Favorite Christmas Books

In lieu of doing a library book round-up this week, I thought I’d feature some of my all-time favorite Christmas books. (These are in alphabetical order by author, so don’t draw any ranking conclusions from them!)

Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack, illustrated by John Thompson215959.Sch_XmasBigHouse_0.tif

When I was growing up, we had a big box of Christmas books that only came out at Advent/Christmas time with the other Christmas time. My sister and I got as excited about looking through the books we hadn’t seen for a year as about all the other Christmas preparations. This was one of my favorites from the box, and it was a somewhat later addition (I don’t remember when we got it, but I remember getting it). It’s a historical fiction picture book, which portrays Christmas 1860 on a southern American plantation. It shows both the slave and owner life experiences, and while it combines facts and traditions from many different actual plantations, the authors work hard to be historically accurate. I will admit that, at first, my favorite thing was to pour over the pictures of splendor in the “Big House” celebrations. But the story is very well done, and over time it gave me a lot of food for thought.

best christmas pageantThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

This is just fabulous. If you haven’t read it, go out and brave the post-Christmas return crowds (0r go on Amazon) to get a copy. It tells about a town’s Christmas pageant put on with the “worst kids in the entire world” as its stars–kids who’ve never heard the Christmas story before pageant practice begins. As they demand explanations for various parts of the story, they give everyone a new way to think about Jesus’ birth.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Robert Sabudatwelve days

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. It’s beautiful, and I even pulled it out on Christmas Eve to read with my kids, who loved it. But, we received it when our oldest was either a baby or about a year old, and much as I’ve tried, I haven’t prevented serious damage to the paper engineering. If you aren’t familiar with Robert Sabuda, he does pop-up books that aren’t just for kids–beautiful, intricate pop-up books that are easily damaged by small children. We still enjoy it, but his books are definitely best shared with somewhat older kids.

polar expressThe Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Everyone knows about this one, but I’ll add my voice to the clamor. It’s a great book. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure the book is way better.

Max’s Christmas by Rosemary Wellsmax christmas

This is an early Max book–I remember it being in our Christmas book box, too, and I don’t remember getting this one. I like it better than many of the later Max books because it’s so short and sweet–perfect for small children, and it also perfectly encapsulates the characters with just a few well-chosen words and well-drawn pictures. A great accompaniment to “The Night Before Christmas” as a Christmas Eve read-aloud.

jonathan toomeyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski, pictures by P.J. Lynch

This is a newer picture book, and it’s a serious one. Like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, it’s best enjoyed by people who see Christmas as a holy day and not just a holiday. It tells the story of a grumpy old woodcarver who is brought back to joy by a Christmas job given him by a widow and her son. There are some pages that make me cry, but most kids won’t be quite so deeply affected.

Hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season! Merry Christmas!

Writing Christmas cards

Well, I’m not right now, because there is a certain Christmas card assembly line that isn’t so good to set up while the kids are up and about. But the point is that I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been doing Christmas-y things, and next week, I may not be blogging for the same reason, and then we go out of town and my computer access will probably be spotty. I hope to at least get a few book posts drafted before we go. In the meantime, here is our Christmas tree, along with all the low-hanging ornaments the kids helped put up, then almost immediately started taking down.

Tree in its glory.

Tree in its glory.

Low hanging ornaments.

Low hanging ornaments.

Hope everyone else’s December is going well, too.

 

Library Books Enjoyed, 12/12/13

Some recent finds at the library; 2 we only found because we heard them at story time first.
Chloe, InsteadChloe, Instead by Micah Player

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cute, colorful story of sibling rivalry that is also a very quick read-aloud. I think my kids liked Chloe’s antics that upset her sister as much because they’ve gotten in trouble for some of them as anything else. Fun and touching.

One Little Lamb One Little Lamb by Elaine Greenstein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very short, simple book (each page has a phrase rather than a complete sentence) that takes children through the process of wool becoming yarn and then mittens. The beautiful pictures are probably more than half the appeal, and this also happens to be a nice picture book for any knitters in your life.

The Missing Mitten MysteryThe Missing Mitten Mystery by Steven Kellogg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know how long it’s been since I read a Steven Kellogg book, but this was featured at story time last week and we then checked it out. I think it’s cute and fun, but I don’t like it nearly as much as the kids. Obviously, they like the snow, because their firsthand snow experience is still very limited, but I also think they like the elaborate scenarios the girl dreams up and the mystery that has to be solved. A good winter-time read.

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In which I meet the Yarn Harlot

I have picture proof, although anyone conducting an investigation would be within their rights to question the veracity of the photo:

She's the one at the front who's head is slightly higher than everyone else's.

She’s the one at the front who’s head is slightly higher than everyone else’s.

