Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas

After last Christmas, I was in the children's book department at Barnes & Noble, looking at the now-discounted Christmas books. One I hadn't seen before was The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas by Trish Holland and Christine Ford and illustrated by John Manders. It's a newer book (copyright 2006), with an Army take on the traditional poem by Clement Clarke Moore. This time, it's Sergeant McClaus with his "eight Humvees, a jeep close behind...". Soldiers are sleeping in tents, with laptops, rifles, boots, helmets and letters from home nearby. B&N says this books is for "infants or children in preschool", but I think that's a bit narrow. Since this is really an illustrated poem, I think it can be shared with children of all ages (and grown-ups, too!).

Manders' illustrations remind me a bit of the Sunday comics. He's got the soldiers in their desert cammies, body armor and helmets (complete with night vision mounts), and the American flag on the uniform sleeve is facing the proper direction. One helmet seen on the floor next to a soldier's rack, full of gifts from home, has the insignia of the 3rd ID.

And what does Sergeant McClaus look like?

As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Through the tent flap the sergeant came in with a bound.
He was dressed all in camo and looked quite a sight
With a Santa hat added for this special night.

His eyes - sharp as lasers! He stood six feet six.
His nose was quite crooked, his jaw hard as bricks!
A stub of cigar he held clamped in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.

As McClaus finishes this phase of his mission (to "Bring Christmas from home to the troops far away!"), he gives our narrator a salute. This poem ends:

As the camp radar lost him, I heard this faint call:

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