Tag Archives: Christmas

Catching up with 2016, Christmas and Otherwise


So it’s been an off and on year with blog writing for me. But I finally took a morning and traipsed through the bookstore grabbing a large stack of new picture books to settle down and preview. Coupled with a flurry of library holds, I feel adequately qualified in my investigative research now!  My finger has not been on the pulse of all immediate releases this year until now and I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered:

jefFirst of all, the rather depressing news.  There are no brand new Christmas themed books that really blow my dress up this year.  I mean sure, Gingerbread Christmas will get Jan Brett’s typical cult following.  If one is an accomplished enough artist, customers are willing to overlook a weak story.  And well, I just felt like it was a bit contrived. I liked Gingerbread Baby as a fresh spin on the old tale but kind of thought the mischievous whimsy should’ve stopped there. Incidentally, last year’s re-release of Gingerbread Man, illustrated by Richard Scarry is still one of my favorite renditions of the folktale and at less than $4, it’s a bargain.  And then there’s the one that’s getting the biggest press from publishers: Christmas Boot.  But while Pinkney never disappoints in his illustrations, I personally felt like the story was kind of a tired sort of regurgitation of a dozen other Christmas stories. That’s not to say it’s bad… but after reviewing hundreds of Christmas stories, I am looking for novel stories at this point. Christmas Crocodile was somewhat novel… and I always appreciate a good humorous break from the saccharine, emotional stories.  So that was pretty fun…

Honestly, I think the best Christmas-specific book released this year is actually another Golden Book by Richard Scarry… that of The Animals’ Merry Christmas. These vintage tales never go out of style and they stand head and shoulders above some of the newer fare that tries to force a Christmas SOMETHING down our throats.  Other than that, Christmas Fox is the only other title that peaked my interest but I’ve not had a chance to see it in person yet. And the Ephipany book The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men looks really lovely but not particularly novel. Epiphany suffers from the Thanksgiving syndrome… where it seems like the majority of picture books related to those holidays get in the rut of just rehashing the same story in different words each time.  This is why The Third Gift was the best thing to happen to Epiphany books since… well… ever. I consider it a must-have.

So let’s dive into some of the more exciting titles of the year…

 Before Morning is the only book in this post that I haven’t actually seen yet, great! Saw it! Love it. A contemporary story with just a working mother shown (no explanation of dad’s absence which I like) but with very classic illustrations. Beautiful! but illustrator Beth Krommes has never disappointed me yet. It looks absolutely glorious and seems to have that magical, lyrical perfection down of text matching illustrations…My very favorite book (so far) illustrated by Krommes is Blue on Blue but Grandmother Winter is a close second!

 

 And check it out!  Marla Frazee was able to nail an excellent, equally delightful sequel to Boss Baby about the new baby sister.  Bossier Baby is just as much fun and Frazee still stands out as my favorite baby illustrator of all time!

 

 

 Coupled with ABC Dream, Kim Trans has created a beautiful duo with 123 Dream.  Her artwork is stunning and the subtlety with which she illustrates her point is so appreciated.  These books would make a wonderful gift for a toddler… a gift that the adult would appreciate too.

 

 

 Circle is a living book that any curious child would be lucky to stumble upon.  Collage artist/writer Jeannie Baker first made her mark on me with the innovative book Mirror and she continues her excellence here. The story follows the migration of the world’s farthest traveling animal, the godwit.  And the spreads that show the curve of the earth are exquisite…

 

 Fun, bright, fold-out pages make Hocus Pocus, it’s Fall! a charming addition to any autumn book basket. There’s nothing profound here, just magical words on each page and rich, vibrant colors to get you in the mood for the season.  The first book here was Abracadabra, it’s Spring, which I thought equally gorgeous. I hope they end up doing a title for Summer and Winter also… they’d all make a lovely gifting set.

 

 Donkey-Donkey is an old title from 1940 that was reprinted this year much to the delight of Roger Duvoisin fans like myself.  It’s the classic tale of an animal unhappy with his lot who tries to be like everyone else before realizing that he’s just fine being himself.  It’s the modern theme of “celebrate your unique self” done with natural taste and charm.  I love how Duvoisin speaks occasionally to the reader, similar to Beatrix Potter and other children’s authors who don’t take themselves too seriously.

“But pigs have slow minds. Donkey-Donkey waited a long time. He counted up to one hundred but Rosa was still thinking. I suspect in fact that she just went to sleep.”

* Intermission Nota Bene…*

Unlike a lot of other picture book reviewers, I’m skipping over several other 2016 titles that  have made news lately. There is a large movement from publishers to produce books that are excellent in graphic design lately. Seems like all the ‘cool, new, hip’ picture books are ones that feature a particular flavor of simple, contemporary graphic art. Now, a lot of this is great art… don’t get me wrong. I just think that picture books deserve to be published only if there is a great marriage between word and image… and I for one am not willing to suffer through a mediocre story just to see some hipster images…

 But hey, look at this!  Pond by Jim LaMarche!  It’s been 16 years since we’ve delighted in La Marche’s naturalist beauty found in The Raft, and I’m not sure if Pond is designed to be a sequel in the proper sense, but it’s hard not to draw parallels. The story does the same thing in paying attention to the natural world while still progressing the plot… it begins in mid-winter and goes through the year.  After La Marche illustrated the superb Winter is Coming, it’s evident that he just keeps getting better and better with each title.

 The Bear and the Piano.  Easy. Fun. Great illustrations.  A sweet little story to delight all budding musicians or those unsure of their own talents. Definitely worth checking out.

 

 

 I finally got to see The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles and, as suspected, I loved it. Erin Stead’s illustrations are perfect, soft and inviting in this evocative, simple story about a lonely man who finds friendship… really well done!

 

 

 Finding Wild is one of those graphic arts tour de excellence that I stuck my nose up at in the intermission.  The difference is the text. It reads like spoken word poetry and manages to encourage people to appreciate wild spaces, big and small, without becoming preachy about environmental issues.

 

 The Night Gardener.  Simple, beautiful, whimsy.  This is one of those fun little stories that aren’t necessarily the most profound or gorgeous things in life but has the potential to be a child’s favorite.  I have learned with my own kids, that there are certain flavors of quirkiness in tales that they just adore and beg to have repeated again and again.

 

Let’s see, I already raved about The White Cat and the Monk, which leaves only one last thing I need to gush about: A Child of Books… the pièce de résistance of 2016… and that’s only because I feel like this book is my autobiography. I’m not sure I would’ve initially picked Oliver Jeffers to be the illustrator in my life story but upon reflection, it makes sense… his work is messy and stylistically unorthodox but simple and authentic too.  So those adjectives probably fit me quite well.

