Like many parents at this time of year I read my children Christmas books. Tonight’s choice from my youngest was Mr Christmas, a late addition to the Roger Hargreaves Mr Men series.
When it comes to the Mr Men I am a traditionalist. I read the stories to my children doing an Arthur Lowe impersonation. I prefer the morality tales of the first twenty or so books, where a small character is sadly afflicted by the curse of nominative determinism (Happy, Greedy, Uppity, Messy, Tickle) and over the course of the story encounters something that impacts on that characteristic. In the ideal Mr Men story the characteristic is remedied and the nominative determinism that has tainted the life of the Mr Man is thrown off demonstrating the importance of free will to pre school children. In much the same way that The Bill went off the rails when the show started concentrating on the personal lives of the characters, things all went wrong when the Mr Men started making guest appearances in other Mr Men’s books. At times the guest appearance involved the Mr Man having resumed the character flaw from his eponymous tome. What sort of message is that to send to children?
Now Mr Christmas is a late entry to the series. Illustrated by Adam Hargreaves it shows little sign of the classic Roger Hargreaves formula. In it Mr Christmas, who lives at the South Pole and has a penguin as a postman, is invited by Father Christmas to deliver presents to the Mr Men because there are so many of them Father Christmas can’t make it round all of them without help. This confuses the small child. There are lots of children in their nursery or school. More, in fact, than there are Mr Men. But Father Christmas can’t handle the pressure of delivering to the forty odd Mr Men. He needs to contract out his work, in a manner which fails to satisfy basic requirements of public procurement legislation. This creates unnecessary panic in the child that Christmas may not be delivered, due to pressure of work.
More confusing though is Father Christmas’s relationship to Mr Christmas. He is referred to, throughout, as Mr Christmas’s uncle. Given the shared surname it may be thought by the casual reader that Father Christmas is his paternal uncle. However, Mr Christmas’s mother may be Father Christmas’s sister, and be a single parent, or in a relationship but has retained her own name, or may have reasserted her name following a relationship breakdown. I have discounted the possibility that an Icelandic system of surname allocation is adopted (with “mas” meaning son) given the later Little Miss Christmas. On this important question of the relationship between Father and Mr Christmas the book is sadly silent.
Contemplation of the blood relationship between Father and Mr Christmas does lead one down some difficult paths. We are aware from earlier books, Mr Small and Mr Silly being two classic illustrations, that Mr Men and humans co-exist in the world. However, the prospect of inter species breeding, creating some sort of Gallifrey worrying hybrid, is not raised in other books. Mr Christmas though hints at the issue. Father Christmas is a big bloke, beard, hat, the usual stuff. Mr Christmas is a Mr Man. Now, whether maternal or paternal uncle the physical appearance of Father Christmas this suggests that, unless the parents of Mr Christmas have adopted a Mr Man and a Little Miss, there is cross breeding. The matter of fact way in which this is presented in the text is commendable, but does little to assist the parental reader in addressing the inevitable questions asked.
Cumulatively I feel these factors impact on my rating of the book so two stars.