Tag Archives: out-of-print

Transitioning to Winter…

I love the shifting of seasons.  Sometimes it happens slowly and the leaves deepen in hue and drop off one by one… other times it’s an abrupt wake-up call and a brave little iris is poking its head out of the cold ground.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we were enjoying a normal, wet, mild, windy fall when all of a sudden the bitter cold came yesterday and left a quarter inch of snow dusting the ground.  Winter already?  I marvel in the rhythms of nature… and so many picture books do too.  I have Top Ten lists for all the seasons already, limited though they are. But we all know there exist a myriad of books that really hinge on a very specific part of the season, specifically its inception.  Best are the books emphasizing the beginning of spring and the beginning of winter.  Summer and Fall (well, there is the blooming “harvest time” genre…) are not as common for some reason, at least it seems to me…

Anyway, I read a book that’s new this year that made me think of all my favorite “transitioning to winter” titles.  The book is this one:

Winter is Coming

… and it is stunning.  It might well be my favorite book of the year.  I just love the tone; it’s poetic without being contrived and Jim La Marche could not have been a better illustrator for this book.  The whole story is simply a young girl watching wildlife and how they respond to the shifting of seasons.  In many ways, I was struck by how it felt like the female version of The Raft.  In that book, Winter Is Coming is going on my gifting ideas list because it is just beautiful.
The story is developed in a traditional way but the similarities between a child sketching wildlife in opposite seasons was wonderful; they’d make a great side-by-side comparison for the enterprising teacher.

A couple of the other books that I cherish this time of year are sadly out of print.  All can be found in my local library however, so I suspect they’re available in others.  One is called Waiting for Winter and it is glorious and messy and funny and endearing.  I can’t fathom why it went out of print so soon!  Meschenmoser illustrated it in sparse colors with a scribblish technique that captures the bitter end of fall so well. The little squirrel is waiting for snow and trying to figure out what exactly it’ll be like…

Snowsong Whistling is another one of my favorites because Elisa Kleven is like the bacon of the picture book world… add her illustrations to anything and it’ll turn out amazing.  In this book, the world again waits for the first snow and spritely verses dance across the pages as winter knocks at the door.

Still in the OUT OF PRINT world, there are other goodies also… like Hurry Hurry Mary Dear a very fun book about Mary running about tucking things in, getting ready for the big, blustery winter on its way.  The book is really an depiction of what illustrator Erik Blevgard calls a “domestic drama” but it sure is fun to be watching it all unfold!

So there you are… the best of the “transition” books in my opinion…

 “The quiet transition from autumn to winter is not a bad time at all. It’s a time for protecting and securing things and for making sure you’ve got in as many supplies as you can. It’s nice to gather together everything you possess as close to you as possible, to store up your warmth and your thoughts and burrow yourself into a deep hole inside, a core of safety where you can defend what is important and precious and your very own. Then the cold and the storms and the darkness can do their worst. They can grope their way up the walls looking for a way in, but they won’t find one, everything is shut, and you sit inside, laughing in your warmth and your solitude, for you have had foresight.” 
-Tove Jansson
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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 Glorious ABC

If you haven’t surmised by now, I have a thing for alphabet books.  I also have a thing for Christmas books and wordless books and certainly other categories as well… but I really have a thing for alphabet books.  In fact, I probably need to make another top ten list because the first TWO lists weren’t enough!!! Just the challenge of finding a great theme and being able to execute each page of the book well… it takes skill and the thrill of the puzzle is what delights me.

Cooper Edens is a special sort of author/illustrator.  He is best known for his “horizontal storytelling” where the reader solves the string of “problems”… as can be seen in one of my very favorite gift-giving books (for people of ALL ages): If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.

Well Edens thought it would be special to make a hall-of-fame picture book… one that celebrates many of the fantastic illustrators of picture book past and does a blessed fine job of it.

The Glorious ABC is a lovely diversion in picture book time travel. I had such a delightful time going through this book… and I wondered about how much fun it would be to come up with my own picture book titles “Hall of Fame” for each letter of the alphabet.  Possible I’m sure… and so many possibilities!

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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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Top 10 Wordless Picture Books

This article was originally written for and printed in the Spring 2012 issue of Soul Gardening Journal. I have since substituted in two titles (listed at the end) that came to my attention and taken out the original listings for The Silver Pony about which I had this to say: “This is a sort of strange, magical book that might not be guaranteed to win everyone’s hearts… but its peculiarity won mine.  I love the old fashioned, black and white sketches here.”  

