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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

Here's an Oldie and a Newbie for Bayou Lovers and Children

These two books are sure to please this holiday season.

"Cajun Night Before Christmas 50th Anniversary Edition"

Illustrated by James Rice

In the late 1960s, a New Orleans auto dealership turned the beloved “A Visit from St. Nicholas” into a Cajun advertisement for the airwaves. Milburn Calhoun, who was starting a small publishing house at the time called Pelican, heard the jingle and envisioned a fun children’s book perfect for the holidays, one in which Santa would arrive in a boat pulled by alligators and the rhyme would be told in Cajun dialect.

One day, an art professor rode up on a motorcycle to propose an illustrated children’s book he created and Calhoun asked, “Can you draw an alligator?” James Rice said yes (even though he had never drawn a gator) and the result was “Cajun Night Before Christmas,” published in 1973. It became an instant hit, requiring a second printing before that Christmas.

The book launched Pelican’s children’s book division, which is now the publisher’s largest segment. There have been audio versions, coloring books, stuffed animals and Christmas ornaments in addition to the book that sells year after year. Rice went on to write dozens of books for Pelican — including other “Night Before Christmas” tomes, such as “Texas Night Before Christmas,” “Gullah Night Before Christmas” and even "Redneck Night Before Christmas." His books have sold more than 2.5 million copies to date.

In honor of the book’s 50th anniversary, Pelican has produced a special edition with the original story and illustrations, plus the story behind the creation.

The Gumbo Gators

Written and illustrated by Paul Schexnayder

I was asked to review this book before publication and found it utterly charming. Fran and Van Harahan decide to make a gumbo and need ingredients for this iconic Louisiana soup, so they travel around Louisiana until they have everything they need. As they visit specific destinations, from one end of the state to the other, they choose ingredients the areas are known for, such as hot sauce from Avery Island, where Tabasco is made, and rice from the southwestern prairies.

Each destination includes a number that rises as the duo travels. For instance, three pounds of shrimp is followed by four links of smoked sausage, and so on. In addition to learning their numbers, children will also be introduced to a few French words and Louisiana expressions, such as “chère” for dear and “makin’ groceries,” meaning to shop for groceries.

Everything comes to life with Paul Schexnayder’s whimsical illustrations. Award-winning artist Schexnayder is a native of New Iberia, La., where he runs a gallery and works as a visual arts teacher. He is also the author of the children’s picture books, “In the Time of Joy and Wonder,” “In the Time of Shimmer and Light” and “In the Time of Mission and Might,” among others.

—Cheré Coen

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1 Comment

Bruce Coen
Bruce Coen
Dec 10, 2022

2 wonderful books that should be on every child's bookshelf!

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