Is it too late to offer a suggestion for the best Christmas book ever? I’ve got a shelf full of Christmas stories, from The Nativity as illustrated by Julie Vivas to Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. Some, like The Nativity, stick with the original story of Jesus, away in a manger. Others, like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and the evergreen Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, are modern updates that focus on the message of giving and acceptance.
But while you can place most holiday titles into these kinds of broad categories, there’s still one book that doesn’t quite fit: Merry Christmas, Space Case by James Marshall. Leave it to the Texas-born author and illustrator of the George and Martha books and Fox and His Friends to write a not-very-Christmas-y Christmas classic.
In Merry Christmas, Space Case, we meet Buddy McGee, a smallish, cat-hugger of a boy who learns that his family will unexpectedly be spending the holiday with Grannie. Buddy’s response is classic James Marshall:
“But we can’t,” cried Buddy. “My friend from outer space is coming here for Christmas.”
“Not that again,” said Dad.
“You can leave your little friend a note,” said Mom.
“But, but…” said Buddy.
But that was that.
Marshall never feels a need to explain why Buddy has a friend from outer space. He does, however, populate Grannie’s neighborhood with two of the ugliest bullies in fiction: the Goober twins. They promise to beat Buddy up unless he can produce his outer space friend on Christmas day.
The friend, called “it” or “the thing,” only remembers his promise to Buddy during a “wild party” “a few zillion miles away.” It is easily distracted but loyal in the end, turning up just in time to transform the Goober twins into twin snowmen.
I’m not sure what Merry Christmas, Space Case has to do with Christmas, but it was the perfect read for me and my kids this holiday season. If you haven’t discovered it yet, don’t wait until next year. Check it out now.