Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve

Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve? by Jan Brett

Sometime in the last five years I stumbled across this in the school library.  I was suckered in by polar bear on the cover and I took it out.  Imagine my shock! delight! amazement! That this is, in fact, a retelling of the same Norse folktale as The Cat on the Dovrefell.  I had to own it.

This time it is a young boy who is traveling with his ice bear.  And instead of taking possession of a deserted cottage, he shelters with a young girl whose father has headed to the mountains to attempt to cut off the trolls.  Of course, if the father were to be successful, there would be no real story, so naturally the defense of the cottage falls to the children.  They check all the entrances, but trolls are quite determined and after a good bit of knocking make their way inside.  Again they mistake the bear for a cat and tempt it with food, clearly an error in judgement.  As in The Cat on the Dovrefell the bear rises up and chases the trolls outside, saving Christmas forevermore.

Jan Brett’s version is certainly more beautiful and mysterious than DePaola’s.  The illustrations are in her typical highly detailed style with the insets on the sides adding even more to the story.  There’s enough here to keep focused lookers and listeners busy for awhile.   It doesn’t have the same humor as DePaola’s version however, and because of that (and perhaps the use of children as the main characters) it is much scarier when the trolls descend upon the house.

Great for: It’s a lot of fun to share both versions of this unusual holiday story and have your audience decide which they prefer.  Older children will be able to effectively compare and contrast the stories and make a judgment about which is better.  For classroom teachers this can serve as a nice filler activity towards the holidays when you don’t want to start a whole new unit but do want to continue teaching curriculum.  The setting of the books at Christmas will almost convince your students they’re having a special holiday treat.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – The boy encourages the bear to attack the trolls.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Some children find the trolls in this book scarier than in the other book.  They are also coming into a house with children (in Cat on the Dovrefell there’s only an adult and a bear) which is a little more frightening.  The trolls also do a lot of knocking before they invade so there are some suspenseful elements.

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