illustrated the Series of Unfortunate Events, so I was intrigued to discover his take on the story. It starts right in the front endpapers with “MARLEY WAS DEAD” and a full-spread illustration of a hook-nosed Scrooge (distinctive noses appear to be a trademark of the illustrator) standing at his partner’s grave in an otherwise empty graveyard.  The illustrations, done in oil and acrylic, are occasionally set on a page next to a nearly full page of text with a small, simple black-and-white illustration at the top or bottom of the page, almost like what you might find at the beginning of a chapter in many books. Other times, they dominate a two-page spread and the text appears in a somewhat plain portion of the illustration, such as a blank wall or a cloudy patch of sky. The characters themselves are textbook Helquist, but the images vary from harsh and dreary to soft and glowing, depending on the mood of the scene. The contrast between the first close-up of Scrooge in the counting house with his nephew and Bob Cratchit in the background and the one that shows Cratchit arriving late at work on the day after Christmas to find Scrooge already at work is sharp; although the setting is identical, the colors and lighting are totally indicative of the change of heart Scrooge has experienced. The Ghost of Christmas Past is both bright and ethereal, Christmas Present is large and bold, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is somehow more sinister draped in strings of decaying garlands and lights. Helquist has used color, movement, and perspective wisely to create strong visuals that skillfully supplement the story and help create the mood that the missing narration would otherwise have provided.

GirlChild’s Reactions: I was kind of surprised by how involved GirlChild was in this book. I mean, she’s just three, and I was sitting in the front seat of the car and holding the book so she could see it from her seat behind Daddy. I stopped reading a couple times (it’s a longish book for a picture book) to help my husband with directions as we drove, and each time, GirlChild impatiently told me to keep reading! I was afraid that the ghosts would scare her, particularly the last one, and the events leading up to the climax of the story are kind of dark, what with the people selling “the dead man’s” things and Scrooge visiting the graveyard and all, but she didn’t seem disturbed in the least. She did interrupt often to ask questions, and I had to keep telling her to just keep listening to find out the answers. She was concerned when the Ghost of Christmas Present wouldn’t answer Scrooge directly about whether Tiny Tim would live (although I’m not sure she understood that entirely; she was just upset that he wouldn’t respond), and she was worried about Bob Cratchit in the second-to-last illustration and wanted to know why he looked sad (when he arrived late to work the day after Christmas), but her worries didn’t linger or make her want me to stop as they often do when she’s watching a movie where someone is sad or upset. She wanted to know what was going to happen and seemed satisfied with the ending.

This dumb book made me cry. Seriously, if my husband hadn’t been driving, I would have made him finish reading the last page because I was bawling like a baby. The abridgement of this book, while certainly drastic, left all the feelings of joy and redemption from the original, and I couldn’t help myself! I would perhaps pin the book’s ability to affect me on just my memories of the “real” one, but the way that GirlChild was spellbound throughout suggests to me that a skillful job was done in shortening this book to the minimum events without taking away any of the heart of the story. So I must say congratulations to Mr. Josh Greenhut on a job well done! And, of course, congratulations to Mr. Helquist for his visual contributions to this classic.

That wraps up our twelve reviews of Christmas, and I echo Tiny Tim when I say…

God bless us, every one!

Additional titles:

A Christmas Carol(The original story)

(Written and illustrated by Helquist)

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1 Comment

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One response to “A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Brett Helquist, abridged by Josh Greenhut

  1. Pingback: Christmas Wrap-Up | Rushing to Read

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