McDuff’s Christmas, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (2001)
(previously published as McDuff’s New Friend, 1998)
I’m not a huge fan of Rosemary Wells, but I gave BoyChild free reign on the shelf of Christmas books at the library, and this was one he grabbed for himself (not realizing that the author was also responsible for all the Max and Ruby books we have in our personal library). I do like Susan Jeffers’ work, though, and I was pleasantly surprised by this book (one of several in a series).
McDuff is a West Highland terrier (better known as a Westie) who lives with Fred, Lucy, and the baby. He, Fred, and Lucy are waiting impatiently for Santa to come, concerned that the storm will stop his visit. They all go to bed, but McDuff is woken in the night by a thump. He woofs and wakes up Fred and Lucy, and Fred has to dig him a tunnel to let him outside. McDuff finds nothing and comes back in. This happens a second and a third time, and the third time, McDuff tunnels himself to the garage where the family finds Santa rummaging around for their snow shovel to free his stuck sleigh! Fred and McDuff help Santa dig free while Lucy prepares soup and sandwiches for them. After Santa leaves to finish his duties, they find things in their stockings that are just what they want or need, and McDuff finds a new friend–a tiny black kitten (in a box, not his stocking)! After they open their gifts from Santa, they all fall asleep until Christmas afternoon!
Susan Jeffers’ art is always a blend of realistic and whimsical elements. Swirling snow, glowing bulbs, intricately patterned clothing…the details are soft, the colors bright and welcoming. The perspective changes throughout the pages, sometimes looking down at the scene from above, sometimes from dog level, sometimes with a split frame, sometimes as a two-page spread. McDuff himself sometimes looks more dog-like, and sometimes he has an almost human look to his eyes. From the candy-cane laden bathrobes the adults wear to the windmill pattern on the wallpaper border to the three different sweaters McDuff wears, there is texture and detail to delight the most dedicated of picture-viewing readers. (My personal favorite image is the two-page spread looking down on the brightly lit house in its snow-covered yard.)
This is the kind of book for very young readers and listeners that a parent can read and get a little chuckle, too. From the extremely festive way Fred and Lucy dress (and dress McDuff!) to the humorous exchange between Fred who is feeding the baby (“The baby is full.”) and Lucy who is taking McDuff out for a “walk” (“McDuff is empty.”), there are some things that little readers might not notice but that provide a little comic relief for the adult reader. (I just noticed on another read-through that the text says that Lucy had soup and sandwiches ready, but the table is displaying a large ham, a layered jelly, cookies, pudding, pecan balls, and what appears to be a croquembouche.) BoyChild may not have caught all the visual details the first time through (although I clued him in on the full/empty joke’s meaning), he was able to answer logically when I asked why the family slept all the way until Christmas afternoon–because McDuff kept barking and waking them up all night! I’ve not read the other books in the series, but it might be worth finding for a little BoyChild who loves dogs and all things silly!