A year of unusually heavy rains spark a series of events that lead the Animals of Crouch End in North London to decide to celebrate Christmas for the first time. These begin when Rufus Fox hires Marvin Mole & Sons to repair his flooded home. As he wanders Crouch End and sees Christmas decorations appear soon Belinda, a wood pigeon, Hilda Hedgehog, The Magpies, Silas Squirrel and family, Franklin Frog and his family, and the large, fierce, tiger-striped tabby, Goya, who overhear Rufus' bewilderment over Christmas, decide to suspend their usual activities and, led by Rufus, to collaborate on putting together their own Christmas and Christmas Feast in order to understand Christmas. Magic is involved, too, as Rufus has second sight, and is helped by the Fairy, Tinya, who first explains what Christmas is about, and then helps make Rufus' home Marvin Mole & Sons repair large enough for everyone to fit in—even though it isn't. But Tinya challenges Rufus to discover on his own the real secret of Christmas. Rufus is still puzzled even after all goes off splendidly Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but at the very end with Tinya he realizes the secret is not getting, but giving; not having a truce among unlikely animals, but a family relationship, all motivated by love for one another. He decides to become a vegetarian to keep his new 'family' together.
Marvin, of course, has serious building skills, which is a stroke of luck for Rufus. Not only is his nephew in town, but the People of Crouch End are gearing up for Christmas. That entails many strange traditions, according to Rufus, like stringing twinkling lights everywhere, cutting down trees for their houses, and decorating their houses with holiday trimming. As the Animals gather together to wonder at the odd behavior of the "People" they ask Rufus to seek out answers from the Fairies that only he can see. Rufus does just that, learning from resident fairy Tinya the ins and outs of Father Christmas, his sled, and the gifts the People receive on Christmas day—though she cautions Rufus there’s “something more” about the holiday that he must learn on his own.
With that knowledge in hand, the Animals vow to have their own Christmas feast, though they won’t eat any animals, of course (“It would be like eating one of ourselves!” Marvin exclaims). Lee (author of Orpheus Rising) endows his animal characters with plenty of human—and Yuletide—spirit, and their holiday cheer serves as the catalyst for Christmas magic to transform them and their surroundings.Meilo So’s dreamy illustrations bring to mind vintage Christmas scenes, a perfect match for the age-old lesson Rufus eventually learns: love is the true reason for the season.
Takeaway: Engaging, animal-inspired Christmas tale with a vintage feel.
Comparable Titles: Robert Barry’s Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, Jan Brett’s The Animals’ Santa.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
BLUE INK — Starred Review
Enchantingly told and marvelously illustrated, Lance Lee's holiday-themed chapter book offers bountiful delights for readers of every age. A modern-day urban Wind in the Willows set in London, this story, subtitled "a fable for children and their parents," is populated with mannered Beatrix Potter-like animals on a quest to discover the meaning and magic of Christmas.
When "the heaviest rains anyone could remember" drench the North London neighborhood of Crouch End, gentlemanly Rufus the Red Fox finds his life disrupted. Inside his elegant den in a deep backyard, "Rufus' floors were slimed. In one room a bed floated in floodwater ... He didn't dare use his stove for fear of electrocuting himself." A new neighbor, introducing himself as "Marvin Mole, Builder Extraordinaire," is wary of Rufus because "He is a Fox – after all!" Yet Rufus hires Marvin, quelling his predatory instincts.
Renovations underway, Rufus wanders the streets of Crouch End, growing "ever more conscious of all the strange Christmas behaviors of people," things he’s seen previously but doesn’t understand. Hearing Rufus' findings, the mole responds, "They go mad this way every year." As other animals chime in – Belinda the Wood Pigeon and Hilda Hedgehog stunned that "a Mole and Fox were friendly" – they challenge Rufus to ask the fairies about Christmas since he's rumored to have second sight. Later, Tinya the Fairy explains "the meaning of all the decorations and lights. Or almost all," since she stops short, stating, "There's something more you must find out yourself."
Lee's contemporary narrative is a timeless tale of caring, sharing and community, with a glorious dollop of magic. Meilo So's illustrations blend loose sketches and scribbled color with precisely rendered animals fetchingly anthropomorphic in their quaint attire.
Glorious, nostalgic and effortlessly charmingly, this instant holiday classic deserves a spot among the best of Christmas tales for children.
Highly recommended for fans of Kenneth Grahame and Beatrix Potter.
Also available in hardcover.
The Tale of the Animals' Christmas in Crouch End
Website : www.lanceleeauthor.com
Readers who choose The Tale of the Animals' Christmas in Crouch End will find a holiday fable as appropriate for adult read-aloud as for individual pursuit.
The animals of Crouch End in North London have not celebrated Christmas before, but when unusual rains lead to changes, one of them is to acknowledge the Christmas season in a special animal way.
As a disparate blend of animals wild and domestic, from magpies and squirrels to cats, band together to discern the puzzling meaning of this human holiday, they contribute not just insights but their own values and approaches to celebrations to create a multifaceted experience.
What begins as a simple assignment (Rufus Fox hires Marvin Mole & Sons to repair his flooded home) turns into an exploration of what People do and why some of these rituals and approaches to life may be fine-tuned to bring the animal world together.
Lance Lee creates an unusual focus and take on the typical Christmas holiday book for kids, adopting a lively focus that embraces an unusual blend of fairy tale magic and Christmas insights and secrets as the animals move from incomprehension of human behavior to realizing that, just maybe, They have tapped into an important secret that has (until now) eluded the animal kingdom.
Meilo So's fun, colorful illustrations pepper the story, which is too complex to be called a simple picture book read but too visually attractive to be limited to older readers alone.
Rufus, especially, acknowledges that there is much to discover about the holiday and its processes, and his concerns lend particularly well to adult read-aloud discussions with the very young:
"Rufus stared into his fireplace, sipped the last of his wine, and looked down at his fine ascot and finer waistcoat. He liked both very much but knew they weren’t the ‘something more’ he wanted to understand."
The Tale of the Animals' Christmas in Crouch End will prove an attraction for any library catering to young readers, but is especially recommended for family viewing as it spins a fine London-steeped yarn that explores fairy magic, Father Christmas, and the deeper points of the holiday season.
Diane Donovan, Sr. Reviewer Midwest Book Review
Editor, Donovan's Literary Services
Five Star Readers' Favorite Reviews, excerpts
A magical story. The illustrations by Meilo So are captivating. Parents will enjoy reading this story to their young ones. Older children will also enjoy reading the book in anticipation of finding out how the pictures relate to the story. Intriguing from start to end.
Here is a Christmas story that will keep you engaged. The author writes in a manner that draws you into the story to see how well the various creatures put aside their differences, learn they can celebrate together in harmony. I recommend parents use this book as a foundation to discuss how to accept people who are different from them, how to celebrate together, and the joy of giving, sharing, and togetherness.
—Phillip van Heusen
An enchanting tale of wonder, friendship, and the true meaning of Christmas filled with lovable animals and gorgeous illustrations. This uplifting and enjoyable fable will soon become a family favorite that everyone will look forward to reading each year.