Firefly in a Fir Tree: A Carol for Mice

Overview

When Hilary Knight discovered mice in his studio, he set about designing them a special outdoor home.

The mice had unique talents of their own. Maude, an expert needle-mouse, complemented Max's way with a hammer. Both shared a keen eye for found objects.

Mr. Knight's watercolor journal of this charming couple's enterprise, accompanied by ...

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Overview

When Hilary Knight discovered mice in his studio, he set about designing them a special outdoor home.

The mice had unique talents of their own. Maude, an expert needle-mouse, complemented Max's way with a hammer. Both shared a keen eye for found objects.

Mr. Knight's watercolor journal of this charming couple's enterprise, accompanied by Maude's daily notations, has become a joyous celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas.


About the Author:

Hilary Knight, son of artist-writers Clayton Knight and Katherine Sturges, was born in Hempstead, Long Island and grew up in the town of Roslyn. When he was six the family moved to Manhattan where he has lived ever since. In the past twenty years he has maintained an apartment in the center of New York City which doubles as his studio and houses his collection of books, programs, and recordings of theatre and film music.

His first published work appeared in Mademoiselle magazine in 1952, followed by drawings in House and Garden, Good Housekeeping, and Gourmet magazines.

Mr. Knight has illustrated over fifty books, nine of which he also wrote. Besides books, his work has included note and greeting cards, children's fashion advertisings, illustrations for Cricket magazine, record album covers and posters for the Broadway musicals Half A Sixpence, Hallelujah Baby!, No, No Nanette, Irene, and Gypsy.

In this variation on the folk song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," two mice enjoy such Christmas gifts as "nine nuts for nibbling" and "four holly berries."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Originally published as part of a Christmas Nutshell Library, A Firefly in a Fir Tree: A Carol for Mice by Hilary Knight expands the borders with this hardcover edition and full-color rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." A pair of loving mice alternately shower each other with gifts, shown in illustrated "photographs" with handwritten labels. Youngsters will enjoy the artist's attention to detail, along with visual clues to the contents of each successive present. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Using the traditional pattern of "A Partridge in a Pear Tree," Knight has constructed cumulative verses that describe the holiday gifts brought by a mouse named Max to his "true love" Maud. The artist sketches the house where Maud is writing the story as Max brings in the tree for which the firefly is the first decoration. Each day thereafter the couple are busy in the house cleaning, decorating, and welcoming guests for the holiday celebration. Max delivers each gift on the right-hand page; it is shown in use on the following left-hand page in a pinned-up picture complete with title. Good-natured humor abounds; for example, the two silver pins become chopsticks used to eat a fortune cookie complete with fortune. Ever the tease, Knight begins the visual narrative across the jacket/cover with someone (himself ?) peeking into the mouse house along with a bright-eyed cat. The half-title page shows Max ringing the doorbell holding the first present. Then, on the title page, the artist is at his drawing table surrounded by sketches and story props. The story of the two very lively, appealing mice engaged in their variety of activities then begins. The final look inside the crowded house offers a chance to try to count the gifts as they all enjoy "a simply wonderful time." It is fun to compare Knight's version with the original carol. 2004 (orig. 1963), HarperCollins Children's Books, Ages 4 to 8.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 1-In a newly illustrated version of a tale originally published in 1963 (HarperCollins; o.p.), two mice offer their own version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," giving one another 2 silver (straight) pins, 3 thistle dusters, and finally 12 bees a-buzzing. The illustrations, in Knight's usual goofy and endearing style, take the form of "family photos" tacked onto each page, each with its own caption. As the gifts accumulate, the tiny house (furnished in Borrower style with thimbles and funnels and such) gets more and more crowded. Kids will be pleased to note that every single one of the 78 gifts is visible in the very last illustration. Energetic fun.-E. M. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060231903
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/1963

Meet the Author

Hilary Knight
Hilary Knight
Hilary Knight's whimsical, humorous illustrations have given life to the classic characters Eloise and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Once he sets his pen to a story, he renders it so enchantingly that you can't imagine anyone else giving life to the book.

Biography

Hilary Knight's career as a children's illustrator changed forever when he was introduced to Kay Thompson, who had an idea for a book about a six-year-old girl she had made up as a sort of alter ego. Knight sent Thompson a Christmas card with a drawing; the two cloistered themselves in a room at the Plaza, and Eloise was born. Her 1955 debut was a smash.

Knight has been in the press as Eloise's de facto representative since Thompson passed on in 1998 and her titles were freed for republication. But his contribution to children's literature is vaster, and his talent for creating evocative, singular illustrations is peerless. His work on Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series in the late 1940s, for example, was another case of his creating images that became inextricable from the stories; so much so that when Maurice Sendak took over the job for one Mrs. Piggle Wiggle title (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm, 1954), even that legendary illustrator's work seemed somehow unsatisfying. Knight had already left his imprint on the job with the flowing lines that had brought the story to life, seemingly drawn by MacDonald's words themselves.

In the MacDonald books, Knight lent his drawings of oval-faced, pixie-ish characters a certain ethereal quality, so that they often appear to be floating or vibrating. He accomplished the same conveyance of mood for the Eloise books, giving everything – especially the stringy-haired, peripatetic Eloise -- a sense of swanlike exuberance. It was with the Eloise titles that Knight had an opportunity to expand his art's relationship to a story; and the detail and scope evident in those books is often breathtaking and delightful. His work for other authors, including the The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken (for adults) and Sunday Morning by Judith Viorst, shows his versatility.

Though he has primarily been known as an illustrator for other writers, Knight has also had sole billing on a few titles of his own. The best known of these is Where's Wallace, featuring an orangutan antecedent to Waldo, and it's an excellent example of Knight's ability to create a virtual circus (or, in this case, zoo) on the page. He has also revived classics such as Cinderella, The Owl and the Pussycat, and The Twelve Days of Christmas, all of which show a softer, more textured style than in his other books. His work is always magical and alluring.

Good To Know

Eloise's visual inspiration was from a painting that Knight's mother did in the 1930s. He had plenty of encouragement: He told Barnes & Noble.com, "I started as a craftsman in my early teens -- family friends were trapped into buying jewelry, paintings, and 'objects' even before they got to the safety of our living room."

Eloise has a sort of doppelganger in Ian Falconer's irrepressible pig, Olivia. His Olivia and its sequels earned a coveted book blurb/blessing from Knight: "Eloise has met her match! We love Olivia!"

Knight's parents, Clayton Knight and Katherine Sturges, were successful illustrators also. Knight attended art school but his studies were interrupted by World War II, and he enlisted in the Navy. After almost two years of service, he began working as a magazine illustrator.

The origin of Eloise's dog Weenie, according to Knight in a 1999 Newsday article, came from one of Thompson's notes on the story that she gave to Knight before he began work on it. "I was intrigued by pugs long before Eloise. Kay gave me a piece of paper that read, 'I have a dog that looks like a cat,' and my original drawing was neither dog nor cat. It obviously wasn't right. Just about then the Duchess of Windsor began collecting pugs - at that point the Windsors were taken seriously as arbiters of fashion."

Well into his 70s, Knight says he is "still standing, with a pen in my hand." He reserves special admiration for fellow artist and renowned cariacaturist Al Hirshfeld: "[He] is my inspiration and should be to everyone. Here is a man at 100 whose work is consistently terrific."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 1, 1926
    2. Place of Birth:
      Long Island, New York
    1. Education:
      Studied at the Art Student's League and the New York School of Interior Design

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