Merry Christmas, Anne – written by Kallie George, illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
Tundra Books, 2021
When it comes to children’s books, there’s the concept and the execution. Illustrated, edited, or adapted versions of classics may be a controversial proposition, but Kallie George and Geneviève Godbout’s reimagined Anne of Green Gables would win over any skeptics. (The same applies to the illustrated chapter books by Kallie George and Abigail Halpin, also from Tundra Books.) Whether or not young readers eventually find L.M. Montgomery’s books, and it would be a terrible shame if they didn’t, these parallel stories stand on their own as beautiful, engaging, and sensitive homages to the originals.
George’s text is both playful and poetic, showing deep respect for children’s ability to understand metaphor: “I’m so thankful for many things,/feathery frosts and silvery seas/and wreaths as round as the moon.” Anne and her bosom friend, Diana, are both Avonlea residents eagerly awaiting the Christmas holiday, and also the incarnation of Anne’s admiration of fairies.
After all, this is the best season for a leap between the real world and the fairy realm: “Oh, Winter, you make the world dream/as much as I do.” If anyone doubts that she meets the requirement to transform herself into a fairy, Anne will not be dissuaded. She gazes into the mirror with a wreath crowning her red hair, as wild as the roses decorating this ornament. Readers face the mirror, and see Diana in the background, sharing their perspective on Anne’s theatrical nature.
Godbout’s delicate pastel and colored pencil images are perfect for the incredible picture of a fairy feast. As in Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, a diminutive Anne and Diana appear on the table, surrounded by a gravy boat, centerpiece, and roasted goose for the Christmas meal. Anne looks the more ethereal of the two, seated next to a sprig of holly, while the more practical Diana seems to be serving a small item of food. It’s a bold choice to combine anecdotes from the novel with elaborations of new possibilities, like Anne and Diana’s fairy transformation. We are still grounded in the world of L.M. Montgomery, as Anne and her friends perform in a grand theatrical success.
When Anne, Matthew, and Marilla return to Green Gables in a horse-drawn sleigh, the nighttime image of silhouettes against the snow evokes comfort without sentimentality. A dark night sky, white snow, and the dominant tone of blue-black capture Anne’s world perfectly. An imaginative and independent girl who defies convention and yet longs for stable attachments to friends and family, Anne embraces Christmas with the same intensity as her other experiences, both real and imagined. The deceptive simplicity of George and Godbout’s vision is actually a loving rendition of childhood, in all its contradictions.