Christmas Picture Books On My 2015 Radar

This year there seems to be a lack of fantastic Christmas books but after a couple months of very surface level scratching (i.e. clicking the “upcoming in the next 30 days” button on Amazon), I decided to dig deeper and was indeed able to find some gems.

christmas
First of all, I am excited to report that my favorite toddler type book in many years— Song of the  Stars is now available in board book edition.  I think this gentle, reverent book is just about THE perfect gift for anyone 6 and under…

Also, I was thrilled to find that one of my very FAVORITE books on Christmas ever has finally been republished this year.  B is for Bethlehem, if you have not seen it yet… is pure, delicious eye candy.  Elisa Kleven put her whimsical, highly detailed, mural illustrations out to pair with Isabel Wilner and together they came up with a wonderful, gorgeous book.  I have this in the board edition, but even those sturdy books have a lifespan around here and I want to purchase this again in hardcover…

Another republishing to get excited about this year is Richard Scarry’s Gingerbread Man.  This is one of those great little, vintage Golden Books being reprinted on the cheap!  And it’s one of the very few times (I want to say ONLY but I haven’t done exhaustive research) that you see Richard Scarry’s illustrations for HUMANS… he is known for his Busy World and classic animals of course… but it’s fun to see this really old title back in print.

As far as brand new stories go, Marguerite’s Christmas looks to be one of the most promising in my opinion.  While I haven’t gotten to read it yet, I know the artist Pascal Blanchet doesn’t disappoint (you can see some inside shots in his project gallery on the website). And I generally like almost all the titles Enchanted Lion Books puts out… they are slightly off the beaten path either in story and/or design but always feature excellent art. This story was originally published in France in 2013 and is all about an elderly woman who learns to overcome her fears…

I’m really itching to get my hands on Tom’s Christmas Fish also. While the story sounds very sweet and evocative (about doing the right thing), I always love Christmas books that highlight different cultures and their traditions and this particular one takes us into the heart of Prague…

If you’re interested in a visually indulgent book, Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins is the perfect book for you this year. This author/illustrator duo is the same on that brought us the beautiful story of George and the Dragon.  It is a little meaty in the text department but that makes for an appropriate gift for an older child especially, in my opinion.

And adding to the “Best Actual Nativity Stories” in my original roundup of Christmas would almost certainly be The Nativity, featuring biblical text (with added story elements) and the artwork of Giotto.

Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree is about a legend involving St. Boniface… so it includes all my favorite things: Christmas, saints and lovely pictures!

Finally, this is from 2014 but I finally got around to reading it in person is The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin.  It’s been clear already that I am a Duvoisin fan— appreciating his vintage, first rate illustrations in ALL his books— but what makes this particular edition so special is the book’s dimensions!  I say again, I say again, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in the publishing world beyond just words and pictures. How a publisher decides to lay things out, what fonts, what white space, what size… all of that is critical in making a picture book really shine in its best light.  And for those of us who love to wrap up Christmas books during Advent, it is so fun for the kids to have this unmistakable, tall narrow title to look forward to each year.  Highly recommended.

In addition to a few second hand titles I picked up this year, you may be wondering if I had any full price splurges for my own collection. And yes, I did. I allowed myself just one: The Christmas Angels  by Else Wenz-Vietor as a gift for my young daughter.  I had heard and seen this book years ago but just assumed by the look of it that it was out of print and wildly expensive. So I was delighted to find it available and stunning for all of us.

Subtlety and Christmas Mice

I can’t tell you how many books there are out there that forget what I think is the point of a picture book: to engage a child’s imagination in a beautiful way.  I suppose the logic is that if you put some colorful characters on paper, a child will be more receptive to the “message” that the author wants to get across.  The effect of this is thousands of well-meaning but poorly executed books on manners, virtues, going to the doctor, anger therapy, and yes even (maybe especially!) religion.

I always find it such a joy to discover a book where the “message” may be there, but it is so artfully made that the story is engaging enough without having to convince children to pick it up and read it.  The message may be obvious as in the exquisite What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear? books… where manners are taught but in such an unexpected and fun way that a child simply has to love it.  Or there are other books which weave in a message within the story without preaching at the child.  Think of Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs which isn’t designed to be a bereavement therapy program… but it is nonetheless.  This is where the art of subtlety comes in.  Some authors have it. Others don’t.

A relevant case right now is in the world of Christmas picture books. I think there are many categories of books—indeed something to suit everyone— within this genre and all have their place, whether you’re looking for a beautifully illustrated Nativity story or a thought provoking piece of history.  But I’ve slowly come to realize something about myself in this category: my very favorite books are ones that are fun or sweet but have a hint toward the spiritual meaning of the holiday. I don’t necessarily need the full blown preaching on the gift of Jesus. I don’t need the tear jerker “true spirit of Christmas” charity-toward-the-poor or the be-kind-to-others story. I don’t even need the cutesy board books so much.  What I do need… what are my very favorites… are the picture books that tell a lovely story and then somehow the reader is left with a little warm feeling inside that there is something special going on here. And the child doesn’t need to be told how to felt. And the child may feel just a twinge of wonder after the book is closed.  It’s the same way I feel about music. My very favorite music is definitely not overtly “Christian”… but it is heartfelt and full of depth and meaning and the complexity of human nature. Off the top of my head, when I think of the Christmas books in this category they mostly involve the humble little mouse! How funny that mice are such dear, beloved creatures warming their cute paws by the fire in picture books… but in real life they are loathed and hunted. But I digress:

Mousekin’s Christmas Eve
Mortimer and the Christmas Manger (a quite similar book to Mousekin, only newer and cheaper)
The Little Drummer Mouse
Drummer Boy (not a mouse… but a wee, dear toy instead)

The Best Treasuries, Sets and Collections

This is the time of year to be thinking about meaningful gifts. Perhaps even heirloom gifts!  Each Christmas, one of the gifts our kids receive are books… often picked up throughout the year at a thrift store and saved, but sometimes a special title I’ve been eyeing a while and know a particular child would love. Sometimes, we gift a set or deluxe collection of something to a child and these have become treasured components of their personal growing libraries.  You have to be a little bit careful when buying “sets” of books because a couple mistakes are often made:  1- the set is incomplete of what you consider to be essential favorites.  2- The set includes abridged versions of stories. Or the biggest grievance I have: the set includes illustrations that have been truncated, altered or deleted to the point of ruining a good story. (Don’t mess with McCloskey!) But sometimes, despite some of these mistakes, the collection can still be an wonderful investment and treasured gift. Here are a few of what I think are the best of the best offered right now.

BOARD BOOK SETS

 

Gyo Fujikawa’s Little Library. What a deal!  Happy art. Simple text. Tiny books. Perfect for a two year old maybe…

Jan Brett’s Little Library. Contains three of her must have board books: The Mitten, The Hat, and The Gingerbread Baby.

Brown Bear & Friends Board Book Gift Set. All three of the infectious rhyme books that get read over and over again in our home…

Margaret Wise Brown’s: Baby’s First Library A perfect gift for new babies!

