Once Upon a Story
December 20, 2013

2286697The Visit by Mark Kimball Moulton (as recalled by Dinghy Sharp), illustrated by Susan Winget

Published by: Schiffer Publishing

Release date: October 2013 (first published October 2001)

Ages:8-12

Pages: 54

From the publisher: In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore created the classic Christmas poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” for his daughter. Here, in verse and accompanied by over 50 richly detailed illustrations, is the story of the writing of this classic. It is based on the history of the poem as passed down through the generations of the Moore family and told to the author by Dinghy Sharp, the great-great-granddaughter of Clement Moore.

My thoughts:

“The Night Before Christmas” is one of those time-honored classics that most children hear for the first time as a lap read, and most adults can recite from memory by the time they have children of their own.  It is widely accepted that Clement C. Moore penned the famous poem, but how many know more about its origins?

The Visit is the result of an interview between the author and Moore’s great great grandaughter, Dinghy Sharp.  The story of how “The Night Before Christmas” came to be was as much a part of Ms. Sharp’s childhood as the poem itself.  It tells of a sick child, a winter storm, the compassionate (and unrecognized) kindness of a stranger, and the dedication of a man to his wife and child.  The icing on the cake is an appendix containing a copy of the famous poem, written in Moore’s own handwriting a year before his death, and approximately 40 years after he first penned the words (I love stuff like this).

While “The Night Before Christmas” is a poem meant for young children, The Visit is geared towards older readers.  The length, the vocabulary, and the minute details all are meant not to introduce the poem, but to provide background to those already familiar.  The book itself is written in verse, and divided into three sections.  The first is narrated by Ms. Sharp as a child, telling of her first experience hearing this family history on her grandfather’s knee.  The second is narrated by her grandfather, and provides specific explanation for some of the poems famous lines.  What is a sugarplum?  What are coursers?  Why were stockings hung at the fireplace and not in the bedrooms?  The final section, also narrated by the grandfather specifically recounts the events that inspired the poem, beginning with Mother fussing at Papa Moore as he relaxes with a book while she’s frantically trying to finish Christmas preparations.

Every single page has a new surprise, a new piece of information I never would have guessed, and even doses of humor.  Is it all true?  Who knows.  Stories that get passed down through the generations tend to change slightly .  But in the end, that doesn’t really matter.  What we have is a “true as possible” account of a poem I’ve known since my childhood, accompanied by gorgeous, full-spread, illustrations.  While my own children are still too young to appreciate this book (or even sit through it), I’m saving it for future years.  What a delight to have this little bit of shared Moore family history.

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