Tag Archives: Winter

Top 10 Best Winter Books

I had a hard time with this list because there are many sub-categories of winter which could fill out their OWN Top 10 lists. I could have lists on snow, on winter animals, or winter sports. There’s just a lot of fun to be had in this season. And let’s not forget some of the fall books that overlap here for super great reading like Snowsong Whistling or Waiting for Winter. Be that as it may, we have to start somewhere, so here I go. Books that try to be fairly general on the season:

 Winter Story by Jill Barklem. As always, Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge books top my list of seasonal must-haves. The Snow Ball is coming!! Enjoy the fantastic preparations…

 I Like Winter by Lois Lenski. Why is it that all the best books are out of print?! Like Barklem, Lenski’s seasonal books deserve to be on your shelf. Keep your eye out while you’re thrifting around!

Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root. A new find for me this year and one I love oh so much! Old Grandmother Winter (in person) is creating a beautiful winter quilt to wrap around the world. Such awesome illustrations here!

The Mitten by Jan Brett. Jan Brett really shines in winter. It’s because all her Scandinavian art and detail are in full glory. The Mitten is probably her best-selling book and comes in a board version as well. Don’t forget to check out The Hat, Trouble with Trolls, the Gingerbread stories etc. I love the peekaboo frames that reveal the upcoming plot.

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. If I would’ve filled out a Top 11 Author/Illustrators, Burton would have filled out that last slot. I really, really love and appreciate her books; my boys do too. What’s more, the treasury Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton, has got to be one of the best bargains ever in children’s books. For a little more than what would be $3 a book, you get four of the best stories that AREN’T abridged, with complete artwork, in one nice hardback cover.

Snow Moon by Nicholas Brunelle. We discovered this one last year and we loved it! The story is super simple and solemn and lovely. And there’s a touch of whimsy at the very end that makes you wonder whether it was all just a dream or what. Very nice…

The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren. The author who brought us Pippi Longstocking has quite a name in the picture book world too. This book, like it’s companion The Tomten are wonderfully told in slow, somber, quiet voices… it’s almost as if you can feel the snow falling outside when you do it this way… isn’t that right Reynard?

Ollie’s Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow. Good old Beskow delivers again. I love the weepy gray thaw lady who is trying to elude King Winter and Ollie on his brand new pair of skis.

The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen. This is a fantastic story with fantastic Mary Azarian woodcuts. Something about winter makes us want to drink up everything of Nordic countries we can… this is a historically accurate book that has adventure slipped all through it.

The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers. I admit that my boys didn’t really jump with joy over this book; they listen to it just fine and don’t complain, but what really makes it special is something that little girls will see: a birthday tea party, princesses, a Snow Queen, oh yeah… they’ll eat this up.

“Circling the moon, they brushed off the light with a touch of their wings.”
-Snow Moon


Library Pick of the Week: Brother William’s Year

New in 2010 was a wonderful, living picture book called Brother William’s Year: A Monk at Westminster Abbey written and illustrated by Jan Pancheri. This was definitely our Libraray pick of the week (Maybe even month? Quarter? Pick of the year seems lofty but it would definitely be in contention for that prize!) Pancheri was the lead gardener of Westminster Abbey and has used this position to do research into “the way things used to be,” i.e., when the abbey was filled with Benedictine Monks before the property was stolen from the Church.

The book is a look at what medieval abbey life would’ve looked like each month of the year and since it’s January, the time is ripe for a picture book overview of seasonal life. Each page includes what’s happening in the gardens, which were of course the sustenance for the monks back then, not the pristine, manicured displays they are now. There are a couple recipes (Leek Soup!) and fun little tidbits to delight… like the building of a snow-monk. I want to build a snow monk this year!
I’m a fan of the book for a few reasons:
1-It’s historically accurate.
2-It’s reverent to the spiritual life without being a book meant to proselytize, thereby making it accessible to people of all faiths.
3- The art is just as lovely as the text.
4- I find the footnotes in the back very interesting.
Highly recommended.

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.”

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