The Little Red Box of Bright and Early Board Books. I love P. D. Eastman and my three year old does too.  I don’t mind that these are abridged versions of the classic books (in fact I welcome the shortening since I am currently asked to read Go, Dog Go twice a day, every day.)

 

PICTURE BOOK SETS or ANTHOLOGIES

 

Mad about Madeline. Doesn’t every girl between 5-8 need this collection (and not the later, added on versions…)?!

Frederick and His Friends: Four Favorite Fables. There is another one by the same author but I prefer the titles in the first set if I had to choose just one.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George. Again… the original tales are so beloved! No need to scramble after the dozens of after-tales by other authors. They aren’t “bad”… just not quite as charming as the original.

Once There Was a Boy… Boxed Set. Delighted to find this new this year!!!  I have a son who loves Oliver Jeffers and this just may go under our tree next month!

Eloise Wilkin Stories: Little Golden Book Treasury. For nostalgic mothers who love Wilkin’s work and want to pass the beauty onto their daughters…

Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton. Unabridged and complete illustrations!

Lois Ehlert’s Growing Garden Gift Set. A lovely collection for budding gardeners.

Jan Brett’s Snowy Treasury. Four of her best, snowy books!

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Storybook Treasury. Lyle is an odd one. Some children don’t really fall in love with him. Others engage and won’t let go. To those children, this is a wonderful collection.

Richard Scarry’s Best Little Golden Books Ever!  A collection of just plain, old fashioned good stories illustrated by the incomparable Scarry.

Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. My favorite… everybody needs Alligators All Around!

Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection. Pares down the vast Dr. Seuss collection to just the must-have classics.

Babar’s Anniversary Album: 6 Favorite Books. Originals only!

Joy to the World: Tomie’s Christmas Stories. Worth the collection for the Three Kings book alone in it…

The Paddington Treasury: Six Classic Bedtime Stories. Good old Paddington, delighting British children for ages now.  Let’s reignite love for him on this side of the water!

The World of Peter Rabbit: Books 1-23, Presentation Box. Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without this:  the pièce de résistance‘!

CHAPTER BOOK SETS

Pooh’s Library. Individually bound.  Or in one volume if you prefer.

Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder.  Let’s be honest. These are barely chapter books.  Indeed, I give them to my eager 8 year old who still stumbles to read independently.  But he feels such a mastery at reading these “official big kid” books… Mercy Watson is a great bridge to real chapter book reading.

Little House Nine-Book Box Set. C’mon. Every home needs this.

Favorite Thornton Burgess Animal Stories Boxed Set . Lots of bang for your buck with the Dover produced classics here!

Old Mother West Wind and 6 Other Stories. Same great bargain, but different titles as above.

Anne of Green Gables, Complete 8-Book Box Set. Because I have a ginger-haired girl who will love this someday.  Well, she acts more cayenne than ginger!

The Chronicles of Narnia. Please, please be certain to buy a version of these books WITHOUT the movie tie-in photographs on the covers!!!  Let imaginations come alive before putting real actor images in their minds!

The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7 Volume CD Box Set (Unabridged). Audio book to own and play in the car!!! I’ve had my finger hovering over “Buy Now” on this for a couple years now!

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set. This set is leather bound. Are you kidding me?!  I might buy it for MYSELF since it lends itself so well to re-reading.  And these books do need to be reread many times through one’s life.

Costco’s Picture Book Picks and Passes

This time of year always brings out interesting picture book options at Costco.  Some good. Some bad. Some meh.

Two years ago I was delighted to find the entire Beatrix Potter collection for $24.99.  It wasn’t, sadly, the smallish books Potter deliberately sized to fit into a child’s hand.  But they were still attractively done (The pictures weren’t enlarged though the book size was and I was glad for that.) and for an entire boxed set of the individual titles, I thought it a steal. This year, Costco has brought back the World of Peter Rabbit for the same price… but it is bound in one anthology. I flipped through it; the original pictures are there.  But I just can’t stomach the idea of all those delightful little books not having the dignity of their own individual cover.  So for that, I pass.

Other offerings are fairly unremarkable  (though I am always happy to see the boxed editions of the BOB reading books there frequently… a great deal!) but you will find some excellent selections by Jan Brett, perfect for gift giving.  The hardbound copies of The Twelve Days of Christmas and Home for Christmas are both priced a couple dollars cheaper than Amazon.com’s!  But the best titles are the giant, oversized board books of The Three Snow Bears and The Mitten for only $8.99.  (I didn’t include links because I want you to get the best deal at the store!)

*While you’re at Costco, check out their cotton flannel sheets by the way… super cute prints this year and the best price in town at $15 for a twin set (we gave a set to each child a few years ago for Christmas). In years past, the cutest prints go quickly so get to them before the last minute Christmas herds descend upon the selection.

The Jesse Tree in Picture Books, Model 2.0

*Although it’s only early November, I’m posting this to give ample time for library holds and purchases to be made.
In my first post on how to observe the Jesse Tree tradition in picture books (which has recently been updated to reflect new finds and indicates must read inclusions), I discussed how our family typically stops the Old Testament readings on December 17th to go into full Antiphon mode. It became clear to me that in the shorter years of Advent (like upcoming 2017) there will be only 22 days of the entire season!  This would mean that if we stopped the stories on the 17th, there’d only be 14 days of readings!  Well, this won’t do since the entire story of Salvation needs more than 14 sample stories to cruise up to the Nativity.  So here is a more simple plan for those who prefer it: a 24 day system. You can use this system in the way most ‘Advent Calendars’ are utilized: beginning on December 1st all the way up to Christmas Eve.  (This year—2014— Advent is 25 days long… so I’m stretching out Moses to three nights; it could easily be 4 or 5 if you want to subtract the less important tales of Balaam or Elijah or Belshazzar.)  So, we’ll be doing one story every day and STILL focus ALSO on the O Antiphons beginning on the 17th. For our family, some of these stories needed their own symbols made to be included on our actual tree (which for our family, is an actual tree branch I found, planted in concrete with little wooden ornaments I painted for the symbols). Remember that many of these are out of print but cheap online at amazon or eBay, etc.  And if you can’t borrow or purchase them all this year… just start with what you can!  Bring a little bit of color and wonder into your Jesse Tree readings by including a few picture book stories.  Without further ado:
The Jesse Tree in Picture Books, Model 2.0
Dec. 1: CREATION: best all around is Creation.
Dec. 2: ADAM & EVE: Paradise.
Dec. 3: NOAH’S ARK: Noah’s Ark or Noah’s Ark. You can’t go wrong with either one.

