Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas Book Bargains!

Yes, it’s still November and not even Advent yet, but I can’t help but think ahead (a massive, comprehensive Christmas post is coming soon!) even if I’m not “celebrating” ahead! I’ve collected a few of the good/great Christmas titles that are bargain priced right now; quantities are limited! Get ’em while they’re hot and stash them for gift-giving!


Bargain Book Roundup!

Skimming through the current Bargain Books on Amazon can be daunting because there is so much chaff and very little wheat. But here are some notable hardcover books that are currently on sale for a good price! Get ’em while they’re hot!

The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I I just talked about how much I love Frane Lessac a couple weeks ago! I was so excited to see this book on sale, it’s my favorite WW1 picture book to date.

The Legend of Saint Nicholas Demi’s version of the story, criticized for having a Catholic bias. I hate to break it you everyone, but Nicholas of Myra was in fact, a Catholic bishop.

Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert This is a pretty new book on St. Martin. I bought it full price last year when it came out… so great was my curiosity. Some folks were a bit offended that the monks in here were portrayed as meanish or critical. I don’t know St. Martin’s story really well, but I do know that the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints… and that sometimes, holy people have faced more persecution from INSIDE the church than outside of it! So I was not too bothered by any biases that some saw in this book. It had lovely art and was a good primer on a wonderful man.

Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott I just learned a little about this famous author and was surprised to find out that she never WANTED or INTENDED to write a book for girls! She had other material that her first publisher didn’t love and she was asked to write a story for girls… so she did, and did the sequels just to keep the bills paid. Despite the fact that those stories weren’t what was initially on her heart, she sure made a success of herself for generations to come!

The Trouble with Wishes This is a light, fun retelling of the famous myth about Pygmalion.

Pandora I love Robert Burleigh’s Hercules book and he writes a bunch of other excellent non-fiction titles as well.

Adèle & Simon in America I absolutely love Barbara McClintock; her illustrations are so old-world evocative… and this is a fun little look and find book for little eyes.

Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman One of my favorite Johnny Appleseed picture books.

Snow Superb picture/text symetry here. This would be a great addition to anyone’s winter basket (the general part of this season sometimes gets overlooked in deference to the millions of Christmas season books…)

Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale I have not seen this in person yet, but it looks absolutely delightful and original and perfect for explaining not only the scale on which wind is measured but so many other nautical things too, lovely art!

Angela and the Baby Jesus A beautiful picture book embodying the “real meaning” of Christmas from the author of the famous Angela’s Ashes.

Merry Christmas, Curious George! I don’t generally advocate for commercial characters in picture books, but Curious George was cool before he became… well… cool. So if you have any young fans in your house who’d love a George Christmas book, this is your ticket…

Corn. Gail Gibbons may not author the most beautiful books on the planet, but they sure are excellent contributions to non-fiction topics. Corn would be a great addition to anyone’s harvest or autumn basket of books. I recently found Spiders at the thrift store for our Fall basket and think Corn would accompany that nicely!

Panorama: A Foldout Book I don’t know much about this book, but it looks intriguing and like it might make for a beautiful, unique gift. Here is a blog post I found describing it a bit more in depth.


Top Ten Epiphany Books

Yet another Christmas post! But Epiphany really is a separate sort of celebration and I want to put this up before January 6th.  I’m not convinced that there aren’t more great ones out there that I’m missing in the Epiphany genre… but the following are the best ones I know about!

 The Last Straw by Frederick Thury. This is a winner in my family primarily because of the way the camel’s name rolls off the tongue: Hashmakaka.  True story: we have a rice casserole dish named after this camel after an impatient child kept whining that he wanted to know what was in the dish I was making… and I burst out in frustration: “It’s camel meat! We are eating camel for dinner!!!”  Hence: Hashmakaka was born… and it’s a well loved dish today (made with ground turkey, just so you know).

 We Three Kings by Gennady Spirin. This is the next Epiphany book on my list to buy. Pure eye candy accompany the text of that famous song.

