The Christmas Anna Angel, a 1945 Caldecott Honor Book by Ruth Sawyer and illustrated by Kate Seredy, is a difficult book to understand without a good handle on the history of Russia, the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church and lots of old wives tales, which, admittedly, I was lacking upon reading this story. In the beginning Anna and her family are visited by a scary-looking man dressed in colorful robes and carrying a staff on St. Nicholas Eve who asks what they would like for Christmas. Apparently, this was supposed to be St. Nicholas himself on December 6th. The next holiday that the family celebrates is St. Lucy’s Day on which the children chase the chickens around their yard in an attempt to make them lay eggs, supposedly causing them to lay every day throughout the entire year. This holiday takes place on December 13th and is celebrated mostly in Scandinavia, but also in some parts of what I think of as Russia today. Finally, the family celebrates Christmas Day with their modest presents and ornately decorated shaped cakes. There is so much more to this story, but I found the storyline impossible to follow. With a talking dog and an angel appearing to the girl with her same name, as well as with the arrival of St. Nicholas, I could not tell from the story itself what was real, imagined, or a dream.
1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – A wide variety of pictures are in this book. Most of them are charcoal and colorful chalk – very typical of the western Russian culture of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.
2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – The pictures do complement this story well.
3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”- Depictions of St. Nicholas and other religious icons, as well as the clothing pictured make this story come to life as a Russian tale.
4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The pictures do not serve to interpret the confusing plot or theme, but the characters and setting are very clear and well-pictured.
5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children did enjoy this book, but were confused about the storyline, too. To do fair justice to this book, I would need to spend considerable time teaching them about the history and culture suggested in the narrative and by the illustrations, so that they could truly understand what is happening.