And also I removed Rainstorm, originally saying this: “Barbara Lehman is more well known for her Caldecott honored The Red Book but this one tickles me just a bit more.  A young, well-to-do boy feels the restlessness and boredom of a rainy day before finding a magic key that offers him a magic portal into his imagination.  There’s something clean about Lehman’s illustrations that make her a refreshing read.”

Finally, I gave a shout out to one of my very favorite Christmas books ever: A Small Miracle and would also add The Snowman.

Willfully Wandering Wordless: A Top Ten List

Some of my very favorite picture books are completely devoid of words.  I used to sort of smile and write (no pun intended) these kinds of books off as novelties without any real sort of lasting merit.  But as my bookshelf space shrunk and my exposure to children’s literature grew, I was proven wrong… very, very wrong.
Wordless picture books can be an excellent vehicle for pre-readers who want to “read” books like big brother/sister.  They can serve beautifully for creative narration prompts too.  Instead of playing the memory game and asking your child “Okay, what was the story about”… to which they promptly regurgitate a couple of quoted sections word-for-word to show that they’ve been listening, kid’s are forced to tell a story in entirely their own words.  In the wordless world, it’s all about attention to the details, to sequencing, to the art of what’s happening.  Many are written in comic book fashion which gets little ones used to the concept of left to right to down directional reading.  Teachers have often used wordless books for question prompts to creative thinking: “What do you think he’s looking for?”  “Why might she be feeling sad?” etc.  Since none of the answers are ‘given away’ with text, even shy children might open up with some interesting interpretations.
With regards to wordless books in this family, my children take a few different approaches that are refreshingly different from the reactions I get with traditional picture books. My five year old son likes to take a wordless book off to a corner by himself and study it through.  Then he asks me to “read a story with him” which entails us sitting on the couch together while he tells me everything that’s going to happen on the next page.  He gets a giddy delight out of finally being the one in the know with a book, while I am simply the willing audience to his interpretation.  My seven year old boy does a great deal of personification in his life.  If he sees an image he likes with just enough figures for our family, he promptly names us all.  I am honored to have been labeled an ant, a banana, a Chinese spinster, and a flying frog among other things.  With wordless books, he’s in hog heaven describing who’s who and bringing in all the people from his real world into the story with unnamed characters.  My nine year old boy is a bit more like me with the wordless books.  He just curls up somewhere with a blanket and reads it quietly to himself, slowly turning the pages and letting his eyes feast on the artwork. The canvas is totally blank when it comes to these kinds of stories and imaginations can run wild.  Here is a Top Ten list of my very favorite wordless books, though it really is cruel to limit myself in this wonderful genre:

 The Arrival by Shaun Tan. This book is stunning and the artwork will weave you right into its spell.  I spent the better part of an hour reading this book by myself; it is living proof that picture books aren’t just for kids. I’d happily keep this surrealistic story of an immigrant on my coffee table.  While it was fun to go through with my children, the message really can be quite profound for adults too.

 Peter Spier’s Rain. A perfect springtime book full of lovely, poetic imagery.  Peter Spier is one of those wonderful authors that the world seems content to forget.  So many of his gems (some others are wordless also) are out of print and I curdle my nose in disgust sometimes to think of some the fodder that’s replacing his books at stores everywhere.

 Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno.  Get all of Anno’s books; you won’t regret it!  This book doubles as a superb and innovative counting book with folky artwork that I adore. Anno’s Journey is another title in this category that is a lot of fun to follow with children.

 Tuesday by David Wiesner. Wiesner is the master of the wordless genre.  While we love his Flotsam, Sector 7 and Free Fall too, this book about flying frogs (yep, that’s me!) on an adventure in the middle of the night wins my boys over every time.  These pictures are feast-worthy indeed.

 The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Now Pinkney was fortunate here in that the story was already provided for him– remember that fable from Aesop about the mouse who helps out the lion?  Pinkney just happens to be an incredible artist who took this story for a beautiful spin in 2009 with the release of this book.

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog by Mercer Mayer. My very first introduction to wordless books was this one.  I love the size; I love the limited color scheme. I love all the sequels to this book. I have to admit that I came into it biased because Mercer Mayer illustrated my all-time, very favorite series of childhood chapter books–The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald– and I was delighted to see this kind of art again. One way to sneak out of the limiting Top Ten is to throw out other titles to reference by the same author. In this case, I’d point you to a very recent fun title by Mayer called Octopus Soup.
 The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard by Gregory Rogers. How refreshing!  Are you studying Shakespeare?  Add this to your unit to round out all the romantic, poetic imagery of the man.  Here a contemporary boy gets lost on a stage hosting the Bard himself who becomes enraged at the interruption and chases the boy through old London.  The great thing about graphic novels is that you get lots of bonus perspectives to complete the comic book boxes… so an extreme close up of Shakespeare’s face or a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city fill out the pages quite nicely.

