Tag Archives: living books

A Picture Book Thanksgiving

In nearly thirteen years of married life, I have cooked exactly one turkey.  Thursday will mark my second attempt. I say attempt because the first was a failure of significant proportions. We went to a local farm on the island we lived on and agreed to pay a pretty price for one of the turkeys trotting about the premises.  Part of the agreement was that my husband and sons would get to come help kill the bird so our children would know that food doesn’t come from a freezer and we support a local economy, etc.  Lofty goals…

The bird was slaughtered; defeathered and sent home with excited young eyeballs proud to call it our own. I had never cooked a turkey before so I just winged it (I’m so punny!)… thinking it would be hard to screw up.  Well, I screwed it up.  Birds that have room to roam are ipso facto leaner birds. The meat needed a little bit of TLC to get that famous “Butterball” taste I was used to.  I didn’t really know what I was doing and we gnawed on tough meat with sacrificial spirits, rather than thankful ones… thinking about how much money we spent on this ‘quality’ ‘local’ meat.  At least the pie was good…

But I digress. We’ve somehow managed to get invited elsewhere or visit family for most of our other Thanksgiving holidays and so I’ve no real experience in developing solid family traditions for this day.  I am asked to please make sure Great-Grandma’s Sweet Potato Casserole gets made but everything else can pretty much come or go any given year.  Perhaps that’s why I’m not particularly excited about Thanksgiving-themed picture books.  I just don’t get really jazzed up about this holiday for some reason.  I have precisely the books I want to have and am not really licking my chops hunting for the newer and better ones that I’m certain exist (google “Thanksgiving picture books” and you’ll get an eyeful if you want).

So, realizing there has been a void in Thanksgiving posts since I started this blog 3 years ago, I’ll share with you what I have and a brief bit about why I have them, just for my die-hard dozen of curious people. But know that this isn’t a comprehensive list of all great books out there for Turkey Day by any stretch of the imagination.  I read these during the week prior to Thursday.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving: This gives the story of Squanto obviously and I like having a first person focus for this story. It’s well done and offers a friendly bit of truth regarding Spanish Catholic monks that isn’t too common to see in secular history accounts.

The Thanksgiving Story: Tells the tale. The text is a tad lengthy but the art style is beautiful as to be expected.  This is the “official story” book I go to. This year, I’m reading it over a couple days as part of our school’s morning basket.

Cranberry Thanksgiving: I love Cranberry-ville! This is fun and fresh and not focused on the history at all.  Vintage… happy that Purple House Press brought these back in print.

Mousekins Thanksgiving: I wish Mousekin was back in print; he’s a Charlotte Masoner’s dream! This is a gentle tale, full of natural goodness typical of Mousekin and ends in a satisfying and sweet way that captures the ‘spirit’ of Thanksgiving generosity.

Three Young Pilgrims. For my younger children specifically to get a taste of history with the personal narrative to go with it.  It’s colorful and engaging.

N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims: I bought this when we were studying N.C. Wyeth as an artist.  The story is a faithful rendition of the original history but I really don’t make a point to read from this book so much as to just enjoy the pictures (Though the scene is picturesque and romanticized a bit, it’s still a good piece of Americana to get nostalgic about).

The Thanksgiving Door: Something off the beaten path a bit and full of Thanksgiving “spirit” again.  I like to find tales that get a new angle on this holiday because there’s only so many books you can read about the history before your eyes blur over.

p.s. Regarding seasonal out of print books. If you don’t already know this, they are horrifyingly overpriced when it gets close to that season.  Do not shop for OOP holiday books in the same month that the holiday is celebrated.  I buy my OOP Christmas books no later than October and shake my head as prices skyrocket just weeks later… so you have to think ahead of the game a little bit. 

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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.

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Raving about Roger

 I’ve been on a Roger Duvoisin kick lately.  This is for a couple reasons.  One, I found a couple of treasures from him this summer at a garage sale… Day and Night (of which I had no prior knowledge) and The Beaver Pond (which was on my wish list for some time).  More about these titles later.  The other reason I’m on a Duvoisin kick is because I discovered he has a bunch of out-of-print Christmas titles that I’m aching to see.  In a future post, I’ll discuss how I finally saw some of the books on my “Top 10 Out-of-Print Christmas Titles I Want to See” from my Christmas motherload post… and have quickly refilled those unseen titles with some Duvoisin ‘new’ ones. (As a teaser, check out these photos.)

Most of you probably are familiar with Roger Duvoisin’s work through his covers on the old New Yorker magazine and his most famous picture books he wrote and/or illustrated: White Snow, Bright Snow, Petunia, and The Happy Lion.  All are great. So are all the other books from his I’ve read so far.

