The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story
By Lemony Snicket; illustrated by Lisa Brown
48 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-1932416879
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
Lemony Snicket -- yes, that Lemony Snicket, of A Series of Unfortunate Events fame -- has turned his one-of-a-kind writer's style to the crowded field of holiday stories with success. His book The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming is a heartwarming and quirky synthesis of Christmas and Hanukkah that celebrates the true meaning of the holiday season.
On quiet Christmas Eve in a small town, the peace is shattered by the goings on in a small cottage, the only one in town that's not decked out with Christmas lights. A screaming latke, made in preparation for the Hanukkah celebration, has bounded out of the hot pan and escaped through an open window. As he scampers away, the latke meets all manner of Christmas decorations. One by one, the Christmas lights, candy cane, and Christmas tree all tell the latke that he's messing with their holiday with all his screaming and then proceed to disregard him as merely a potato pancake, opine that the story of how those studying the Talmud in 175 BC pretended to gamble with a dreidel when the Greek soldiers came by is "just like Mary and Joseph," and so on.
Continuing to scream in frustration and explaining the how and why of Hanukkah at every turn, the latke finally settles under a pine tree that insists that only presents are supposed to be under evergreen trees at Christmastime. Too tired to scream anymore, the latke hears the tree begin to share its wisdom on how "different things can blend together," beginning with "a funny story about pagan rituals" when a family comes trudging through the snow, lamenting their waiting until the last minute -- for what? Ah, that's the surprise, for the latke and the reader!
The themes of identity and belonging are strongly conveyed; Snicket's storytelling style is forthright and has an element of self-awareness that's part of the charm. The latke, in every instance, affirms his part in Hanukkah and tells more of the story of how and why Hanukkah came to be. His continued frustration with the comparisons of latkes and Hanukkah to Christmas finally reach the breaking point when the family in the woods stumbles across him sitting at the base of a pine tree, a scene that culminates with a heart-felt demonstration of the recognition and welcome the latke's been searching for, Snicket-style.
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming is illustrated by Lisa Brown, who has written and illustrated the Baby Be of Use series (for adults) and How to Be. Her screaming latke, round-mouthed and thin-limbed, stands out starkly against a plain white background on a page facing nothing but "AAAAHHHHH!," his expressive face speaking volumes (plus, younger readers love screaming along with the latke, recognizing the repetition of the latke facing the scream as their cue to join in). Simple artwork keeps the focus on the story while supporting the text with charming hominess.
Delicately straddling two holidays, the ultimate moral of the book, that "On a cold snowy night, everyone and everything should be welcomed somewhere" draws celebrants of both Hanukkah and Christmas in. Snicket's wise fable is both educating and entertaining, charming and quirky, a perfect combination to be enjoyed for many Decembers to come.
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