 They Followed a Bright Star by Joan Alavedra. A deceptively deep book couched in a very simple story: the shepherds and kings follow the star to find the Newborn Baby.  My very favorite part is when one shepherd boy whispers, “Is He a shepherd or a king?” I had never thought of the significance of Christ’s visitors until that… very cool.

 Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins. There are many legends of this old Christmas lady but I like this one best of what I’ve seen because of its quirky but lovely illustrations. A more modern (and more Italian) version of this story is de Paola’s The Legend of Old Befana.

 The Third Gift by Bagram Ibatoulline. I am in love with this book.  So thoughtful and such a unique angle on Epiphany.  A boy and his father are harvesting one of the gifts that the wise men will bring to baby Jesus.  Beautiful.

 Strega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola. Brand new this year, this is a lighter story that relates to the tradition of giving your animals special treats on Epiphany…

 Federico and the Magi’s Gift by Beatriz Vidal. A different take on Epiphany from the traditions of Latin America. I really like the sweet Lois Lensky-like illustrations in this book.

 The Stone: A Persian Legend of the Magi by Dianne Hofmeyr. This is an excellent book based on an excellent legend and you’ll find it a nice break to think about what happened on the way back from visiting the Child Jesus…

 Danny and the Kings by Susan Cooper. Another fresh take on what the Epiphany is all about.  A young, poor boy just wants a Christmas tree for his young brother to see… he hears that the 3 kings are still traveling the world leaving gifts; can it be true?

 Small Camel Follows the Star by Rachel Brown.  Alovely story from yet another camel’s perspective.  Small camel is carrying a very important bundle on his back… it’s nice to see attention to details like the wise men visiting the Newborn Baby at His house rather than the stable.

“O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light.”

The Odd Marriage of P.J. Lynch

When a children’s book has an excellent story and poor illustrations or a poor story and excellent illustrations… I call this an odd marriage. It really can ruin the overall effect for readers; I’d rather have not read those delightful words only to have an ugly picture of them put in my brain. Or I’d rather not see those exquisite drawings paired up to such lame text… what a waste!

In this vein, I present to you a book published this year called No One But Youby Douglas Wood. I grabbed the book at the library because I was attracted to the artwork and thought I might recognize it, and indeed P.J. Lynch does not disappoint! Lynch is the artist behind many other books, some of which I love very much, including the excellent Christmas stories:The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomeyand The Gift of the Magi… not to mention the classic (though obviously intended for slightly older readers) A Christmas Carol.

In No One But You, Lynch’s work is superb. You can see the canvas and the realism in each page and the perspective with which he paints is a treat also. Use the “Look Inside Book” feature on amazon to get a taste of what I mean. The disappointing part is that he’s paired up with a text that is pure cotton candy. It offers no substance. Now, many people are great fans of books which aren’t really “stories” insomuch as they are esteem boosters for children… think of Sam McBratney books for a good example of what I mean. Of course, there is nothing wrong with books that tell children how loved they are and how special they are, but let’s be clear: these aren’t story books. And quite often, these are books parents love more than kids and these types are especially given as gifts… as if they are an extended greeting card trying to express what a parent wishes he or she could say. I rant on this topic in slightly more depth here.