Dec. 4: THE TOWER OF BABEL: The Tower of Babel.
Dec. 5: THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM: Sarah Laughs.
Dec. 6: ABRAHAM & ISAAC: nothing notable in the picture book world that I’ve found! But it’s an important piece of the story so stick with a traditional children’s Bible book to tell it.
Dec. 7: JACOB & ESAU: Jacob and Esau.
Dec. 8: JOSEPH’S COAT OF MANY COLORS: Joseph (first half) or The Coat of Many Colors.
Dec. 9: JOSEPH AS PHAROAH: Joseph (second half) or Benjamin and the Silver Goblet.
Dec. 10: MOSES IN THE BASKET & THE BURNING BUSH: Moses or Exodus (first parts)
Dec. 11: MOSES PLAGUES, THE RED SEA & 10 COMMANDMENTSMoses or Exodus (second parts)
Dec. 12: BALAAM’S ASS: The Angel and the Donkey (1st choice) or The Donkey’s Story (2nd choice)
Dec. 13: RUTH: The Story Of Ruth.
Dec. 14: SAMUEL’S CALL: The Story of the Call of Samuel.
Dec. 15: THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON: The Wisest Man in the World or from the compilation: Kings and Queens of the Bible.
Dec. 16: DAVID & GOLIATH: David and Goliath.
Dec. 17: THE PROPHET ELIJAH: Elijah and the Fire from Heaven (1st choice) or Elijah and King Ahab (2nd choice).
Dec. 18: QUEEN ESTHER: Queen Esther Saves Her People (1st choice) or The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale.
Dec. 19: JONAH: Jonah and the Whale.
Dec. 20: KING BELSHAZZAR AND THE WRITING ON THE WALL: from Kings and Queens of the Bible.
Dec. 21: DANIEL IN THE LION’S DEN: Daniel and the Lord of Lions.
Dec. 22: JOHN THE BAPTIST: nothing notable in the picture book world that I’ve found! But it’s an important piece of the story so stick with a traditional children’s Bible book to tell it.
Dec. 23: THE ANNUNCIATION/VISITATION: from Mary or Mary: The Mother of Jesus or The Life of Mary.  All are good.
Dec. 24: THE NATIVITY: many good choices here. Choose your favorite. I like The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes and The Story of Christmas best.

The First Christmas: An Angel Came to Nazareth

I just picked up my copy of The First Christmas: An Angel Came to Nazareth today at the library.  I didn’t realize it was the mini edition (which is also what that link goes to) but am very glad it is.  There is something to be said for all the considerations publishers/writers/illustrators must make when producing a picture book.  Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books for example, were always meant to be small— perfect for little hands to hold. And while many editions now exist of those stories, the original, small sized ones are still best.

I haven’t seen the original edition of The First Christmas but I can tell you that this book is excellent in it’s small size!  Not only would it make for a great stocking stuffer, but it’s printed in such a way to beg little hands to run over each of the thick, textured pages (thinner than a board book, but thicker than regular pages; like a really sturdy card-stock) which are bright, vibrant and gilded with gold accents.  The story is very basic (animals have to choose one traveller to bear and all want to carry the greatest of all… but a donkey is the one who makes the greatest choice), just an ode to Christmas in a simplistic way but really it’s just books like these that add a little special something to holiday celebrations.  Highly recommended.

The Christmas Motherload: Ten “Top 10” Booklists

So I’ve been working on this post bit by bit, over the last several weeks. I exhausted my library with holds several times (had my own CART next to the holds shelf at one point) and I even visited my family in another city and had my sister get another armload of Christmas books that my own library system didn’t carry.  I was also able to make a few book purchases (of stories I was CERTAIN we’d love) for upcoming Christmas gifts. And finally I was happily surprised to randomly find a few YouTube video readings of a couple of these title too! So through it all, I’ve compiled my very favorites. Maybe only 50% of these were ones I already knew and loved. The other 50% were looked at for the first time by me… gleaned from ideas on message boards and booklists I had seen as well as plenty from rabbit trails from internet searches. What an inundated book genre!!!

Why did I do it?  It’s not like I pretend to be the voice of expertise in children’s literature; there are dozens of picture book blogs out there and many other well-read folks who can offer counsel on Christmas books too. Frankly these are just my opinions. And my opinions are formed on an appreciation of living, loving and breathing children’s books for a dozen years now. I blog about children’s books because I have to write about something.  I don’t write about my own life and kids anymore, either via blogs or Facebook… it’s too much of a temptation for me in a number of ways. And I write for Soul Gardening but that doesn’t take care of wanting to share my obsessions and opine about books all the time! So I have this blog… and it’s a fix for me. And these lists are basically for my own records really… and to sate my own obsession with categorizing things. This blog is for my children to find someday and remember and smile… and maybe even roll their eyes (with affection I hope). But I digress.

Many Christmas books are just plain not worth your time. And many, many more fall solidly into the “good” category. And on top of that, there is the GREAT category! And even that’s full! I couldn’t have possibly put it into one Top Ten list; who could?! So I broke it up into TEN different categories of Ten. And even that was hard! This doesn’t even include my Advent or Epiphany picks! Anyway, I’m such a nerd; I loved every minute of my ‘research’!  Enjoy these opinions of just one mama/biblio-zealot. Know that there are dozens and dozens more EXCELLENT Christmas stories out there and I’m sure I’ll be finding new treasures all the time!  I wanted to be a purist to the number 10, so I limited it.  My comments will be brief; I’ve got 100 books to tell you about and many of you probably know about many of these already! But my very special favorites are in bold.

2014 modifications are in magenta; the year introduced me to new books and ‘new-to-me’ old ones!  
Best Actual Nativity Stories

  1. The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes: A very special treat to pull out on Christmas Eve.  Truly a delight for your eyes! If only it were back in print!
  2. Bethlehem: Fiona French’s stained glass illustrations to the simple Bible words of the Nativity.
  3. The Story of Christmas: Jane Ray does outstanding, vivid illustrations (love that Mary and Joseph look ethnically believable) and surprise… baby Jesus was breastfed!
  4. The Christmas Story: Here’s one for cheapskates! The classic, basic, no-frills-but-still-sweet Golden Book version of the Nativity, illustrated by one of my favorites— Eloise Wilkin.
  5. The Christmas Story: The beautiful, biblical text illustrated by the incomparable Gennady Spirin.
  6. The Story of Christmas: Pamela Dalton takes the words from the King James Bible and masterfully weaves intricate, beautiful paper-cut illustrations into it. My husband calls Dalton’s people “hobbits” but I don’t fault her for that. I like hobbits! I do however bristle at the 80 year old, balding Joseph in the story. (Mary was a teenager after all; I can handle middle aged Joseph depictions—though I prefer envisioning younger, strapping man… but the great-grandfatherly representation? Not my favorite.) Anyway, if you liked her Brother Sun, Sister Moon, you’ll love this.
  7. The Nativity: Completely scriptural, this is better for slightly older children, or to be used as an actual family reading on the night of Christmas Eve. I love how the wise men show up (accurately) at the Holy Family’s HOUSE, rather than stable.
  8. The Nativity: Mary Remembers: What I like best about this is its first person perspective from Mary. This helps to give a fresh insight on some of what happened that blessed night.
  9. The Christmas Story: This is the very simple Bible story presented again; it gets a spot on this list for the beautiful few, full-page spreads of Christmas night… and the end picture of Jesus who “grew in grace.”  I do wish illustrators made the Holy Family a little more Middle Eastern looking but we take what we can get I suppose.
  10. The First Noel: A Christmas Carousel: This isn’t exactly a story… it’s a novelty book that serves as a stand-alone centerpiece.  The book folds out and can be tied together to form a 3D standing star. Gorgeous paper-cut, pop-ups highlight the five major scenes from the Nativity.
  11. The Christ Child.  Perfect. I’m so happy to have found this for 50 cents at the thrift store. It is simple, biblical and timeless.  I love it, a new favorite!
(other books I want to check out in this category: The Christmas StoryChristmas in the Barn —the original version, The First Christmas, My Son, My Saviour: The Awesome Wonder of Jesus’ Birth)

