It is that time again.
The nights have gotten longer, the days have gotten colder; you’re making a list, checking it twice and desperately trying to figure out where the year has gone. Seriously, I can’t be the only one wondering that, can I? It is the season for traditions – whether they are time honored or brand new, and an occasion to stop and reflect on the events that have shaped your life and the people that matter most to you.
My mother spent more than thirty years as a school teacher and more time than that as a lover of books. As an elementary teacher, her preferred tool for teaching simple and complex ideas to children were picture books. As my mother, she showed me that just because a book is written and illustrated for children does not mean that adults cannot be moved, inspired or taught something about themselves. That idea motivated me to start my own collection of children’s books while I was still in high school and my collection now is well over 100 picture books. I want to make it clear though, that these books are not for any future children I might have; this collection is just for me…future children will get their own copies to drool over. Whenever I’m feeling bummed out or unmotivated, I’ll pull some of my favorites off the shelves, lay down on the floor and read. Words are inspiring to me, but at my core I remain a very visual person and the easiest way to put a smile on my face it to put a book in my hands that was drawn by my favorite illustrator: David Catrow.
I wanted to introduce you to David Catrow (if you are unaware of his work) during this holiday season because my love of his work began with a Christmas book I discovered nearly 15 years ago. My sister and I were wandering around our hometown bookstore waiting for our mother as she systematically perused books when we picked up a copy of “How Murray Saved Christmas” written by Mike Reiss, illustrated by David Catrow. I was instantly hooked. “How Murray Saved Christmas” is an absolutely delightful and hilarious retelling of the immortal ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas poem.
Inept, yet loveable Edison Elf accidentally knocks out Saint Nick on Christmas Eve with his “Jack-in-the-Boxer” toy. Oh no! How is he going to get all the toys to the good girls and boys? Enter Murray Kleiner, owner of Murray K’s Holiday Diner. It doesn’t go perfectly; Murray has to deal with an ill-fitting suit, fight against sleigh-sickness, and has a tendency of falling down the chimneys and landing tush-first. Disheartened and losing the Christmas spirit, Murray is confronted by a six-year-old boy. After convincing the boy that “Oh, Santa is real, kid. It’s wrestling that’s fake,” Murray really embraces his role as a Saint Nick substitute…even bringing toys to the not-so-good kids and saving Christmas.
Reading it the first time, my sister and I were laughing aloud so hard we had tears in our eyes and were getting peculiar stares from other shoppers. We couldn’t help it. It’s a hysterical book and 15 years later I laugh just like I did the first time. You really must read it and see the illustrations to get the full effect. It’s a perfect union of words and pictures and there is actually quite a bit of humor that parents and other adults would appreciate. (Mike Reiss has won several Emmy Awards for his work on the first seven seasons of the Simpsons and was the co-creator of “The Critic”.)
And if you like “How Murray Saved Christmas,” I’d recommend the followup: “Santa Claustrophobia,” also written by Mike Reiss with pictures by David Catrow. In this story, Santa’s therapist, Doc Holiday, sends Saint Nick on vacation in hopes that the time away will help him get over his newly developed fear of chimneys. Doc enlists the help of the other holiday celebrity inhabitants in the town of “Stinky Cigars” to make sure Christmas still happens…things do not go well. Election Day Donkey and Elephant can’t decide who should be in charge, the Easter Bunny paints trucks, planes and trains like they’re Easter eggs, and Groundhog eats the “Naughty & Nice” List. Don’t worry though, all does work out in the end.
I could continue to praise David Catrow well into the New Year, because when you combine the right writer with Catrow’s distinct and stunning illustrations, you get magic. To see more images of his work, see a complete listing of his books and to learn more about this incredibly talented man, visit his website. If you’re looking for a special present for a child, a parent or a friend, I would like to leave you with my top five David Catrow books, and wish for you to have a wonderful holiday.
1. Cinderella Skeleton written by Robert D. San Souci
2. Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon written by Patty Lovell
3. Our Tree Named Steve written by Alan Zweibel
4. I Like Myself! written by Karen Beaumont
5. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Share written by Mike Reiss
When she is not being a responsible adult and working at McKay’s, Eliza fills her time with numerous creative pursuits including: jewelry-making, etching, and crocheting. When she’s not crafting, reading, writing or plotting to take over the world, you’ll probably find her napping with her dogs.