'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse
So begins perhaps the most famous poem in American history, "The Night Before Christmas." (Fun fact: the real name of the poem is "A Visit from St. Nicholas"). The poem was anonymously published in 1823, and credit was eventually given to Clement Moore (though that claim remains in dispute). The poem is commonly credited with creating many of the modern-day traits we associate with Santa Claus.
In the nearly two centuries since it was first published, many illustrators have tried their hand at bringing Moore's vivid scenes to life on the page. At the Des Moines Public Library, you can find more than 100 different different versions of the poem thanks to the generous donation of our former library director.
The collection was donated to the library by Elaine Estes. Estes worked at the Des Moines Public Library for 39 years, including 19 years as director, before retiring in the mid-1990s. We've highlighted a few of the most interesting books in the collection below.
These books are all part of the library's special collection, meaning they can be viewed by the public at anytime. If you wish to see the collection, just go to the Central Library's second floor and inquire at the desk upstairs. The materials in special collections may only be viewed at the Central Library, and they may not leave the building. Parts of the collection are are also currently on display in the Central Library's second floor in the display cases.
The collection will also be available for the public to view during a special event on Tuesday, December 3. Elaine Estes will share more about the history of the poem, as well as her large collection of "The Night Before Christmas" books. There will also be holiday tea and cookies. The program starts at 12:00 PM at the Central Library.
More examples from the collection:
Arthur Rackham Illustrated Version
This version of "The Night Before Christmas" is notable because it was illustrated by Arthur Rackham, a prolific English illustrator from the late 19th and early 20th century. Rackham is widely considered of of the greatest illustrators of his era. He is particuarilly well-known for illustrations of Rip Van Winkle, Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and more.
Saulfield's Muslin Books Version
This is one of two "muslin book" versions of "The Night Before Christmas" that the library has. Librarian Cat Bierling calls them "the early version of board books." They are made of tough muslin fabric. They can bend but are not easily creased or ripped, making them an ideal material for young children to handle when reading. Best of all, parents were able to actually wash muslin books without worrying about any of the colors running.
Little Golden Book Version
This Little Golden Book version, illustrated by Corine Malvern, is the classic version of the story many people grew up with. Malvern was the illustrator for several of those famous Little Golden Books, including Frosty the Snow Man, Heidi, and Nursery Songs.
Natee Puttapiat Paper Cut Pop-Up Version
Elaine Estes donated several pop-up books to the library as part of her collection. One of them is this fantastic paper cut pop-up created by Thai illustrator Natee Puttapiat. Puttapiat, a non-binary artist, is known for their usage of black and white images to create these wonderful, delicate pop-up books. We highlighted this one specifically for its beauty. The first image at the top of the page is an example of the paper cut designs.