Best Light Reading or Funny Stories

  1. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree:  My children cheer whenever we open up this book.  Light, amusing and completely satisfying!
  2. The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher:  Much like the Grinch story. Will Christmas be the same without cookie sprinkles?!
  3. Too Many Tamales: Sweet story about a careless child.  Makes me want to have the patience and grace of the mother when dealing with children’s mistakes… also makes me want to have a ton of tamales!!!
  4. The Lump of Coal: So clever. This is a hilarious little book that will delight older children especially and the adult reading it with them.
  5. Cranberry Christmas: Back in print! Vintage, cartoony in the right kind of way and fun as always!
  6. Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve?: Jan Brett dials up another beautiful book and this one is sure to win the hearts of polar bear lovers!
  7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Is there ANY Christmas book list complete without this one?!
  8. Mortimer’s Christmas Manger: Karma Wilson’s best book since Bear Snores On.  Great fun, vibrant pictures, a satisfying ending… excellent all around.
  9. Christmas Alphabet: I generally avoid pop-up books. But I can’t be a complete scrooge and what better time of year to really allow a special, magical book be enjoyed (gently!) by children?!
  10. The Night Before Christmas. This was just released again this year and of ALL the editions of this famous rhyme, this one is my very favorite. There is something perfect about a vintage poem paired with vintage illustrations. And the dimensions of the actual book are kind of a fun novelty too.

(other books I want to check out in this category: Christmas Around the World: A Pop-Up BookShall I Knit You a Hat?: A Christmas Yarn, One Thousand Christmas Beards)

Best Reverent Christmas Stories:

 

  1. Father and Son: A Nativity Story: This is an excellent and novel book offering perspective on St. Joseph’s Christmas night… he ponders the irony of being father to the Master of the Universe.  So good!
  2. All for the Newborn Baby: I’m so in love with this book!  I love the sweet text, the lovely illustrations and the little details of nature/botany in the margins!
  3. Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story: This isn’t the usual, classic, elegant book one would expect in this category but I really love it.  All of creation readies for the newborn Savior: “It’s time!” Really nicely done…
  4. A Small Miracle: Two of my sons’ favorite Christmas book of all time!  This one’s wordless so it’s great for non-readers too. So lovely…
  5. There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve: A very simple story that begs to be read slow and somber… great reminder for folks who live where there is no snow and may feel disenfranchised from all the traditional Christmas scenery.
  6. The Donkey’s Dream:  Hands down, my very favorite Christmas book of all time. Enough said.
  7. The Miracle of St. Nicholas: Of all my Christmas books, this absolutely would be in my Top Three. I love the art. I love the story. I love the reverence and focus on the season. And I especially love the mini history lesson that can happen with this story.
  8. The Little Boy’s Christmas Gift: A little poor boy follows the procession of people bringing beautiful gifts to the newborn Jesus.  His is merely one of the first examples we see of “up-cycling”in a picture book. Beautifully illustrated.
  9. The Legend of the Poinsettia: Lucida searches and frets over having the perfect gift for the baby Jesus but feels like she’s coming up short. Little does she know how God will reward her best of intentions. Another version of this story is also done really well in The Miracle of the First Poinsettia.
  10. A Christmas Story: Brian Wildsmith never disappoints with his artwork and this little story about a girl trying to reunite a donkey with his mother is very sweet.  Not quite as memorable/glorious as Wildsmith’s Easter Story but still worth picking up!
(other books I want to check out in this category: One Small Lost SheepThe Shepherd’s Christmas StoryMary’s Song)

Best Christmas Stories Specific to Already Famous Literary Characters:

  1. Petunia’s Christmas: Petunia gets married!  But not before having some very funny and touching adventures in saving her beloved gander…
  2. Merry Christmas Big Hungry Bear: In the same type of narration and spirit as the original; Wood’s pictures never fail to delight.
  3. An Otis Christmas: Bright, vibrant and always fun— Otis saves the day and a new baby (calf) is born!
  4. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona: Good old Strega Nona gets ready for Christmas Eve… makes for great Advent reading too!
  5. Carl’s Christmas: Carl lovers won’t be disappointed in another adventure filled (wordless) day spent with Carl on Christmas Eve. (Try to overlook the fact that the baby is left alone in the care of a dog…)
  6. Merry Christmas, Curious George: Just what we’d expect from this mischievous monkey: curious bumbles and a happy ending.
  7. Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve: My daughter’s very favorite chicken confronts the jolly, red “Mr. Farmer” up on top of the roof.
  8. Merry Christmas Ernest & Celestine: Ernest and Celestine are new to me just this year but this duo has been around since the 1980s!  Belgiun author Gabrielle Vincent is a splendid watercolorist and I love the warm, cluttered pictures shown in these lovely, very simple stories.
  9. The Jolly Christmas Postman: The jolly postman is back delivering special Christmas letters (real letters included in pockets!) to nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters. Very fun! Would make an excellent gift!
  10. The Cowboy’s Christmas: This is everything I hoped it would be; it’s especially appropriate for the Advent season.  The Cowboy books are so, so dear! Know that his imaginary friends don’t make much sense in this story unless you have the context of his first book. I hope to collect all these books for my son. He adores them!
Best Emotionally Evocative Christmas Stories:

