I suppose this is a tad early, but tell the people who donate books.
Somebody brought in a little book which is immediately recognizable as a Christmas title. The book is small, with a dustjacket which is unslick, marking it as a product of days gone by. It was published in 1947, with a title nearly as long as the text on any single page: The Small One (A Story For Those Who Like Christmas and Small Donkeys.)
For one reason or another, I have never read this book, and I don’t recall ever watching the Disney movie made from it. (It was destined to be a media hit in any case. It’s the only book I ever saw with a note in the back stating that the book is also available read by Bing Crosby on Decca Records.) It’s sort of an animal fable of the “How the Camel Gots Its Hump” variety, explaining “Why Donkeys SEEM to be Stubborn.” (They’re not, as the story explains.) It was written by a man named Charles Tazewell.
Now, I have cited Mr. Tazewell in this column before, without actually mentioning his name, as he is also the author of The Littlest Angel, a story of a small hoarder who went to Heaven, and what came after. Interesting coincidence, that his two bestsellers were about a small one and a littlest angel. I wondered whether he was small himself, or had a collection of small things, or tended bonsai trees, or just what.
Looking him up, I found that he was, indeed, the author of several other children’s titles, including The Little Gray Donkey, The Littlest Stork, The Littlest Tree, The Littlest Uninvited One, The Littlest Horse, the Littlest Princess, The Littlest General, The Littlest Bell, The Littlest Waif, The Littlest Kangaroo, The Littlest Santa…one wonders how the Donkey got by as only small. Oh, yes, he is also the author of The Littlest Snowman, a Christmas adventure recorded by Captain Kangaroo in a version which haunted my childhood. (The snowman melts while fighting a fire; I never thought it was fair.)
Not a bad collection (I didn’t mention I’m a Fridgit!, since the title doesn’t tell us this is the Littlest Fridgit) for somebody who set out to be an actor. His obituary mentions that when he graduated from high school, his father had to pick up the diploma because Charles was appearing in a show. An Iowa lad, Tazewell (pronounced Tazz-well, it says here) went on to a number of jobs onstage, but during the Depression had to pick up extra money as a radio scriptwriter, turning out dozens of plays as needed. “The Littlest Angel” was an emergency job, written when a Christmas special was cancelled at the next-to-last minute. But another special was aired at the last minute, and that Angel had to wait another year, until another gap in the Christmas programming came up.
Hollywood made some use of him, too: his obituary mentions that he wrote material for Mickey Rooney, without making any of the obvious jokes. He and his wife left California for New England, where he spent much of the rest of his life running a Little Theater in Brattleboro, Vermont. In his spare time, he continued to write little books. (I see I have also failed to mention The Lullaby of Christmas, since he doesn’t say it was a little lullaby.) Besides Bing Crosby, stars who recorded his work on disc include Loretta Young (Littlest Angel), Tennessee Ernie Ford (Little Gray Donkey), Gregory Peck (Lullaby of Christmas) and…wait for it…Joan Crawford (Littlest Stork.)
Now, as I say, I am probably rushing the season again. Please send your complaints either to the person who donated this Christmas first edition in September or to Mr. Tazewell himself (he died in 1972) for never writing The Littlest Pumpkin.