           

Anyway, I’ll tell you a bit about Day and Night.  It is one of those books that would never be printed by today’s publishers.  Not because the art was quirky and wonderful… alternating pages of full color and black and white as was sometimes common. Not even because it’s charmingly dated with Mr. and Mrs. Pennyfeathers depicted in their separate beds at night-time.  Not because the boy’s name is “Bob.” Nope, this book is absolutely off its rocker in its implication that dogs are not IN the family… rather PART OF the family, which is an entirely dated concept.  There’s a distinction.  And it was not lost on me as I read this book.  Oddly, it’s just in the conclusion to the story’s problem of the friendly owl (Night) and the dog (Day) striking up a friendship that couldn’t make their hours
meet.  ***SPOILER ALERT***  Bob builds a dog-house for Day to sleep in.  Do people still do that?  Have dog-houses?  It seems our culture is so bent on making sure dogs are simply furrier members of a family; they live indoors, have insurance, and a cushy place to sleep.  Listen, I’ve got nothing against indoor pets.  But I am one of the increasingly few people that has nothing against OUTDOOR pets either!  So it goes…

          

In The Beaver Pond, we find the perfect example of a LIVING BOOK.  Authors like Jim Arnosky for example, are diamonds in the rough in the category of “educational picture books.” I have to admit that picture book biographies are doing quite well, with exciting new additions to that genre published each year.  But it seems to me that high quality science or nature books are a bit harder to come by new.  (Great, out of print ones exist.)  Anyway, The Beaver Pond is one of those perfect stories that teaches (without preaching) so much about biology and ecology while still maintaing the necessary elements of a storyline to hold a child’s attention. I am so glad I was able to get it!

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A Home for Mr. Emerson

I saw A Home for Mr. Emerson randomly at the library and grabbed it up immediately.  What a find!  I use picture books heavily to teach history/science/pretty-much-anything and after reading this book, I decided to change up my homeschooling plan just a bit this fall to make sure and include Ralph Waldo Emerson as a featured poet—all because of this book.

So many biographies fall flat with cartoony, digital pictures; others have long, dry text that reads like an encyclopedia entry. But this book does what all picture books should aim to do: tell a good story and illustrate it well.  It’s that simple… and that difficult.

I really didn’t know much of anything about Emerson but this book has all the necessary elements to serve as an educational spine and build out from there.  A real story (complete with a beginning, middle, and end—not just a telling of his life), quotes from his writings, fantastic, appealing pictures to delight young and old, and a full page of biographical notes in the back for further research.

 Yet another ‘bonus’ element of the book is the underlying message about how important it is to build the life you dream of, connect with your community and find sanctuary in your home.  I also had no idea that this team of Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham had produced 3 other biographies (Those Rebels, John and Tom, What To Do About Alice?, and The Extraordinary Mark Twain) that I am adding to my check-out list immediately. Knowing how important it is to have the right illustrator for the right text and vice versa, I can say with confidence that this duo is a match made in picture book heaven.  Kerley has written other non-fiction titles and her Walt Whitman book deserves accolades of its own.  Those illustrations are rich and realistic—great for that book. But  there’s something about the chemistry of Kerley/Fotheringham that I personally really love.

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Butterfly Bonanza: a Top Ten List

Yesterday, we just celebrated a butterfly-themed birthday with my 5 year old.  I never do birthday themes, but after my mother-in-law gave her a lovely butterfly dress and I purchased the excellent Live Butterfly Garden… we decided to go ahead and make a butterfly cake and call it a theme.

This of course led to me thinking about all my favorite butterfly books since the tail end of June is just when our weather starts to think about heating up a bit around here and fluttery creatures can finally be seen in earnest… so here’s my vote of Top Ten Butterfly Books in no particular order:

A bright and colorful starter book. The novelty factor in turning different sized pages helps engage kids. I like the very basic ID primer to butterflies and the flowers they like in the back.

One of Kleven’s newer books, this continues to offer her typical feast for the eyes with a sweet lost and found story about a glass-wing butterfly—(a real creature!).
A lovely, nostalgic memory put into picture book form
Studying the Middle Ages? Scientists?  This is an excellent, easy biographical story for very young readers on how our understanding of the natural world has changed for the better, partially through the work of Maria Merian.
An exquisite photographic journey through the alphabet that will awe young and old alike; one of my very favorite alphabet books.
Sublime illustrations… truly.

I love the size of this book.  It is a great mix of story and information Meilo So‘s art is really the standout.

One of the four gorgeous books that this author has made in this series; these are the ideal “strewing” books.
Not a lot of older Jack Kent books are still in print, much to the dismay of his cult followers.  But this one is!  It’s a silly, simple story of a smug caterpillar changing into a butterfly much to the confused amazement of a polliwog who does some changing himself.
I would hope that this one is a given… I prefer it in board book myself.  


And these are the titles of a few more books I’ve just requested from the library to check out; butterflies are a prolific genre of bug!

Gotta Go! Gotta Go!
Butterfly Butterfly: A Book of Colors
Wings of Light: The Migration of the Yellow Butterfly  (update: very nice book following the tale of migration)

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The First War

We’ve been studying World War I lately.  Seems like we spent forever on the Civil War and then just breezed right through the Industrial Revolution and immigration before going back to war again.  We are a bloodthirsty people… Lord have mercy.