  1. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey: Probably on everyone’s Christmas list of favorites… for good reason.  P.J. Lynch is a masterful artist and the story is a delight. The movie is pretty worthwhile as well; we check it out from the library each year.
  2. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: A classic. An excellent story illustrated by my beloved Barbara Cooney really sets the spirit of family and life in Appalachia: so great.
  3. Light of Christmas: Beautifully staged high in the mountains, this is the story of a young boy giving up his wish to see the Christmas torch lit, to help an old man in need.  He is rewarded… and the message is a reminder to all of us adults today: “In your hurry to keep Christmas, you have forgotten Christmas.”
  4. Angela and the Baby Jesus: This is a bit like the Grinch in that it is both funny and evocative… only the former book is more light reading and this latter book is more sentimental reading. My mischievous but well-meaning daughter relates very much to Angela’s antics in this story.
  5. Christmas Day in the Morning: An excellent story to raise up men of virtue!  A boy offers up the most precious gift of all to his father.  So great…
  6. Prairie Christmas: A book on what the “spirit of the season” is really about, a sweet story on the transformation of one girl’s heart.
  7. A Christmas Gift For Mama: I absolutely love O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi… but I always remember feeling like it was just a bit too “mature” for lack of better word. There are no children in the tale; the selfless devotion is between a man and his wife. Well, A Christmas Gift for Mama is essentially the same tale, only between a girl and her widowed mother. It’s told and pictured in a lovely way and I feel like it’s more relevant to children today. Very nice story…
  8. An Orange for Frankie: Based on a true story and very, very sweet. A lovely book…
  9. Why the Chimes Rang: Told in the way mid-century stories were often told… this is a genuine and lovely tale that captures what it’s all about. Free to read at the Baldwin Project!
  10. Apple Tree Christmas: Like titles 5 and 7, this is another perfect book to embody what it means to give a truly thoughtful Christmas gift.  Beautiful illustrations…

Best Toddler Board Book Christmas Stories:

  1. Gingerbread Baby: Jan Brett shines again in the fun book! Be prepared to have children beg to make a gingerbread man (or baby!)
  2. The Crippled Lamb: This is a lovely tale about a lamb finding his place…
  3. Bear Stays Up for Christmas: Wilson’s rhyming doesn’t lose its cadence or charm in any of her books!  Here’s another sweet one from this author.
  4. Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend: Get real with your kids on who’s who regarding Santa/St. Nick. Nicely done retelling of one of the St. Nick legends.
  5. Who is Coming to Our House? The barn animals all get ready for “Someone” to come… toddler perfect.
  6. Snowmen at Christmas: Bright, vibrant illustrations and rhyming make this delightful for little ones; a sequel to the very popular Snowmen at Night.
  7. Christmas in the Manger. Simple, easy… nothing grand except that it’s child-pleasing.
  8. B Is for Bethlehem: My very favorite toddler book for Christmas-time!  Pure eye candy…
  9. Night Before Christmas: The Classic Edition: There are many editions of the famous poem on the market; the rich illustrations by Charles Santore make this one stand out.
  10. Tonight You Are My Baby: A nice perspective of the human side of Mary just savoring her newborn here: “Tomorrow you’ll be my king, tonight you are my baby.”
(other books I want to check out in this category: Christmas Carols, and Merry Christmas, Baby)
Best Historical Christmas Stories:

  1. Christmas in the Trenches: The neat, true story about the Christmas truces called on the Western Front during WW1.  It leaves you feeling bittersweet though… knowing how each side can recognize and celebrate the dignity of the other while commencing to kill anyway… the ugliest sides of war are carefully avoided though.
  2. Lighthouse Christmas: Very cool history about the Flying Santa Service: a pilot delivers Christmas packages to an isolated lighthouse keeper and his family. Circa 1929.
  3. Silent Night: The Song and Its Story:  Beautiful, beautiful book that brings you right to the circumstances surrounding the serendipitous creation of this famous song in 1818.
  4. Christmas from Heaven: The True Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber: I’m so happy to have new, fresh Christmas books still being produced year after year!  This one is brand new and an excellent choice for boys, World War II studies, and entire families in general. Really cool history photos thrown in among the story too.
  5. A Gift from Saint Francis: The First Creche: A very nice and matter of fact story of how the very first crèche came to be in 1223. There are two other books on this exact story look promising that I didn’t get a chance to look at personally: Saint Francis Celebrates Christmas and The Living Nativity.
  6. A Christmas Like Helen’s: Included because I’m in love with Mary Azarian.  And in love with the nostalgic rural lifestyle of yesteryears that I’ll never know. A beautiful book.
  7. The Christmas Tree Ship: This is “historical fiction” telling the story of the ship that brought Christmas trees to Chicago in the early 20th century.  Really lovely illustrations here…
  8. A Christmas Tree in the White House: A fun, true story from the Roosevelt era. This offers a good look at the “inside life” of a president and his six rascally children.
  9. The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree: A family is just trying to survive the Depression. In so doing, they contribute to the beginning of a national tradition.  A beautiful, beautiful book; Jim La Marche was the perfect illustrator for this story.
  10. Shooting at the Stars. This is another version out this year just like the first title on this list. A bit less sober and a bit more simplified than the other title but the same story, just a preference of versions if you had to choose one. I ended up buying this for my son to complement our WW1 studies.
(other books I want to check out in this category: The Littlest Cowboy’s Christmas, Christmas on the Mayflower

Best Christmas Stories Based on Songs:
  1. The Little Drummer Boy: Very sweet illustrations to accompany the song’s lyrics.  I admit this has a soft spot for me since I remember The Little Drummer Boy as being my mother’s favorite Christmas song and Ezra Jack Keats renders it beautifully.
  2. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Gennady Spirin is pure loveliness. But tied for first place is the version done by Laurel Long, which is just a visual feast on every page. Another good one (that I like in the board book format) is The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett.  Collectors of all things Brian Wildsmith should know that he also has a beautiful one and so does Jane Ray.
  3. The Huron Carol: Illustrated lyrics to the famous carol that St. Jean De Brebeuf wrote to explain the Christmas story to the Hurons. There is another in print version by another illustrator available too; you really can’t go wrong with either.  Haunting and beautiful.
  4. Good King Wenceslas: There are a few versions of picture books set to this song.  One that is story form (rather than just lyrics) and very nice is Stephen’s Feast.
  5. Silent Night: Just what one would expect from the sentiment this song evokes.
  6. Ding Dong! Merrily on High: Oh how I love Francesca Crespi!  Here is a gorgeous collection of carols accompanied by her outstanding pop-ups…
  7. Frosty the Snowman: Frosty the Snowman is probably the easiest Christmas song to sing along to a book. This one has bright, fresh illustrations to the classic song. And it comes with Kenny Loggins singing it!
  8. Away in a Manger: I never exactly jumped on the Thomas Kincade bandwagon but even I have to admit that the “painter of light” is perfectly suited to illustrating Christmas themes.
  9. The Nutcracker: Not exactly lyrics to a song of course as it was a ballet, but I had to include the most famous Christmas fairy tale of all and Susan Jeffers does it best.
  10. White Christmas: Good song. Bright, fantasy illustrations complete with snow fairies that look like munchkins from the Land of Oz… what else could one want? (Maybe an accompanying CD of Bing Crosby.) Michael Hague has a bit of a cult following and they can find more of his signature illustrations in his Treasury of Christmas Carols.
(other books I want to check out in this category: Away in a MangerO Come, All Ye Faithful,  Nutcracker)
Best “Just Sweet” Christmas Stories:

  1. Mousekin’s Christmas Eve: Mousekin is a Charlotte Mason-ers delight with all the beautiful depictions of the natural world. All of these books need to come back in print!  Here is a lovely analogy about the one place we can all find a home: at the foot of the manger.
  2. The Mice, the Monks and the Christmas Tree: I bought this blindly, without knowing or hearing a single thing about it. This is a rare move for me. But after hearing the title and seeing the cover, I could not resist!  Since info on it is hard to find online, I’ll post more about it separately.
  3. Santa Mouse: (What is it about mice and Christmastime?!) This is a light and fun little story about Santa’s new helper. Little children will like it but what gets it on my list is the darling vintage, Richard Scarry-esque artwork by Elfreida De Witt.
  4. A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree: An old goat of a tree is sad that he never gets picked to be a family’s Christmas Tree.  But animals all around get together to show him how much he matters to them right where he is.
  5. The Christmas ABC: Eloise Wilkins shines her vintage Christmas artwork here. The girl reminds me of my god-daughter which is why I bought this for her this year!
  6. The Little Drummer Mouse: Mercer Mayer’s lavishly illustrated book about a little, unappreciated mouse being the one who is able to make baby Jesus happy.
  7. Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel: The sweet legend of why we decorate Christmas trees with tinsel… it might be enough to convert spider-haters.
  8. The Spider’s Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story: Eric Kimmel always does a great job with fables and legends. What I especially like is that all the emphasis isn’t just on spiders leaving a miracle on the tree, but that Christ’s birth is still emphasized and celebrated.
  9. The Candymaker’s Gift: The Legend of the Candy Cane: The lovely story behind the favorite candy that is full of symbolism and meaning.
  10. Drummer Boy. Loren Long nails these illustrations. This is the classic, lost-and-found-toy storyline. I love when sweet books are able to have a subtle hint to the true meaning of Christmas without forcing it.

Top 11 Out-of-Print Christmas Stories that I Haven’t Seen (Yet)… But Would Love to Get My Hands On!

  1. The Christmas Angel: Joan Gale Thomas wrote the very dear If Jesus Came To My House (not to be confused with the newer version with “updated” illustrations) and “A” Stands for Angel which I love (and is also highly Christmas-relevant!)  I’m certain this Christmas story from her has got to be just as lovely as all her work!  She also did If I’d Been Born in Bethlehem which I’d love to see too.
  2. How Six Found Christmas: Something is drawing me to this…
  3. The Dolls’ Christmas: Tasha Tudor and Christmas go together like peanut butter and jelly.
  4. An Edwardian Christmas: I have an affection for wordless books and this looks lovely.
  5. Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers: It’s on everyone else’s lists of great Christmas books, so it must be good!
  6. The Secret Santa of Olde Stonington: I love small town mysteries and legends…
  7. Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle: Published very recently, this book became a big hit and I’m disappointed it went out of print so quickly!!!
  8. The Christmas Cake in Search of its Owner. I went on a Roger Duvoisin appreciation kick this year and want to see more!
  9. The Christmas Forest. Same reason as above!
  10. Mother Makes Christmas.  Anything that includes Lois Lenski illustrations is a must-see in my opinion—they are so full of “the good old days” charm.
  11. A Christmas Alphabet. I love alphabet books! I love Joan Walsh Anglund! It must be a delightful pairing…

The Mice, the Monks and the Christmas Tree

When I somehow stumbled on the title of The Mice, the Monks and the Christmas Tree, I had to immediately find out about it.  I love tales of mice at Christmastime and I love tales that weave the Catholic faith into them too.  It had to be good right?! Well, I couldn’t find any info online whatsoever other than it was written by George Selden—author of the famed Cricket in Times Square.  So I found a cheap copy online and bought it… a rare move for me when I know or hear nothing about a picture book!  But I am not disappointed.

The story is lovely.  A group of monks are all so busy performing charitable works for others that they quite forget about getting a Christmas tree.  On Christmas Eve, the mice of St. Patrick’s Monastery finally take matters into their own hands and chop down and decorate their own tree to present to the good brothers.  The whole story begs to be read with a thick Irish accent… it’s a fun piece of vintage children’s picture book history.  Here are some amateur images so you can take a peek inside:

The Jesse Tree in Picture Books

**** updated: 06/2015, new comments in RED****
Be sure to check out the alternate and more concise version of this list here.


I had an ambitious project in mind this year before Advent begins. Normally we do our readings for each day of the Jesse Tree straight from a Children’s Bible.  But I wanted to up our game. So I did some initial browsing online to see if it was even possible. It was. I could find a picture book for every individual Bible reading for each of the days of Advent! Mind = Blown.

I got many of my initial title inspirations from this kind mama where she lists a book for each of December’s days. But in our home, we do Jesse Tree a bit differently so I adjusted quite a bit for our purposes.  First of all, we observe Advent for the full 21-28 days depending on the year. Some folks keep it simple and just do Jesse Tree readings beginning Dec. 1st. Secondly, I wasn’t willing to find a picture book just to have a picture book of a certain story.  It had to be good, which means most serial Bible story sets need not apply. Third, beginning on December 17th, we switch completely to the Antiphons. So the last Bible story we read about is the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth before going to the beautiful Messianic titles of Christ (heard in the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”). It would have been far too difficult to find picture books for THOSE, so we just go back to the simple Bible verse and prayer until Christmas Eve when we will read over the original Nativity story (picture book or straight from the Bible) itself.

So in reality, I needed a full 21 individual stories (28 – 7 Antiphons = 21 stories for the longest year of Advent.) On shorter Advent years, we may read more than one story a night (i.e. all the Moses readings work nicely to combine or separate) or skip one altogether.

The downside to this project is that finding picture books—quality picture books—for the stories I wanted to include was a big challenge. Huge actually. There are a myriad of cheap, saccharine-looking Bible story books on the market. But with enough hunting and scavenging and library holding… it was just about possible to find worthy books for my tastes! There are only a couple stories with which I’m not 100% satisfied, so my hunt continues.  Now, I had a couple of these titles already; many others were found at the library. Others were purchased at cheap out-of-print prices. Only one was splurged on at full price. So doing the Jesse tree with picture books is possible! But I admit that its a bit of a luxury; maybe start by acquiring just a few titles a year to supplement your regular readings.

Here’s what we have going on for a full 28 day Advent. This year, 2013, the season is only 24 days so we’re doing Moses all in one day and Joseph all in one day. I’ll probably skip Elijah altogether. I recently found a couple more stories that are NOT on this particular compendium but you may want to substitute in somewhere if you happen to have an easier time finding them than some of these others:

BALAAM’S ASS: I didn’t realize there was a good picture book version of this drama-comedy until I stumbled upon The Donkey’s Story by Barbara Cohen, thinking it must be a Christmas story at first. But I was pleasantly surprised.  Then I found another one I liked even better in  The Angel and the Donkey! There is a third story on this which I haven’t seen but it is part of an old vintage series that I would LOVE to have in its entirety: Balaam and his Ass .

