Tuesday, December 5, 2017

ST NICHOLAS | It's His Day – Buy "Kersti and St Nicholas"! (Updated Dec. 6, 2017)

"Kersti and St Nicholas" – slightly modified by the author's
children to make the book accessible to another generation
of families. The illustrations are classic.
December 5, 2017 – It is St Nicholas Eve, my mother's favorite day of the year when we were growing up. She would put up a Christmas tree and then get out her St Nicholas costume.

With great fanfare at dusk she would arrive as St Nicholas, meting out appreciation for all the good things the children did and remonstrating, in a stern but kindly way, about some example of deeds less admirable.

She did such a good job of it! I remember being so impressed with the deep knowledge St Nicholas had of our family. How could he know so much about so many families?

The next morning we would find our stockings hanging full of small gifts, and sometimes a piece of coal with an explanation, a reminder of some egregious malfeasance or nonfeasance. I was stunned. St Nicholas kept track! Who knew?

Hilda van Stockum herself is full of morality. She came down hard on her evil characters, like Leendert in The Winged Watchman. Some librarians found it disconcerting that Kersti managed to persuade St Nicholas to deviate from his normal mission of giving presents only to good children. In Kersti we find a St Nicholas who listens to pleas and can be merciful. The question of the librarians is where mercy ends and injustice begins.

The unexpected turn of the plot surely reflects the impact on van Stockum of Hitler's ruthless invasion of the Netherlands in May of the year of publication, 1940. 

That was van Stockum's country of birth and most of her relatives were deeply threatened. Many would die because they worked in the Resistance. Some died of hunger. One of her two brothers died during the war piloting an RAF plane to fight Hitler. The other brother died of an illness contracted in Holland during the war.

This is a "Speculaas Moulin" – a Dutch windmill 
cookie, with almond and ginger spices. In 
Belgium they are called "Speculoos" cookies. 
They are a specialty of St. Nicholas Day.
One can understand why at that time van Stockum was yearning for benevolence from those with the power to dispense mercy. 

The book Kersti and St Nicholas was originally a hard-cover book published by Viking. The reprint edition is a paperback. Her children edited the text slightly to ensure that the good children did not suffer from the mercy shown to naughty children. 

The illustrations in the book are universally admired, and every year the products offered by Boissevain Books get a little better as reprint technology improves and our ability to ensure quality increases.

Here is a review of the reprint edition:
A beautifully illustrated book for the Holidays about Kersti, a mischievous little girl who is always misbehaving, much to the dismay of her six older sisters and parents. As St. Nicholas Day approaches, Kersti worries that she won't receive any gifts and sets out on an adventure. First published in 1940, this new edition has been abridged and adapted by the author's family to make it more accessible to young readers today. – Fantastic Fiction.

The book has a rating of 4.8 out of 5 on Goodreads and 4 out of 5 on Amazon. So:

More about St Nicholas

St Nicholas is the patron saint of millers and sailors, Holland and New York City. St Nicholas appears the evening before his feastday, i.e., the evening of December 5.

Above is a photo of a cookie my wife Alice Tepper Marlin purchased in Belgium. It is a St Nicholas Day specialty. It has a windmill on it because it's a specialty of Holland and other low countries threatened by floods.
First published in 1962, The Winged Watchman
 has sold 55,000 copies in reprint since 1997.
 It has been optioned for a movie and a 
television mini-series.

Hurricane Sandy a year ago shut down much of New York City and reminded us of the Dutch skill at keeping out water. Much of Holland is at or below sea level and the windmills pump out the "polders", the areas surrounded by dikes (Dutch embankments).

The Port of Rotterdam is a great example of Dutch engineering to keep water at bay. It is also where my Hilda van Stockum was born. Her father was a naval captain and she grew up near ports and naval bases. Her book, The Winged Watchman (1962), was republished in 1997 after 20 years being out of print. It has sold 55,000 copies in the reprint version, has been optioned for a movie, and is currently under option for a television miniseries. The book by my mother has special relevance in light of Hurricane Sandy, which caused most of its damage because of flooding and caused most of the lost economic activity because of the electricity outages.
The story is about a family that lives in an old windmill during the Nazi Occupation. Two boys aged 10 and 14 join the Resistance. The book shows how the windmill did their work when the electric mills were starved for fuel during the Dutch famine.

New York City has lost the skills of its Dutch colonists and Hurricane Sandy did major damage to the areas of NYC near water. If the Dutch were still in charge this might not have happened. Bring 'em back!

Seal of the City of New York. Note windmill 
"wings" and two beavers.
The Dutch first came to New York when the Dutch East India Company in 1609 sent English navigator Henry Hudson to explore the river now named after him. He went far north into what is now Canada and wrote back to his sponsors that beavers lived on the river in abundance. A Dutch settlement, New Amsterdam, was founded in Manhattan largely to support trapping beavers and sending them to Europe for women to wear. The New York City coat of arms has two beavers on it as well as a four windmill wings in honor of the Dutch settlers.

The Dutch have been facing these flooding problems for many centuries. Their world preeminence in building windmills to pump out water also made them experts in making sails for the mill wings and this helped make them a global naval power for a time.

After the English took over the Dutch colony in 1664, they renamed it New York. The city grew most rapidly when the Hudson River became the gateway not only to upstate New York but also, after the Erie Canal was built, to the Great Lakes.

The Dutch have developed many kinds of technology to deal with today's challenges to their flood-threatened system of polders. New York needs to get their advice. The Winged Watchman provides both a history of the importance of windmills in Dutch history and an education in the ways to deal with flooding.

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