Friday, December 20, 2013

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas by Russell Hoban; pictures by Lillian Hoban (1971)

Let's say O. Henry decided to write a short story about an otter family at Christmas.  Or better yet, Steinbeck decided to write a picture book about a down-and-out otter family and their Depression era Christmas.  Because that's essentially what the Hobans have done here.  There are shades of O.Henry, and Steinbeck, and maybe even Flannery O'Connor in this warm little Christmas story. The author that really hovers over the story, though, is Thornton Burgess.  But nothing about the story is even derivative of any of the above mentioned authors.  Simply a southern flavor, a Depression-era flavor, and the Burgess ability of weaving modern American animal fable.  Lillian Hoban's illustrations are the other side of this coin; really, without them the story would be like a fallen souffle - still edible, but flatter and not as interesting.  I loved
some of the minor characters the best - Mrs. Snapper is amazing (if this were 1938, she'd be played by Hattie McDaniel in the movie version); I loved Doc Bullfrog as well, in his tuxedo.

I missed this book growing up - and this is directly from my childhood (1971)  I know there is a beloved Jim Henson version as well, which I've never seen but would now like to see!

Strange to think that the Hobans are making a beautiful story together in 1971, a just four years later
divorced.


Emmet Otter's Jug Band ChristmasEmmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas by Russell Hoban
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's say Steinbeck, or O. Henry, or even Flannery O'Connor decided to write a picture book about an otter family at Christmas - this would be the result.  Thornton W. Burgess also hovers over this book as well.  But the book is derivative of anything these authors have written; the story stands alone, quite warm and beautiful.  Lillian Hoban's illustrations are the other side of the coin; without them, the book is like a fallen souffle - still edible, but not nearly as interesting or tasty.  I missed this book growing up (it's definitely a book from my picture book era) and I'm glad I picked it up in a Christmas mood this week.  Made me feel all warm and cuddly inside.


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