I’ve read several Christmas books featuring Winnie the Pooh, and one thing you can always count on in these stories is that the rumbly in the tumbly of the Silly Old Bear will be satisfied with a pot of honey, either from Santa Claus or from a generous friend. But in The Merry Christmas Mystery, written by Betty Birney and illustrated by Nancy Stevenson, it looks like Pooh may have to wait a while for his favorite treat. Instead of honey, Santa brings him... thistles. Is the Jolly Old Elf implying that Pooh should diversify his tastes? Might thistles complement his efforts in his morning stoutness exercises? Or is something else at play here?
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Last year, I read Alexander Steffensmeier’s Millie in the Snow, a picture book about a cow who must trek home in the midst of a blizzard, carrying gifts for the folks back at the farm. The outcome of that cow tale reminded me very much of The Merry Christmas Mystery, which was one of the first in my collection of Pooh books that now includes more than a hundred volumes. I received it for Christmas, and the vibrant Golden Look-Look Book was a perfect fit for me, but in this story, a perfect fit is hard to come by. Everybody in the Hundred-Acre Wood seems to have received a gift that doesn’t make much sense.
Pooh and his thistles is only the beginning. Piglet arrives on the scene in a winter coat so big that he can scarcely walk. Rabbit shows off tiny red earmuffs that barely cover the tips of his ears. What’s a Tigger to do with a pot full of honey when it’s common knowledge that Tiggers hate honey? And what could Santa have been thinking when he gave Eeyore that peculiar coat rack? Nobody’s too sure, but the nice thing is that while general puzzlement abounds, nobody is complaining. “It was nice of Santa to think of me” becomes the familiar, polite refrain. And then, as more and more residents come together for the annual decoration of the grandest pine in the forest, they begin to share...
By the end of the book, the woodland friends manage to crack the mystery behind their unusual gifts; it’s a simple solution, though I wonder how many children would guess it ahead of time, since it involves an object that I don’t recall seeing in any other Pooh stories. I think the first time I read it, my hunch was that Santa - or perhaps Christopher Robin - just wanted to give these friends of modest means an opportunity to exchange gifts with each other. That’s the result, anyway, making this an especially sweet Pooh story.
The writing style is typical for a Disney Pooh book, and each of the characters acts and talks naturally. I love the detailed, full-color illustrations, which feature so many of these beloved characters in the pristine, snowy setting. I’m a little curious as to why Roo turns up so much earlier than Kanga, who doesn’t seem to have gotten a mixed-up present, and it’s a shame that Gopher doesn’t show up at all, but as a pure Disney invention, he does tend to make his way into fewer books than most. Everybody else is here, and it’s one very happy crew sure to spread merriment to any youngster longing for a sojourn in the Hundred-Acre Wood.
This review is part of Carstairs38's All Things Disney Write-Off, Sleeper54's Lean and Mean IX Write-Off and my Tales to Warm Your Mind Write-Off.