Irene Trivas,
Emma's Christmas
(Orchard, 1988)

Emma is a farmer's daughter who likes to go barefoot in summer and sit in the branches of the old cherry tree any time of the year. On the first day of Christmas, the local prince spots Emma in her tree and promptly falls in love. But when he asks for her hand in marriage, Emma declines because "she couldn't imagine herself living happily in a castle."

The prince is not to be dissuaded, however. Convinced that Emma is his own true love, he sends her a gift that very afternoon: a pear tree complete with a partridge.

On the second day of Christmas, he sends her two turtle doves and another partridge in a pear tree.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

On the third day of Christmas, the prince sends three French hens, two more turtle doves and yet another partridge in a pear tree, causing Emma's mother to mutter "He's overdoing it."

Each subsequent day brings another barrage of cumulative gifts, driving Emma's father and mother to visit her ancient grandparents far away on the other side of the kingdom. Emma is left to cope with the doves, calling birds, swans, geese, cows, maids and other assorted gifts until the twelfth day of Christmas when the prince arrives, and Emma has a solution that will make everyone happy.

Irene Trivas calls her book "an old song re-sung" and it is fresh, original and funny. Emma's reactions range from charmed at the initial gestures to alarmed at the realization that one of the things birds do well is lay eggs to her final frustration when she hurls the accumulated gold rings at the calling birds -- who, in this version call "EMMA! EMMA! EMMA! EMMA!" -- and the result is a bright and lively story that everyone can enjoy.

Trivas' pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations capture the spirit perfectly with remarkable crowd scenes and eye-catching splashes of color. Together, the illustrations and the story make this a perfect holiday pick for the entire family.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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