A reimagining of the classic carol

“The 12 Days of Christmas,” by Debbie Curtin. BookBaby/TNS

When it comes to Christmas carols, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone unfamiliar with “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” At over 200 years old, this song is a time-honored classic that has been adored by thousands of listeners.

Now Debbie Curtin has put her own spin on the jingle in her vividly illustrated children’s book by the same name. In this fresh reimagining of the classic carol, she combines visual humor with the timeless lyrics, as well as religious references that tie the book even closer to the Christmas season. The combination results in a well-rounded picture book that would make the perfect present under a Christmas tree.

From the Muppets’ cover to “The 12 Pains of Christmas,” we’ve all heard the remixes of this iconic Christmas carol. The same can be said for its presence in the world of children’s books. Yet even amongst other interpretations, Curtin rises above to create a truly unique retelling of the song. This imaginative tale plays into the reader’s prior knowledge of the well-loved original and brings a fresh new sense of humor to the story. More than that, however, it also reminds us to remember why these Christmas carols exist in the first place.

Curtin’s book follows a pattern; each section starts with a page dedicated to the numerical day of the song, the number illustrated as a delicately curled ribbon reminiscent of Christmas gift wrapping. The author also includes a biblical reference to correspond with the number, such as “three theological values” and “the four gospels.” The references remind us to keep the reason for the season in mind, adding another layer of meaning to the more secular original. After all, the three theological values -- faith, hope and love -- are at the very center of what it means to celebrate Christmas. For those looking to draw their friends and family close during this chilly holiday season, Curtin’s retelling is that perfect reminder to do so.

The text in “The 12 Days of Christmas” is succinct, only including the original lyrics and the theological additions. The dominant aspect of the book is instead its illustrations, which fill the page with vibrant colors and charming details. Rather than having the art be a straightforward depiction of the lyrics, Curtin subverts expectations with her clever visual puns. The very first illustration of the book sets the tone for what you should expect. Rather than simply sitting in a pear tree, the partridge is gathering the fruit in her own basket, presumably to make some delicious pear dessert for the holiday! Another example is the artwork for “eleven pipers piping” -- instead of a musician playing a pipe, Curtin illustrates children piping frosting onto a cake.

With witty humor and a warmhearted message, this delightful children’s book is sure to be a hit with readers young and old. If you’re looking for a book that encapsulates the holiday season, look no further. “The 12 Days of Christmas” blends biblical quotations with whimsical illustrations to depict the full experience of what it means to celebrate Christmas. Get yourself a mug of hot chocolate and a blanket and settle in for the perfect fireside read to share with your loved ones this season.

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