So, may it be it known, I am not a fan of such books. I usually find them dull and patronizing. No One But You is such a book. Like McBratney’s books, it’ll probably get very high reviews as more people read it. And I’m not going to be a total curmudgeon and say it’s worthless; it just leaves so much to be desired for me by way of wishing those beautiful, beautiful illustrations were paired with as striking of a story as Jonathan Toomeyfor example. (Incidentally, we just borrowed the film version of this book from the library and were pleasantly surprised at how well done it was for a family movie.) Instead the text that matches the page in the above image is this: “Only one person can notice the hum of a bumblebee on a lazy afternoon as he buzzes past your ear on his way to a clover patch, and that someone is no one but you.” Meh. The words are lovely, sure. But the whole book is variations of this: “No one but you can feel the rain kiss your skin or the wind ruffle your hair. And no one but you can walk through a rain puddle in your bare feet.”
It makes me wonder Well, why not anyone else but me? Other people can feel the rain and walk through puddles too… but I suspect I’m over thinking what Douglas Wood is trying to get across. Lastly, I’ve noticed that Candlewick Press publishes a lot of feel-good books like this. A lot. In fact, if I see that a children’s book is produced by this publisher, I already have an idea of what to expect. I’m not totally prejudiced here, I’m just saying it’s a trend I’ve noticed. But a publisher is, after all, in the business of making money… not necessarily producing excellent literature. And it’s clear that there is a market for books of the “You Are Special!” breed.
So, if you like these feel-good, non-substantial books, No One But You would be an excellent choice. It’ll make a great gift after all! But if you want the whole enchilada of goodness, seek out P.J Lynch’s other works.


A Home for Ol’ St. Nick

One week from today we’ll celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas. On this day, my own family wakes up to stockings filled with nuts, chocolates and small toys, trinkets or in the case of this year: battery operated toothbrushes! The joy! We do this on the 6th of December in keeping with the tradition of who St. Nick was and the legends that surround his name. Unlike many Christian parents I know, I’m 100% at ease with the place of St. Nick in our holiday celebrations. Forget the Easter Bunny, he makes no sense whatsoever… and the kids have ALWAYS known it’s us and not some random “tooth fairy” who places money under the pillow upon losing a tooth. You think we’d bypass the pillow tradition for efficiency’s sake but there’s something deflating about Junior presenting you with a bicuspid and demanding: “Pay up!” No thank you.

But we do foster a healthy and appreciable devotion to good St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. And I don’t think Santa Clause detracts a bit from the Christ Child on Christmas Day if he’s given his proper place. There is a book to help you if you’re wondering what that place is: A Special Place for Santa: A Legend for Our Time. This book sort of tells the story behind that darling ornament of Christ kneeling before the Infant. It reconciles who Santa is and who St. Nick is and what his place is for Christmas. The illustrations aren’t my favorite… I’m allergic to anything that looks like a Saturday morning cartoon… but the text makes this book a good one for parents who don’t know how to explain St. Nick to their kids.

Top 10 Best Advent Books

I know it seems odd to offer a booklist on Advent but let’s get real here. Do you know how many excellent Christmas books are out there?! It may well be the single most prolific genre of picture books. For that reason, not even I could possibly narrow it down to ten titles. {BUT I CAN NARROW IT DOWN TO 100!!!} So we’ll break it up a bit, I’ll offer you the books that seem to be more fitting for the season of Advent… then we’ll get into the best post-Christmas day books. And apart from even these, I’ll then write up a post about my top ten Winter books! Too bad we skipped Thanksgiving… next year life might slow down and the computer might speed up making this blog more active. For now, it is what it is!

Nothing troubles me more about Christmas than the utter lack of focus on Christ obviously… but a close second is the missing and messing up of the season of Advent: that quiet, somber season of hope. The celebrations and frenzied shopping and indulging in treats are really rather inappropriate during this time of waiting, in my humble opinion. That said, there aren’t very many Advent specific books out there… so the list I present to you includes feast day books, and the Christmas books that at least have a significant time spent on the time prior to the 25th… if you can’t wait until Christmas SEASON (which BEGINS on the 25th) to read in this genre of books (I certainly can’t) than at least try to prioritize your reading list to include the more preparatory books before we begin celebrating Christmas itself.

*** Two years later, I’m updating this list.  Look for my new notes in red.***

 The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie de Paola. You’ll find that de Paola has a quite a few seasonal gems here but this one shine specifically. The feast of our Lady of Guadalupe is on December 12th and St. Juan Diego is on the 9th. This book tells the true story of this apparition in a lovely way. (I’ve been to the cathedral where the tilma still exists today!) Let’s not forget this story during this time of hope and preparation for the Christ-Child! I still have and like this version of the Guadalupe story… but one that I’ve since found I love even MORE is this version by Carmen Bernier-Grand.

