Tomi Ungerer’s charming book for children, Christmas Eve at the Mellops’, was originally published in 1960. It was reprinted in 2011 by Phaidon Press to bring the story to a new generation of children. Ungerer is known for classic picture books that he has written and illustrated such as Moon Man.
Christmas Eve at the Mellops’, is one of a few stories by Ungerer about a family of pigs. The style is very different from later works such as Moon Man with drawings that are similar to those of William Steig.
The story begins with the father, Mr. Mellop, reading an article about Christmas decorations. He shows his four sons, Casimir, Isidor, Felix and Ferdinand the article. One by one, each of the young pigs goes out to get a Christmas tree. The four brothers are sad when they return home to discover that each one had the same idea. So Mr. Mellop suggests that they take the trees to those in need such as prisoners and hospital patients. But they discover that the places they visit already have a Christmas tree.
Then they encounter a little girl pig who is crying, and follow her home where she lives with her sick grandmother. They find other sad and lonely pigs in various rooms in the house and realize that this is where their trees are needed the most. Not only that, the Mellop brothers bring necessities for the families in the house such as warm clothes, food, medicine, and wood for a fire.
The brothers return home in a very good mood and discover that Mr. and Mrs. Mellop have prepared a Christmas celebration with their own family tree, as well as lots of gifts and festive food.
Today, many of the illustrations and situations, such as the pig brothers bringing goods to a poor house or a drawing of a prisoner smoking a cigar, would not be considered. In the late 50s through early 60s when the Mellops books were first published, these situations were more acceptable and the whimsical drawings and funny situations were more unusual in children’s literature.
While my five-year-old enjoyed Christmas Eve at the Mellops’, this is a title that children today may not seek out on their own because of the wide variety of Christmas-themed books that are available. It is worth seeking out if you’d like a charming holiday story with a vintage feel.