Sunday, November 22, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

Author & Illustrator: Dav Pilkey
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks (2004) – original 1990
Pages: 32
Ages: 4 to 8

When thinking about a picture book to review for Thanksgiving, Dav Pilkey’s ‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving immediately came to mind. It is a book that is part of my annual readings with my students and over the past several years I have enjoyed watching the first graders at my school perform the book as a play. So when I was looking for some basic information on the book, I was surprised to see that the Editorial Reviews on Amazon were kind of negative. As I result I picked up my well-worn copy and had another read.

Pilkey’s ‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving is a parody of Clement Moore’s poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. In Pilkey’s version, a school teacher takes a group of students to a turkey farm run by Farmer Mack Nugget. The turkeys all have names of famous comedians (i.e., Larry, Moe, Groucho, etc.). Though children may not identify with whom the turkeys were named after or that the picture of Farmer Mack Nugget and the teacher is reminiscent of Grant Wood’s American Gothic image, the adults reading the story to their children will recognize and enjoy the references. Children will enjoy the playful antics between the students and the turkeys. When the students in the story realize what will happen to the turkeys, there is an outbreak of panic and mysteriously fatter children leave the farm than the ones who arrived. In the end, the turkeys are guests at Thanksgiving dinner rather than the meal and everyone feasts on veggies and jelly with toast.

After another read through the story, I find myself in disagreement with some of the negative reviews. Any reader familiar with Clemont's original poem will recognize Pilkey's parody, and to me it seems that this is part of the charm of the book. Since children are typically familiar with the original poem, I find that it immediately engages them. The animated cartoon-like illustrations highlight the light spirit and merriment of the story, and the ending provides a happy solution to the turkeys’ grim plight. The story also lends itself to being performed as a form of readers’ theater and I have seen many audiences of primary age children giggle in delight at the antics of the children and turkeys as performed by their classmates.

Though there are always dozens of picture books to chose from for any season, and thought this may not be the "ultimate" Thanksgiving picture book, I do see it having it's place among any collection of Thanksgiving picture books. My hardcover version of this tale will continue to hold a fond spot in my Thanksgiving collection of picture books and one that I will enjoy reading again and again.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving picture book? I would love to hear what it is. Please leave a comment with the name of the book and why you love it?! Thanks! - Aly

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