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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Merry Christmas Weirdest Holiday Picture Book of All Time!

This is a reprint of a Christmas related post I did about two years ago.  I cannot tell you how often I think of this book.  Eventually I’m just going to cave and buy it.  In any case, Merry Christmas!


 

In the past I’ve done posts about Weirdo Picture Books and others on Out-of-Print Crimes Against Humanity. Today’s featured book could have fallen into both categories, were it not for the fact that there is justice in the universe. Previously out of print, 1997’s A Small Miracle by Peter Collington is back by popular demand and now available from Knopf in paperback. And well it should be. There’s a reason it was featured in the Publishers Weekly 12th Annual Off-the-Cuff Awards as booksellers’ Book We’re Sorriest to See Go Out of Print.

Here is the plot of the book as described in the SLJ review:

“An old woman, living alone in a trailer, spends her days playing an accordion on the street for money. But times are especially difficult, even in this middle-class town. Desperate, she sells her accordion for cash, only to have it stolen by a masked bandit who then pilfers the poor box from the local church and vandalizes its manger scene. Intercepting the thief, the woman is able to return the money and does her best to set the scene to rights. Then, exhausted and hungry, she collapses in the snow. The manger figures come to life and take her home, where they all pitch in to see that she has her accordion back and that she has food. It’s all part of the miracle that none of the merchants or townspeople are at all surprised at the sight of the small figures making deals at the pawn shop or prowling the aisles at the supermarket.”

I’m glad they mentioned the supermarket because that may have been the point in the book when it totally won me over. Stealing from old ladies can be pretty dark stuff, and the elderly collapsing in the snow is worse, but there’s something so ridiculously charming about the tiny creche figures pushing shopping carts down fluorescent lighted lanes that you can’t help but give in to it.

I wish I could find an image of the shopping scene because it really is worth it. The book is just chock full of these small details that make you want to read and reread the story. There is, for example, the fact that Mary is always holding the Baby Jesus, but that doesn’t get in the way of her helping out. Though obviously she’s not able to remove the old woman from the snow with the other guys, note that she’s holding their Three Kings gifts, crooks, etc. while they take care of things. You know what the book really reminded me of? The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It’s that remarkable combination of humor and affection and an honestly religious tone. This is a straight up Christian Christmas book. Really good ones are out there, but they’re often a bit more difficult to find than you’d think. This is one of the few.

And who is Peter Collington? Well, according to his website he’s an Englishman residing in Dorset. In his picture books he prefers a kind of wordless paneled technique reminiscent of folks like Raymond Briggs. As far as I can ascertain he’s done a lot of other things lately, but not so much in the way of picture books. He seems to have stopped sometime around the late 90s. If anyone knows more about him, I’d love to hear it.

So there you go. Should you feel inclined to locate a weirdly touching little wordless tale for your holiday enjoyment, seek thee this puppy. I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve read. And should you have other odd holiday books you’d like to give a shout out to, feel free to list them in the comments here.

For the record, someone did turn this book into a short film, but I feel like the weirdness of the book is completely lost in the translation. Still, if you’re curious you can go here.

Thanks to Alison Morris for the introduction to this book!

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Alison Morris says:

    So happy to see this post reappear, Betsy, as I just reread that book last week and marveled again at what a weird and utterly wonderful gem it is! Hope more people find it each time you give it a plug!

  2. Nick Smith says:

    I looked at our library’s copy, and you’re right, it’s weird, but you may have missed something. The clerk at the grocery store gets a really weird expression on her face when three tiny wise men, one of them carrying an accordion, hand her money for groceries. I think that combination may have broken through her haze of not caring.
    So, even though the pawnbroker doesn’t seem to notice anything unusual about taking gold, frankincense and myyrh in trade, I think the other shoppers are just too caught up in their own activities to notice the magic.
    I loved the way she lives in an old vardo right next to what is otherwise a modern town.

  3. Collington wrote a favorite picture book of mine – Clever Cat – about a cat who learns to work the can opener, and so his family tells him he has to support himself and get a job….. and then he realizes that his peers (other cats) have a much easier life of lying about napping all day. It’s another strange one, though funny – and like you with this book, I think about it *all* the time.

  4. I remember that I loved this book when it came out and am glad to learn it’s back in print. Now I have to reread it with all these comments in mind. Thanks.

  5. I’ve never looked at the book, but I love the film.