Avid bibliophile that I am, I have to exercise stern restraint when it comes to adding new books to my library. I had stopped getting illustrated books about this particular song long ago because it’s a well-known Christmas carol. It’s meant to be sung, not read—no need to keep getting every illustrated version that comes down the pike, even if it is by some famous author or other. But this book is sublime, the pictures practically vibrating with color and inventiveness. At first, we simply see an angelic-faced boy leading a sweet little girl to the first two gifts. But as the story progresses, the gifts start getting out of hand as each page becomes more crowded with the growing number of presents. And what presents these are! The French hens are differentiated into three very different types, the sort you might see in a state fair, extraordinary and exotic beasts compared to the barnyard fowl we associate with the word “chicken”. The surprises keep on coming, from odd and unfamiliar specimens of geese, edging their way into the picture before they’re called for, to milkmaids from around the world spilling over to be courted by leaping lords of various nations. The song turns into a story, a veritable trip ‘round the globe, as the two children get gleefully caught up in the whirlwind of music and dance and ends with the boy getting his present from the adoring girl. The story concludes as you might expect with the song itself, complete with musical score. The author has also included a small history of the song as a kind of epilogue, one that forms a perfect complement to the multi-cultural nature of the images presented. This book is more than its title would lead you to believe, with joyous surprises waiting behind its cover. Even if you too have more than one version of this song on your bookshelves, this is worth adding to your collection.
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