The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell, Christmas Story
The Littlest Angel Book Covers
2004 version illustrated by Guy Porfirio.
The Littlest Angel (ISBN 0824955757), by author Charles Tazewell has been in publication continuously for over 60 years, making it one of the most well-known Christmas stories ever published. It was first published in 1946 and illustrated by Katherine Evans. The Littlest Angel has been illustrated by many other artists, giving the book a slightly different and updated look as the years have passed, but the story has survived over 60 years of re-issues, with a popularity that has stood the test of time.
Not much is known about Tazewell. He was born in Iowa in 1900 and died in Vermont in 1972, and worked with the producers of a radio version of the story that featured Loretta Young, and a television version of his story that was produced by Hallmark. His name appears on the playbills of three broadway plays, mostly in minor roles, during the 1920s, long before he published the Littlest Angel. I'm not at all surprised by this tiny gem of information, since Tazewell's style exhibits an ease with the language, and a drama and sentimentality that could easily be explained by some stage acting experience.
The Littlest Angel Story Summary
The Littlest Angel is a story of the youngest angel in heaven--a little boy who doesn't know how to act angelic. In fact, he acts just like the little boy he was on earth. But in Tazewell's perfectly ordered heaven, the littlest angel struggles to find his place. His heart yearns for earth, where his boyish treasures lie. The littlest angel is messy, clumsy, always late, and he sings terribly off key. The other perfect angels in heaven don't quite know what to do with him.
"However, owing to the regrettable fact that he always forgot to move his wings, the Littlest Angel always fell head over halo!" -The Littlest Angel
Finally the littlest angel is sent to be "disciplined" by the Understanding Angel. The Littlest Angel sits on the lap of the Understanding Angel, and unburdens his troubled little heart, revealing just how homesick he is for earth. The Understanding Angel agrees to retrieve the boy's box of earthly treasures, which contains things that only a little boy could love.
When the birth of a Christ child is announced, all the angels excitedly gather to announce their gifts to the newborn king. The littlest angel only has his box of treasures, kept under his bed. It is all he ever had, and is the perfect gift of innocence. In a moment reminiscent of the story of the widow's mite from the New Testament, the Littlest Angel decides to give his box of treasures to the Christ child. But almost as quickly, he regrets his decision. In the dramatic conclusion, the hand of God rests on the Little Angel's gift, and declares it the best of all.
Broad Appeal of This Story
Charles Tazewell wrote the Littlest Angel in an era that pre-dated television, fast food, and video games. It was the era of radio, and Tazewell's sumptuous use of descriptive words and his smooth storytelling style almost reads like a radio script. Like other stories of the era, including The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper and the Pokey Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey, this story doesn't spare words.
Yet Tazewell's story is broadly appealing to a diverse age group because Tazewell knows how to pace his story. Beginning with the Littlest Angel's admission into Heaven, where Tazewell's protagonist balances the strengths and tenderness of boyhood: the Littlest Angel stands defiantly at the pearly gates with his tear-streaked face eliciting immediate sympathy. The Littlest Angel's antics in heaven are humorous and propel the story forward. But thes humorous antics also draw a picture of the Angel's melancholy efforts to fit into Tazewell's ethereal and other-worldly heaven that seems solely the realm of grown-ups.
Tazewell was 46 years old at the time the book was first published, and the second World War was coming to an end. It isn't all that surprising that a story like The Littlest Angel emerged at the end of the second world war. The world was grieving for the souls of its lost sons and daughters. This story lays bare the collective grief of an era, and indirectly pays tribute to the many lives that were taken before their time.
Changing Illustrators and Publishing Timeline
The Littlest Angel has sold over 1 million copies during the last 60 plus years. During this time, the author has passed away, and the story has been republished using a number of different illustrators. Most of the versions of the story have stayed true to the original text of the story, though an abridged version of the story has been published in board book format for some of the different illustrators. Please note that you can see a slide show of their book covers with their ISBN numbers (if I could find them) or an Amazon ID. Because so many versions of the book are in print, you can buy an earlier version illustrated by Katherine Evans for almost the same price as a newly illustrated version of the story.
The rarest version of the Littlest Angel is the Silver Star edition published by Grosset and Dunlap. I have been unable to find this version to get a cover image. Here is the publishing timeline for the various books:
- 1946 Grossett and Dunlap published the first edition of The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell and illustrated by Katherine Evans. Evans' illustrations depict the angels as cherubic children with an appearance common in illustration of children at the time. Compare to other early books like We Help Mommy in the Little Golden Books series.
- 1947 The Silver Star Edition was published through Grossett and Dunlap. This is the most collectible edition of the book.
- 1960 The Littlest Angel was republished with a new cover, by Wonder Books with illustrations by Katherine Evans. This cover is green and depicts the littlest angel falling head over halo from a cloud.
- 1962 Grossett and Dunlap publish a new version of The Littlest Angel with illustrations by Sergio Leone. This version of the book depicts the littlest angel as a little blond boy wearing blue "footie" pajamas.
- 1969 The Littlest Angel is produced into a movie starring Johnny Whitaker. In this version of the story, the littlest angel is named Michael and is an 8-year old shepherd. This movie version became a Hallmark Hall of Fame DVD selection.
- 1972 Charles Tazewell death
- 1982 Ideals Publications publishes a keepsake edition of The Littlest Angel with illustrations by Rick Reinert.
- Date Unknown Leaflet Missal, a publisher and distributor of Catholic children's books and tracts, publishes a version illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh.
- 1990s Ideals Publishers reprints the book illustrated by Sergio Leone in a large format version.
- 2004 Guy Porfirio illustrates a new version of the book with the original text through Ideals Publications. This book rivals the other children's art books marketed for Christmas sales, and has high-quality realistic pictures, giving the book a modern look. The illustrations depict the littlest angel with a touch of mischief.
- 2007 Paul Micich creates another set of illustrations for this well-loved book. The pictures in this version have a more brooding quality and use rich, dark colors, with less emphasis on realism. Micich is an artist residing in Des Moines and is a native Iowan, like Tazewell. Micich has also published several CDs as a musician.
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