 One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham. I shuffled off The Miracle of St. Nicholas (onto my Christmas list) in order to include this title.  This book goes through the entire story of Christmas. The ENTIRE story, from the Creation of the World through the Resurrection of Christ.  It includes many snippets of tales from the Old Testament which would line up beautifully with Jesse Tree readings.  The art is superb and the story inviting when taken nibbles at a time. 

 Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard Schneider. Alright, this book gets immediate bonus point for saying the word “Advent.” Now the Christmas genre is ripe for overly-sentimental, sappy books. I have some of them. And they are fine in moderation. But my four boys get tired of sugary sweetness sometimes and need something a bit more rollicking. Well, this isn’t that book. But it is one of the better sentimental ones that has some interesting action included and not just character dramas. It’s a fantastic book with a lovely message. Get it.

 Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets. I reluctantly bumped off The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey to make room for this book in the Advent Top Ten.  (Don’t worry, I have other plans for Toomey on a different list.)  But this out-of-print gem by Ets is so beautiful and evocative and a perfect tale of Las Posadas and a little girl’s hopes coming to life.  This book seriously needs to come back in print but until then, a used copy is worth picking up.

 Lucia Child of Light by Florence Ekstrand. Well, I really want to include a couple other books on St. Lucy in this list but to be honest, I’ve not personally read them yet. They are on my wish list and should be on yours too! Lucia Morning in Sweden and Lucia, Saint of Light. Other than that, I found this little book at a thrift store this year and I love it. It’s not a typical picture book; it’s a medley really. First is a full story of the legend, sans pictures. Then there are tips and such for how to celebrate the day… keeping in mind that the feast of St. Lucy on December 13th is not a “mini Christmas” nor a specific part of Advent. But this little saint of light ought not be forgotten in the shuffle so I encourage you to read up on her!

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola. It’s always nice to learn about some of the traditions we take for granted this time of year. Here is a sweet story about a young girl’s searching for just the perfect gift for the Christmas procession.

 The Real Santa Claus by Marianna Mayer. I replaced one of my old titles for this one.  This book is absolutely beautiful and helps put the Santa/St. Nick dilemma in its proper perspective—an excellent thing to do on his feast day of Dec. 6th. Being very wordy in between the lovely art though, it’s better for older readers, maybe 8+ or so?  For younger readers on the same topic, I’d recommend Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend or A Special Place for Santa: A Legend for Our Time

 The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Helen Berger. Again, this one would make my Top Three list overall. It is an incredibly simple story, relaying the walk the donkey takes as it carries the Virgin Mother to where Jesus is born. But the imagery is sublime. And I’m including it in the pre-Christmas list because the analogies in this book could line up perfectly with certain Old Testament readings if you are inclined to do a Jesse Tree during this season. Still probably my very favorite Christmas-time book… would be fitting to read on the feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th) as it honors Mary so much.

 The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola. We really can’t get away from this author can we? And trust me, there are more where this came from. But The Clown of God was the very first Tomie de Paola book I ever purchased once I started really thinking about investing in quality literature. Not only is the story a good story and fitting for the Christmas season, I love how it deals with death. De Paola is one of the few authors who’ll touch this subject in a real, no holds barred way… but in a way that is still reverent and readable. (A wonderful, wonderful book dealing with the ‘circle of life’ so to speak is his Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs.) The Clown of God is worth owning.

 The  Christmas Deer by April Wilson.  I fell in love with this author/illustrator when I found her gorgeous book: Magpie Magic. So I had high hopes for this book that I found this year. The art is beautiful, reminiscent of Jan Brett’s style with these wintry images.  But the major reason this book belongs in Advent and not Christmas is precisely because it’s an Advent journey… including a tear out, card-stock calendar in back!

Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide and where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place. -Edward Hays