I get an interesting mixture of star-struck and desire to play it cool when I meet celebrities. In this case, it resulted in not asking to get a picture with her in the book signing line (even though she had been very nicely posing with people all evening) and not remembering to tell her anything I had wanted to say about her books. I thought about telling her that I first discovered them for myself this summer right after a death in the family and that she provided some much needed laughs at the time. If that seemed to personal, I figured I’d at least tell her that I enjoyed and appreciated her parenting commentary as much as her knitting commentary. Instead, I muttered something vague and brief about enjoying her books and hoping she had a safe trip home, and that was it.

Despite my disappointment in not making any kind of real conversation, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is just as entertaining in person as she is in her books, plus almost the whole audience was sitting there knitting while she talked, which was completely awesome. I’m so excited that I got to see her, and grateful that my husband took the kids for the evening, even if it came at the price of a few “there’s a world-famous knitter?” jokes.

Library Books Enjoyed, 12/5/13: Recent Favorites

Here are some of our recent library selections that we have read over and over and over:

I'm a Frog! (Elephant and Piggie, #20)I’m a Frog! by Mo Willems

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gerald and Piggie continue to delight. We requested this from our library as soon as we saw it was out, and we were not disappointed. This may not top my all-time favorite Elephant and Piggie book, Let’s Go for a Drive, but it was filled with fun, thoughtfulness, and the right kind of twist for all ages to enjoy. The only problem with this series is Mr. Willems can’t possibly write and draw them as quickly as we go through them.

Fly Guy #12: There's a Fly Guy in My SoupFly Guy #12: There’s a Fly Guy in My Soup by Tedd Arnold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My mom recently introduced our family to Fly Guy and boy, are we fans. The kids LOVE Fly Guy, and despite my initial skepticism, I have to say that I like him a lot, too. He may be gross, but he’s not crude.

In this installment (we have been reading them in no order whatsoever), Buzz and his pet Fly Guy get to go to a motel and fancy restaurant–hijinks ensue when Fly Guy tries to take a bath.

These easy readers are not easy enough for very beginning readers to read on their own, but they are fun enough that non-readers and beginning readers may be memorizing and “reading” them (mine are). They also hold up pretty well to endless repetition. I definitely recommend them!

Fly Guy #4: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly GuyFly Guy #4: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since checking this out 6 days ago, I think we have read this book about 50 times. The kids love it. It’s funny, nobody dies, and it served as a good introduction to the song “I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.” (Now I need to go track down the Simms Taback book–I think we last checked that out when the 5 year old was 1 or 2.) This is one that I am sure is destined for multiple repeat check-outs.

Señor Pancho Had a RanchoSeñor Pancho Had a Rancho by Rene Colato Lainez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm…but Old MacDonald’s next-door neighbor, Señor Pancho, speaks Spanish, and so do all his animals! While this isn’t a true bilingual book, I thought it did a nice job of introducing Spanish words to an English-speaking audience, and could equally make a Spanish-speaking audience feel welcome at a largely English-speaking story time.

I like the animal sounds in particular, because it always fascinates me that animals speak different languages, too! My girls liked this a whole lot, because one of our current music class songs is “Vengan a Ver,” a Spanish farm animals song. I wouldn’t suggest this as a bedtime book, because it’s both long and energizing, but at other times of day, it’s great!

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Advent 2013

Whew, it’s hard to believe it’s already Advent, and even harder to believe that Christmas is in just 3 weeks. It feels like Advent is short this year, but I looked up the earliest and latest start dates (November 27 and December 3, if you’re interested), so it’s really just average. It must be the whole “life going faster as you get older” effect.

I love Advent. I’ve always loved the feeling of anticipation that just fills the month of December, but I used to kind of lump Advent together with Christmas in my mind. Obviously, the two are linked, but it’s become more important to me to observe Advent separately before pulling out all the Christmas stops. Along with that, it’s become more important to celebrate the whole season of Christmas, right up through Epiphany. I know lots of people are ready to take their trees down on the 26th or, at the latest, on the 1st or 2nd, but I think continuing the Christmas celebration for all 12 days is one way to separate the Christian celebration of Christmas from the commercial one.

Along those lines, I’m also trying (once again) to recommit to prayer time and quiet time, and I’m using this resource: http://www.piercedhands.com/advent-boot-camp/. I’m not a huge fan of the name, nor am I Catholic (full disclosure), but I enjoy this blog and Advent seems a short enough chunk of time to reasonably manage setting aside extra time for prayer. And you never know, if a habit develops, all the better.

We will still be doing lots of fun Christmas preparations (we’ve already partially decorated and written letters to Santa, and we still have cookie baking, tree trimming and present shopping ahead of us), but now I’m going to sign off and try to get my quiet time in before school pick-up.