In the literature world, World War I is often eclipsed in the horrors of World War II… but I still believe that picture books offer one of the best way to explore the issue with children.  They offer the perfect level of understanding whilst maintaining the dignity and compassion necessary to view war from a child’s perspective. World War II is a much bigger issue, with more literature options so we are saving it for next fall. Our entire study of this period of time is comprised of picture books:

Where Poppies Grow: A World War I Companion (an overview)
War Game: Village Green to No-Man’s-Land
The Language of Doves
The Letter Home
One Boy’s War
The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I (my favorite)

One book in particular Wings for Per — spans the timeframe of both the world wars in a unique way that offers a bit of continuity from a young Norwegian boy’s life.  It is very overpriced now, out of print, but I promised I’d post some pictures of the inside from my own, tattered copy:

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From Russia with Love

I’m savoring these precious days with our new baby girl… spending all my hours nursing, changing and holding the baby while wondering how to make the laundry do itself.

And I’m watching the Olympics! We love the Olympics in this house! I won’t spend hours telling you about all the great picture books about Russia; there are plenty of lists online.  But I will spotlight my three very favorite (excluding Christmas themes, that is) stories based in Russia from our collection:

  I am especially fond of The Littlest Matryoshka by Corinne Bliss right now because my daughter finally has a sister!  And this story captures that special relationship between sisters just beautifully.  The tiniest little sister gets lost and goes through a series of adventures before finding her way back to her home with the other matryoshka sisters.  Lovely gentle art throughout…

 No one captures pastoral Ukraine or Russia like Patricia Polacco and Rechenka’s Eggs is one of our very favorite books to bring out toward the end of Lent and close to the Easter season.  It’s a great kickstart to any kind of pysanky projects one might want to delve into.  Another variation of this folktale can be found in the lovely book: The Birds’ Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story by Eric Kimmel.

 Lastly is A Symphony of Whales by Steve Schuch.  A couple years ago, I based an entire unit study on this book.  I am so in love with everything about it:  it’s  based on a true story of villagers saving some beluga whales from ice entrapment, it’s richly illustrated in oil paintings, and the story is based in a unique geographical area that doesn’t usually get much attention: the Chukchi Peninsula.  It is truly a living book if ever there was one.  In fact, I need to replace my paperback copy to get it hardbound.


“Little by little, one travels far…”
-Tolkien
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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…
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Saint Felix and the Spider

Another new book by Dessi Jackson came out a few weeks ago!  This one is Saint Felix and the Spider and tells the story of how this saint befriended a little spider who went on to save him from soldiers hunting him down. It’s a fun little legend and would be excellent if you have a child named Felix and want to find SOMETHING… ANYTHING on his namesake! Or even if you just like to keep saint books on hand for feast days (January 14th in this case).  The illustrations are pretty good all around, fairly simple but bright and vibrant. It is so difficult to find good saint books on lesser-known saints and I’m very willing to seek these out!  This is the same author who brought us the very fun Saint and his Bees story recently too.  I hope there is more coming from her!

It’s really too bad that these aren’t offered in hardcovers (not sure if these small-time publishers can even offer that?) because they are great additions to a Catholic child’s bookshelf!

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Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre: November Perfect

In the Catholic faith, we are asked, during the month of November, to reflect on The Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. In the picture book world, I like the idea of using the first part of this month to read darker, haunting or semi-macabre stories (think fairy tales). In having a healthy respect for the supernatural while living as best one can in the state of grace, I really think we have no reason to fear darker themes. And when you treat things in their proper place and have a good understanding of all things ghoulish… kids I think, will too. I mean, my children and I are fascinated by the Martyrs of Otranto for example and on my “money-is-not-a-factor bucket list”, I hope to see their shrine someday, complete with the skulls on display. There is no “creepiness” in death really and ideally, it’s a glorious passage… but I digress.

I was checking to make sure that Anna Harwell Celenza hadn’t produced a book on Mozart (whom we are studying this term) and was reminded with happiness that she had just put out Vivaldi’s Four Seasons this summer… but my eye caught another new title I hadn’t seen before—produced just this August! And that was Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre. We love Celenza’s books in this house (and accompanying CDs) and have purchased four of them now… to supplement our studies of composers.

To be honest, I don’t know anything about the Danse Macabre or much about Camille Saint-Saëns either, but I was intrigued by the cover and read up a bit about the history of that piece in particular.  I learned a lot about the Dance particularly

here. ApparentlySaint-Saëns actually went a-loitering in the catacombs to get inspired for this piece! Anyway, during November, before settling down with the comforting, festive Thanksgiving stories, this would be an excellent book to read and composition to study. I unfortunately, have maxed out both my book budget for the month as well as my request for materials to be purchased at the library right now… so I don’t have a first-hand review of the book to offer yet.  But I’m certain, like all of Celenza’s books, it’s excellent…

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