Of Books and Traditions
Most people have traditions around this time of year. I certainly do—I like routines anyway (slight OCD tendencies? Me? Never!), so the idea of tradition works quite well for me. Some are pretty standard: Advent calendar, Christmas Day at my grandmother’s, NORAD Santa Tracker, etc. Some are a little more personal.
For as long as I can remember, I have read Richard Scrimger’s Of Mice and Nutcrackers every holiday season. It’s a middle-grade book, and although it’s apparently a sequel, it stands alone (I haven’t read the first one). Essentially, it follows seventh-grader Jane Peeler as she directs her class’s production of The Nutcracker while dealing with strained friendships, her dad’s pneumonia, and her cursing, chain-smoking grandma.
It holds a special place in my heart.
Obviously, it’s a childhood favourite. I don’t remember when I first read it, but I remember thinking Jane was really old. So, I was probably around eight or nine.
I’m twenty-one now, and I still love it.
It’s a genuine story, with some remarkably clever writing. The cursing grandma? Scrimger neatly uses “sound-alikes” to show her “bad words.” Get the shell out of bed, ham stairs, and so forth. Let’s be honest, some kids probably know what he means, but that’s okay. They’re in on the joke.
But there was one that took me quite a few years to get. At one point, the grandma yells at an incompetent driver: “Hey, axle!”
Think about that for a minute.
Yes, he went there. And I respect him so much for it.
It also took a few years to figure out why Jane’s little brother avoids pork chops and ham throughout the book. Likewise, a few years to catch the sly in-text references to Scrimger’s other books. I love that. I love that the main thrust of the story is accessible to kids the first time, but that all these nuances emerge with successive readings. Sure, some of the characters are fairly one-dimensional (The Mean Teacher), but most of them are surprisingly complex. If I were to ever try my hand at kidlit, this is how I’d like to do it.
But of course, I also love it because it’s so strongly linked to the holidays for me. Over the years, it has become part of my preparations for Christmas. I savour it, reading a chapter a day, timing it so that I reach the part where the principal says, “…fourteen days until Christmas” on December 11th (yes, I’m a nerd).
I don’t know if or when I’ll ever have kids. If I do, Of Mice and Nutcrackers will certainly make an appearance.
But I’ll let them decode the grandma’s dialogue on their own.
How about you? Any beloved children’s books, or books that get better with subsequent readings?