 Mirror by Jeannie Baker.  Baker is a collage artist and she uses an assortment of materials, fabric and natural foliage to construct this very novel book.  It is testament again that wordless stories aren’t just for preschoolers; in fact I think you’d really need to be about eight years old at least to really appreciate what’s going on here.  When you open this book you have two stories side by side on each side the outside covers, so you are flipping pages from the inside binding to show the daily lives of an Australian child and a Morrocan child.  It’s a beautiful social studies lesson on the uniqueness of two very different cultures but the same threads of family, meals, and home life bind us all together.  Jeannie Baker is also well known for her other wordless story called Home which will be one of the subjects for some other season in this Book Basket column as I explore a couple of books that reflect on urban relationships.

Magpie Magic: A Tale of Colorful Mischief by April Wilson is a gorgeous and fun tale of words coming to life. I wrote about it a couple years ago: “The book a feast of imagery from the first person perspective as we see artist’s hands draw the magpie outside her window.  As any good story book would have it, the bird then comes to life and what happens next is a witty sort of duel between the bird and artist which ends in a very satisfactory way.” 

 Journey by Aaron Becker is one of the very best books of 2013.  There is something about the wordless genre that lends itself perfectly to fanciful travels or surreal experiences.  This book is that. A girl goes on an incredible journey in a very similar way to Harold did in Harold and the Purple Crayon. Exquisite details in this thoughtful book.

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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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To a Publisher’s Shame

I picked up Autumn Harvest at the thrift store a while back with eagerness.  I immediately recognized the illustration style that made White Snow, Bright Snow a Caldecott Award Winner in the late 1940s. The same author, Alvin Tresselt, wrote Autumn Harvest and the same artist, Roger Duvoisin, illustrated it. This team also produced a quirky, quiet book called Hide and Seek Fog (itself a Caldecott Honor Book) and their work complements each other beautifully. One that I didn’t know about is called The Beaver Pond and while out of print, looks to be readily and economically available. Furthermore, Roger Duvoisin is the illustrator for other fantastic and popular books like Petunia and The Happy Lion too; his accomplishments and credibility can’t be denied.

Here’s my beef. Why—if you have such a lauded duo of picture book makers— would publishers let their other titles go out of print?!  Forget for a moment, the worthiness of other titles, isn’t there something to be said for celebrity power in the children’s literature world? But let it be known that Autumn Harvest is worthy! The story is simple, and slow. It’s a cycle of nature and lifestyle beginning with the earliest harvest season:

 After the threshing, timid filed mice scurried through the stubble to find what the machines had left. And chattering birds gathered in the hedgerows to feast on the fallen grain. Each night at sundown the katydids sang louder.  Katydid…katydidn’t…katydid…katydidn’t. Till the first frost tipped the maples with scarlet, and turned the elms to gold.

… and continuing on through the season until the farmer’s family gathers around the table for Thanksgiving. All the while accompanied by Duvoisin’s excellent, vintage drawings. I’m just not sure where the book goes wrong enough to get left in the publishing dust pile? Is it too dated or nostalgic?  Is it because the farmer is not PC and he smokes a pipe? What?! Why suffocate our children with other filth in print and avoid the riches of yesteryear?  I suppose it’s the vicious cycle with all consumerism: if people buy it, they produce it.  If they produce it, people buy it, if for nothing else than for lack of better options.  So who really is to blame them? Us? Them?

Whatever the case may be, don’t get all glittery eyed at the Barnes and Noble shelf of books when there are treasures waiting to be purchased second hand all over the place. Do some research. Don’t settle for pig slop. Buy books with wrinkles.

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Appreciating Arnosky

Today I dug into our October basket (yes, our “seasonal” rotation of picture books has now grown into a “monthly” rotation of books!! I include all our picture books in this rotation (excepting non-fiction) so as to ensure we are getting a chance to read and appreciate all the good ones we have.  Otherwise, treasures get buried and forgotten in the surplus.) and pulled out Every Autumn Comes the Bear by Jim Arnosky.

I was reminded again of how much we love this author.  Is it the brilliance of the text?  Not so much.  The glory of the illustrations?  Not exactly.  I think what it is has to do with the perfect marriage of text and imagery Arnosky offers in all of his books.  He writes simple story lines… easy enough for a 2 year old to sit through, yet engaging enough for an 8 year old to appreciate.  And he doesn’t fictionalize things or  indulge in anthropomorphism like so many other popular kiddy books do— I have no problem with talking animals, believe you me… but all things have their place.  And animals in Arnosky’s books are simply stars in the natural history story he has to tell. And they are excellent.