JOSHUA: Joshua Crosses the Jordan is a reader book but it looks like it could be pretty good.  It’s done by the same pair who did the Elijah title below. 

 

Jesse Tree Booklist

Day 1: The Story of Creation. The best I found on this is Gennedy Spirin’s Creation. I’m looking forward to Archbishop Tutu’s yet to be released Let There Be Light (update 11/14: I’ve seen it now and not really a fan.). But so far, Spirin’s story is both the most simple, most beautiful (well God does look a little bit intimidating but I can overlook that) and most faithful to the original Bible text.
Day 2: Adam & Eve and the Fall. I am currently using Fiona French’s Paradise for the story of the Garden of Eden. I previewed a few others and either didn’t like the text or was uncomfortable with the full, frontal nudity. I loved everything about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden except for the overt nudity and as my three oldest are boys… I just would rather avoid that ogling temptation. Other families might feel differently. The nudity is in context after all, and one good mama suggested that she has no problem employing the Sharpie marker to lengthen Eve’s hair or some-such in these situations. But this particular Jane Ray book was a library one… and I wasn’t willing to purchase something that needed at least two pages of obvious modification. In French’s book, there are two pictures of Eve’s breasts; they are pretty benign considering the art is clearly stained glass-style unreal.
(I thickened an arm shadow to cover the nipple on one page and had the audacity to draw in a blackbird on Eve’s arm for the other page!  It might be a little ridiculous… my kids probably won’t notice the alterations at all. But I feel better anyway.) I wish the story went a little more into detail about Eve tempting Adam and the confrontation; it also ends on a somber note of simply the Garden being closed.  In short, it’s not perfect but I do like most of it…
Day 3: Noah and the Ark. Despite the many versions of this story, the clear-cut winner is hand’s down Jerry Pinkney’s Noah’s Ark(update 6/15: Wait, wait! Pinkeye’s is awesome but even better, EVEN BETTER is the new, GORGEOUS book of art Noah’s Ark)
Day 4: The Tower of Babel. I was very happy to see that a great and vibrant story exists on this: (albeit, out of print…) You can read my review on it at amazon. The Tower of Babel.
Day 5: The Promise to Abraham. I ran into some trouble here. I settled on a typical series-version book for the stories of Abraham and Isaac but it’s not anything worth writing about.  I really wanted to get my hands on Sarah Laughs but wasn’t able to budget it in this year… (update 11/14: got it and love it) and it still left me with the problem of…
Day 6: Isaac and Abraham. There IS The White Ram: A Story of Abraham and Isaac but I thought it strayed too far into the fanciful and I really want to keep our readings focused and reverent. So, until I find some better options, I’ll be reading from our mediocre story book for Abraham and Isaac.
Day 7: Jacob and Esau. Done very well in this book: Jacob and Esau.
Day 8: Joseph.  This is one of those stories that can be broken into two days: the early story of The Coat of Many Colors and the later story involving his brother” reconciliation in Benjamin and the Silver Goblet or you find the whole story done well in Joseph.
Days 9 & 10: Moses. This covers the individual stories of the baby in the basket, the 10 plagues and parting of the sea, and the 10 Commandments. We can read it in sections. There are a few different options that have the whole Moses story but the one I liked the most was done by Margaret Hodges and Barry Moser: Moses. I may also throw in parts from Wildsmith’s Exodus just to change it up a bit.
Day 11: Ruth.  I finally got The Story Of Ruth and think it’s a necessary addition to the Jesse Tree. I’ll be shortening the Moses stories to include this one!  It’s a great lesson in fidelity and devotion.
Day 12: Samuel. I was surprised to find The Story of the Call of Samuel! It’s a pretty well done version of the story. I just wonder why there aren’t other decent picture books on even more interesting Bible figures like Samson, Joshua, Elijah, and others…
Day 13: David and Goliath.  The best version I was able to find was David and Goliath.
Day 14: Esther. I really, really love the Esther book we use for this day! Queen Esther Saves Her People is just sooo good.  If you can’t borrow or purchase this one, there are other decent versions out there. I’d settle for The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale if it weren’t for the other one.
Day 15: Solomon. I wasn’t thrilled with the couple of books I previewed on Solomon’s riddles and such. I wanted a general idea of his kingship and justice.  So I bought the compilation picture book: Kings and Queens of the Bible and am pretty happy with it. Alternately, you can find a lovely tale of his testing by Queen Sheba in The Wisest Man in the World, complete with illustrations by the excellent Anita Lobel.
Day 16: Elijah.  I desperately wanted to find a good picture book on Elijah because I think he’s an important prophet and his story is neat enough to visualize.  Instead I found Journeys with Elijah: Eight Tales of the Prophet at the library which is a collection of legends.  The book is nice but the only useful part to me for my purposes is the introduction which tells the actual story of Elijah. So I’m still on the hunt for a stand-alone picture book on this man. (update 11/14: There is a wonderful and excellent story to be found in Elijah and the Fire from Heaven but it is “very” out of print and used copies in good shape are hard to find. I’ll write more about this in a separate post. I did notice a reader book called Elijah and King Ahab but haven’t had a chance to personally preview it yet.  It is cheap though and looks like “inoffensive” art; I’d buy it if I didn’t have the other one.)
Day 17: Jonah.  I was really, really pleased with Jonah and the Whale. I looked at a few different versions of this story but was really discouraged by the twaddle and the unfaithful retellings out there.  This one is really good…
Day 18: King Belshazaar and the Writing on the Wall. I admit that this wasn’t my first pick on stories to include in our Jesse Tree traditions but I wasn’t able to identify any good books for the stories I DID want.  So this will suffice.  I found this story in the Kings and Queens of the Bible book again.
Day 19: Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I only got to see a couple story books with this tale in it (indeed there are only a couple) and the best one out there is definitely Daniel and the Lord of Lions.
Day 20: The Annunciation and Visitation. I have the book Mary by Brian Wildsmith but de Paola’s Mary: The Mother of Jesus is pretty great too. (also, let’s not forget the strange and wonderful book by Inos Biffi The Life of Mary to use for these stories also.) 

Days 21-27: The Antiphons

Day 28 (Christmas Eve): The Nativity.  There are a number of decent versions of the Nativity told in picture book form. I like ones that use the actual words from the Bible. I’m using Francesca Crespi’s The Nativity because I already had it and it’s a nice, special, pop-up touch to the end of the Advent season for my kids. Other worthy titles are: The Christmas StoryBethlehem, and Christmas Story.

Happy reading!


*Addendum

Why do the Jesse Tree at all?  For us, it’s to give the FULL Christmas story… to remember the beginning of salvation history. I love this thought from then-Cardinal Ratzinger (1986):
     “Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. 
     The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.…
     It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”