Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meet Kersti of "Kersti and St. Nicholas"

Kersti goes sailing in a washtub.
Kersti is one of Hilda van Stockum's controversial characters. She is the last child in the van Disselen family, which was - after six daughters -  perhaps understandably hoping for a boy. Kersti is naughty. But as Elisabeth Marlin says in the Preface, "her naughtiness [is] balanced by courage and generosity." She is also a convincing advocate for her causes, and this is the heart of the story. After a number of Kersti adventures that make clear that St. Nicholas would be well within his rights to leave a lump of coal in her clog come the night of December 5 (the eve of the saint's birthday, when he visits children), Kersti comes face to face with St. Nicholas and gets him to agree to give presents to undeserving children. Hilda van Stockum was criticized for this by some reviewers and her published response was: "I claim no responsibility for [Kersti's] actions. I had a lovely, sweet, good little story for nice little children and Kersti just came and played havoc with it. She ruined the moral, shocked Pieterbaas, had a very bad influence on St. Nicholas and did not deserve a present at the end. I wash my hands of her." But we  know that Hilda van Stockum had a huge love for all her characters, especially including Kersti.  The story is based in Zeeland, in the southwest corner of Holland, bordering on Belgium. Hilda van Stockum was thereby staking a claim in a different part of Holland from her first book about Holland, A Day on Skates, which was based in Friesland to the north.
Cover of Kersti on Amazon.
Kersti was first published by Viking Press in 1940 and was highlighted in the roundup of new children's books in the New York Times on December 1 that year. The book probes the mythology of St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas), who visits homes with his Moorish assistant Piet on the eve of his day, December 6 to mete out rewards for those children who have been good during the year. St. Nicholas Day is the year's most important celebration in Holland. It also provides a realistic picture of Holland in the days before cars and electricity.

How to Order "Kersti and St. Nicholas" for Yourself or as a Gift for Someone Else.  The latest version of the book issued in late 2011 has  each of the major, glorious illustrations spread over two pages. Kersti is available from Amazon for $13.99 (free shipping for total orders above $25 to a single U.S. address).  A preview of the book (“LOOK INSIDE!”) is available - go to the Amazon site. 

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