By Lisa Trumbauer
Illustrated by Jannie Ho
Sterling Publishing, 2009
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First and foremost, The Great Reindeer Rebellion is a story told in rhyming verse. By default, this makes it a picture book after my own heart.
(SPOILER ALERT) The Great Reindeer Rebellion follows Santa's trials of auditioning a new group of animals to run the Christmas Eve sleigh ride, because his reindeer have gone on strike due to inhospitable working conditions. It's a very clever backdrop to explain the basic concept of unionization, and the story tackles this feat in a way that is easy to digest, totally unassuming and not didactic in the least. The stories' poem style (Ballad, I think) is a riff on "Twas the night before Christmas". This adds a built-in familiarity to the story from the get-go, and kids and adults alike will instantly feel a sense of comfort on the very first reading. Given the poem's cadence, it's also a fun book to read out loud together.
The story itself is fun AND funny—Santa's search for a new group of sled-pulling substitutes leaves him quite exasperated after every audition. This is my first picture book by author Lisa Trumbauer, and surely it won't be my last. (RANT ALERT) I have heard time and time again that "it's hard to do rhyme well" and "poetry is a hard sell" in children's trade. I love to write in rhyme myself, and while these remarks are always a bit daunting to hear for an aspiring children's author-poet, they would never stop me from choosing rhyme as my form of writing. (After all, these things choose YOU, not the other way around. ;)). After continually hearing those words over and over (...on deaf ears... ;)), and in this publishing climate to boot, seeing books like this one getting published (and presented so beautifully and respectably) is a very good reminder that solid writing is solid writing. At the end of the day, that is what matters.
The story also inspires some highly entertaining visual narrative. Illustrator Jannie Ho's artwork is her signature visual playground, but here, she tackles some interesting new ground (new to me, anyway). The likes of Santa, Elves, Reindeer on strike (and in hot tubs!) are composed with lots of character and humor. To me, Jannie's work most always has a sort of deadpan-whimsy about it, and here, there's an additional underlying bit of saltiness kicking in! Fun nuggets in the details of some of the spreads reward the viewer and add layers to the story. Jannie's current admirers will be ecstatic, and I've no doubt this book will bring more fandom her way! The richly colored spreads are tactile, too - they're enhanced by the judicious use of spot gloss.
This is a physically substantial book that feels good to hold. The pages are double thick. This does not make the book heavy weight-wise, but it does make it feel like a thick, juicy steak in a picture-book buffet. Pick one up, and you'll see what I mean.
The Great Reindeer Rebellion is built to last many a holiday season, and the story, subject matter and art are all timely AND timeless. A contemporary holiday classic, in my book!