Monday, December 23, 2019

Book cover & school days memory: "Arthur's Christmas Cookies"

  • Title: Arthur's Christmas Cookies
  • Author and illustrator: Lillian Hoban (1925-1998)
  • Publisher: Harper & Row
  • Series: Weekly Readers Books presents An I CAN READ Book®
  • Publication date: 1972
  • Pages: 64
  • Format: Hardcover

I rediscovered this childhood favorite earlier this month and realized that I still knew it by heart, even after four decades. I must have had my own copy in the 1970s, and it was almost certainly this hardcover Weekly Reader edition. Author/illustrator Hoban found great success with her series of 11 books about Arthur the chimpanzee and his little sister Violet. (I have recollections of one other book in the series, Arthur's Honey Bear.) So many of the details and specific illustrations in this book have remained entrenched in my memory: Arthur's poor carpentry skills, Violet's chimpanzee feet grasping the sides of the kitchen stool, Arthur's purchase of a Lola Finola comic book, Violet's Bake-E-Z oven, the ball of dough tumbling onto the floor, hot chocolate with marshmallows, the look on everyone's faces when they taste the cookies, Arthur crying but then calming down and becoming contemplative, and the happy ending, built from improvisation and creativity.

If you want to bake your own Christmas ornaments, Katie Fries explained how in this Arthur-themed 2010 post on her blog, Eat Their Words.

This book has had some sustaining popularity since its debut in 1972. In a 2018 review on Goodreads, Calista notes: "Our library has about 15 copies of this book and there were only 2 left when I requested it. I figured it must be popular. ... It’s a nice sweet little story and I appreciate the simplicity of it and that 70s feel to the story. I admit to never having heard of it. I have left it for my niece to read by herself. ... I think she might enjoy it. She loves baking. She is also a perfectionist and it will be good for her to see there are ways to deal with mistakes that happen in life and they all aren’t devastating."

Another Goodreads reviewer, writing in 2015, was taken aback that the characters were chimpanzees: "The story itself is cute and innocuous. For the life of me, though, I can't figure out why Arthur, Violet, Norman, and Wilma are illustrated as monkeys. Nowhere in the story is there a single reference to them being animals, and the text doesn't describe them doing anything monkey-specific. So the entire time I'm reading it I'm playing a running loop in the back of my mind: 'Why are they monkeys? Why on earth do they need to be monkeys? Why not just illustrate them as children?'"

Apparently the chimpanzees were not too much of a stumbling block, though, because that same reviewer returned this month to write: "We've been reading this book for 5 Christmases now. I still think it's weird that Arthur and his friends and family members are monkeys. However, I do find the story charming."

P.S. — Chimpanzees are not monkeys. They are part of the family of great apes.

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