Crinkleroot
Tom Bombadil

We own Grandfather Buffalo and Coyote Raid In Cactus Canyon also but I’m starting to get the itch that tells me I need to purchase more of his titles… so loved they are and so seasonally appropriate they can be.  On my shortlist are Rabbits & Raindrops or Raccoons and Ripe Corn and Armadillo’s Orange (get a load of those used prices! Ha!). And we can’t forget Crinkleroot and his series… which are very basic primers to different aspects of nature; kids love them. As a side-note, Crinkleroot reminds me of how I envision a simpler version of Tom Bombadil. If you get that reference, it’s a strong indication you might be awesome.

Anyway, Jim Arnosky provides good stuff all around!  Go get some books!

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The Tale of Lazy Lizard Canyon… etc.

I’ve said before that asking a bibliozealot to choose a favorite book is like asking her to choose a favorite child.  And although I have dozens and dozens of “absolute, 100%, very, very favorite books”, I think I’m ready to back-peddle on that statement.  I do have a favorite book.  This post isn’t about that though… a thorough post on that is coming…

This post is about a title by the same illustrator: Doris Burn.  I have made a point to collect all the books that were written and illustrated by Doris Burn (there are only three and two are out of print).  But she has illustrated a half dozen books in addition to these.  A fellow Washingtonian, Doris Burn won my heart with Andrew Henry’s Meadow years ago. Then I stumbled on my precious, precious favorite which she illustrated We Were Tired of Living in a House.  I’m not linking it because I don’t want my unwitting readers to accidentally buy the new, awful version of that book… more on this later.

Last year, I acquired The Summerfolk and loved it.  This year, I finally got my hands on the missing part of the trifecta— I’ll offer pictures before commentary:

The first thing I noticed about the book was the departure from her earlier style of simple black and white sketching.  In this title, Burn uses a brown pencil wash which is actually quite fitting for the Old West themed story.
The story itself didn’t immediately grab me in the way her other titles have.  This is written in a true, olden time fashion.  Unlike modern cowboy books, Doris doesn’t shy away from whiskey, guns or brawls.  She tells it like it is to which many contemporary parents will probably stick up their noses.  The tale is of two feuding families ultimately brought together by a romantic, non-fighting son and a pretty lil’ Miss.  This isn’t something I would read to my 6 and under set, but my 8 and 10 year old boys found it to be amusing, while I found the writing… the STORYTELLING to be indeed very deliberate and authentic.  I don’t think you will find much in children’s picture books these days about the authentic Old West… fun, stylized versions, yes… but the nitty, gritty, dag-nabbit, root-tootin mess that it often was?!  Not likely.  So this book is nice to fill in that area.  
That said, it wasn’t an area that I felt essential to get into and I wouldn’t call this title a MUST-HAVE for anyone other than die-hard Doris Burn lovers like myself…

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The Summerfolk

The Summerfolk by Doris Burn is an excellent summer story that is out of print and not too cheap to find unfortunately.  Because of my deep love for Doris Burn, I splurged the $11 on this used title and am happy to own it now.  But when I bought it, I knew nothing about its contents.  There were no reviews that really gave me any idea of what I’d be purchasing so I really took a leap of faith this time (knowing I had a solid foundation with all her other art, plus the story line of Andrew Henry’s Meadow).  So here today, is a brief review with pictures (I obviously didn’t try very hard to take good shadow-less photos; but you get the idea).  This is a story about friendship and dispelling prejudices and adventure of the best kind.

Willy Potts (who appears to be about 9-12 years old) and his dad dislike the tourists who visit the beach where they live each summer.  They are loud and reckless and an all around disruption to the simple, fisherman’s life Willy and his dad have.

“Thick as sand fleas and twice as pesky,” muttered Joe Potts.
“Summerfolk,” grumbled Willy.

But one day, Willy takes his rundown old boat into the swamp and meets a “summerfolk” who has created an exciting pirate ship raft that wants to pull Willy through the swamp to meet other kids with other strange abodes or boats.  They commence to pick up other strange, exciting, kind children with exotic names as Twyla Loo and Cork and Fedderly.  They eat and climb trees and tell stories and have a grand old time until it is time for the summerfolk to head home.

As you can imagine, Willy has quite changed his mind by now (still needs to convince his dad of this) and ponders carefully at the end of the story:

“I reckon there’s summerfolk and summerfolk.”

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