Interactive Advent Calendars

My childhood Advent calendar came from Joe’s Candy Cottage, which was a stone’s throw from the Manhattan Beach pier.  A tiny shop redolent of melting chocolate  twelve months a year,  in December Joe’s was even more irresistible to local kids, who hung around and admired the stocking stuffers imported from Europe in the glass vitrines and a menagerie of Steiff toys arranged on high shelves.

That calendar from Joe’s was discarded long ago, but it planted in my head the perfect idea of its kind–a snowy landscape with toys, woodland animals, stars, sweets and cunningly concealed flaps numbered from one to twenty-four, all lightly dusted with a veil of silver glitter.

The simple paper artifact of my childhood is now another Christmas commodity that blows into the marketplace every year in a flurry of sizes, shapes, and materials incorporating different combinations of holiday motifs.  Some designs forgo the little flaps that open to reveal pictures of treats to come for wooden drawers, which ask to be filled with goodies by Mom or Dad.   Instant gratification trumps the cultivation of patience yet again.

The Cotsen collection’s cache of  what I assumed would be a selection of “traditional” European Advent calendars had more to offer than schmaltz where naked pink cherubs turn out sugary treats in a celestial bakery.  Instead of rolling out variations on the same old theme, some graphic designers and illustrators were more than happy to experiment with the format.

The publisher’s envelope for the Advent calendar, Das Christkind im Walde, ca. 1930. Cotsen 36764.

The envelope of Das Christkind im Walde illustrated in frosty blues promises the pleasure of creating a charming tableau between December 6th and the 24th.  The backdrop is a section of wintry forest with squirrels, rabbits and crows.  There are no flaps on the calendar, just numbers.  Each number has a corresponding tab on the back.

The numbered tabs on the back of the calendar. There is also a mostly illegible property stamp for a school in Prague.

As more tabs are turned during the passage of December, the scene fills up with angels carrying stars and lanterns.  On the twenty-third, St. Nicolas pops up in the lower right hand corner and the Christ child takes the center stage on Christmas Eve. Josef Mauder (1884-1969), the famous Bavarian illustrator of Jugendstil children’s books, designed an Advent calendar that required the child to do quite a bit more than find the flap with the day’s date on it, open it, and long for the thing pictured in the window.

The well-worn cover of the third printing of Josef Mauder’s Muenchener Weihnachts-Kalendar, which probably dates around 1925. Cotsen 23215.

Each day, the child had to select the correct illustrated sticker and paste it in its proper space on the right page.  The Cotsen copy has been completed, so I am guessing there was an envelope containing the set of stickers, now discarded.  Each sticker tells the story of one stage of Peter and Liesel’s search for the Christ Child between December first and the twenty-fourth.  On the third day of the month, for example, they meet the Heinzelmann and ask for directions.  They see St. Nicholas on the fourth of December while trying to find the fifth tree in the sixth row the Heinzelmann told them to look for.

Last but not least, an audio-Advent calendar that predates the ones on the Internet by several decades.   Glade Jul, Dejlige Jul is one of those completely mad hybrids that ensures that life will never be dull.   The twenty-four flaps of the Advent calendar have been arranged around the circumference of a 45 r.p.m. record on laminated cardboard (ours is missing seven flaps).

Glade Jul, dejlige Jul = Santa Notte = Voici Noel = Silent Night, holy Night = Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. [Copenhagen?]: L. Levinson Jr. Ltd., copyright [1965?] Cotsen 6488.

One way of playing with this object might be for the child to open the flaps and look at the loot in the windows, then to play the sound recording.  As the record spins, the children on the flaps appear to dance around the Christmas tree in the center, making Glade Jul is a relative of a phenatistoscope, or precursor of a GIF animation of a short continuous loop.   This novelty, with its parallel titles in five languages was probably intended for distribution in America, England and the Continent.

So don’t let the snow melt under your feet in the forest!  There are still nineteen flaps to open on whatever the Advent calendar you fancy!

Pizza, the Perfect Food or Halloween Costume

Children should eat less pizza, according to the American medical profession.  Unless they can be coaxed into consuming pizza with more kale and less cheese…

Or like junk food, pizza can be enjoyed in a picture book instead of on a plate.

Jan Pienkowski. Pizza! A Yummy Pop-up. Paper engineering by Helen Balmer and Martin Taylor. (Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, c.2001). Promised gift.

To some illustrators, the idea of making a pizza is an invitation to collaborate with paper engineers.  Some animals put pizza on the menu when the king of beasts announces that he is dropping by for lunch.  A penguin kneads the dough with his  feet, thanks to a pull-tab.  Other moving parts make it possible for the kitchen crew to sprinkle over the dough “creepy, crawly, tasty toppings” like caterpillars, bugs, tadpoles, worms, and a peppy frog.  A flap lets the polar bear and mouse pop the pie into the oven and close the door.  Too bad the pizza doesn’t fill up the lion…

William Boniface, What Do You Want on Your Pizza? Illustrated by Debbie Palen. (N.p.: Price Stern Sloan, c2000). Promised gift.

This unusual board book lets children “order” a slice from the pizza man. The laminated pages are so deep that they have recesses in the shapes of all the different toppings.  Readers can follow the suggestions for finishing the pie in the text or put what they like on it, helping themselves to the pepperoni, anchovies, and veggies in the plastic box attached to the inside of the rear board.

Cover illustration by Roberta Holms for Pizza Math (Alexandria, VA: TimeLife for Children, c1992) Promised gift.

Believe it or not, Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested using waffles to teach children mathematical concepts. His spirit lives on in the “I Love Math” series, which tries to make the subject “a hands-on, interactive learning experience” by inventing “entertaining characters” and placing them in scenarios that “invite your child to solve math challenges.”  One of the activities in Pizza Math  is a board game called “Tic-Tac-Pizza” printed on the rear endpaper.  Ask mom for some macaroni and jelly beans and play along with the octopus in a chef’s toque and a cat in a trench coat and pink heels.

Endpapers by Sharron O’Neil.

The game Pete’s parents invented to distract him the day the ball game with his friends was rained out looks like a lot more fun than “Tic-Tac-Pizza”  and it was tested extensively by William Steig on his youngest daughter Maggie.

William Steig. Pete’s a Pizza. (New York: Michael di Capua Books, HarperCollins, 1999, c. 1998). Promised gift.

Dad picks up his sulking son off the couch and plops him down on the kitchen table so he can be made into a delicious pizza!  Once the “dough” has been thoroughly kneaded, then it is tossed into the air and stretched into a translucent circle.

Now the “pizza” can be topped with “tomatoes” (checkers) and “cheese” (bits of paper) before it is put in the “oven” (the sofa).  But by the time it is nice and hot, the sun has come out and the “pizza” runs outdoors to find his friends.

 For some people, the only thing better than eating pizza, is being one!

But maybe not…

Charlotte Voake, Pizza Kittens (Cambridge: Candlewick Press, c2002). Promised gift.