Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Visit: The Origin of The Night Before Christmas by Mark Kimball Moulton, illustrated by Susan Winget

By now, we are probably all familiar with the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" or a most people call it "The Night before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore.  And some of us may be familiar with the controversy over whether or not Moore was the real author of the poem.  The poem was written in 1822, and published in 1862 and has been enjoyed by children and adults ever since.

In 2000, Mark Kimball Moulton has a conversation with Dinghy Sharp, the great great granddaughter of Clement Moore and in that conversation, she told Moulton the story about the origin of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" that had been handed down in her family for generations.  Moulton turned that story into a poem and The Visit is the result.

The story begins in December 1936, when Dinghy, along with her sister, brother and parents were leaving their home in Michigan to visit their grandfather in New York City.  They were excited and awed by the train ride they took, by Pennsylvania Station (the old one, not the ugly one there is today), the tall buildings and stores surrounding them, even by the taxi and elevator ride they took - all such new experiences.

Once settled in, their grandfather said he had a gift to share with them.  The gift turned out to be the story of how A Visit from St. Nickolas came to be written.  Clement Moore was a scholar teaching at Columbia University in 1822.  That year, on Christmas Eve, his wife asked him to take the sleigh and go to the butcher before it closed to pick up a Christmas goose.  On his way, Moore began to think about the poem he had promised his sick daughter Charity as a gift.

As Moore drove along, he pondered everything he noticed - the sparkling snow, the bright moon shining on the snow, and the white bearded woodsman dressed in red and leaving fresh tinder wood at the homes of the poor.  In the end, his wife got her goose and his daughter (and everyone else) got a lovely Christmas poem.

When I was young, I had a Little Golden Book version of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" that was actually called The Night Before Christmas.  Regardless, it has always been a favorite of mine, so it was fun to read about the origin of the the poem.  At the end of the book is a hand written 1862 copy of the poem, which is owned by the New York Historical Society (and which I have been luckily enough to see one year).

Moulton wrote The Visit using the same rhyme scheme and in the same anapestic trimeter as the original poem, although sometimes I lost the rhythm while reading.  Still, for the most part, it did manage to succeed for such a lengthy story.

The book's detailed illustration are phenomenal.  They are done in colors that seem to evoke Christmas of long ago, including the warmth of a fire and the chill of the snow.  The detailing was clearly done with great care to get it correct for the time frames that this books covers.

Whether or not you believe that Clement Clarke Moore is the true author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," The Visit is a lovely story to read during the holiday season.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was an E-ARC from NetGalley

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