Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Advent: General Christmas Interest Books

Our family loves books, and years ago I stumbled upon the idea to wrap up holiday books before the start of advent, and mark the countdown to Christmas by opening up a book each day. We've done this several years now, and it's a tradition that both of my girls love - as soon as they awake in the morning, they are making their selection for the day and tearing into it.

There are some books that I know are only in our home temporarily (especially board books, which will age out as my youngest develops a longer attention span), but I thought it would be fun to share what is currently in our collection. Please feel free to contribute suggestions; there are several titles on my wishlist, and each year I try to add at least one new book to the rotation.

If you are interested in starting your own tradition but don't have many Christmas books on hand and are intimidated by the cost of buying dozens of books, I recommend you collect all year, keeping an eye out at garage sales and library sales (my library is kind enough to have a holiday section, which I go straight to each year). Then I enhance my collection via Amazon (the Amazon links here are affiliate links, meaning that should you make any purchase via these links, Amazon will give me a small percentage, at no additional cost to you).

As our pile is pretty diverse, I'm going to do this in installments. This first (and largest) installment focuses on the general interest Christmas books. Then I describe our winter-themed books, our nativity books, and our board books.

Also, one suggestion (that I have yet to implement myself): when you're packing away the books for the year, I suggest taking the time to wrap them then, so you're not rushing yourself once Advent rolls around again (one year I was wrapping some books every few days, as I didn't have enough time to do them all before we began). Otherwise, I'm hoping to sew reusable bags to easily insert them in, so as to save time and eliminate the wrapping paper waste.

The After-Christmas Tree by Linda Wagner Tyler
A girl is sad to say goodbye to the family's Christmas tree without one final celebration, so the tree is given new life when friends gather to create food garlands for wildlife to enjoy when the tree is taken outside.

Are You Grumpy, Santa? by Gregg and Evan Spiridellis
Poor Santa is having a rough day, from his outfit shrinking in the wash to getting stuck in chimneys. It all seems to go from bad to worse on this ill-fated Christmas Eve, but at the end, we see it all turned around. It's a silly book, but it paints a different picture of Santa and makes him seem more human.

This is a new-to-us title for Christmas 2017, but I think the girls will be excited to experience this one.

Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
This is a new addition to my library. I'm aware there are other Bear books (including one where he sleeps through winter, Bear Snores On), but they aren't (yet) in our home library.

It's well known that bears hibernate through the winter, so this story shows how hard the bear fights his desire to sleep so that he can celebrate the holiday with his friends.

The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear by Stan and Jan Berenstain
We have quite the collection of Berenstain Bear books, and I try to keep the holiday-themed ones out of circulation until the corresponding holiday is near. This is the Christmas book, where Sister Bear especially struggles with greed.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
I've been seeing and passing on this title for years, waiting for the time my oldest daughter would have the attention span to stick with a chapter book. Not only does she have that, this year (2017) she could run off with the book and read it to herself, so I finally decided we were ready for this to enter our rotation.

I'm hoping to start reading this in the evenings early enough in the season to leisurely make it through the book. It's a popular enough title that the play is often performed annually - perhaps next year I'll start the tradition of taking my daughters to the play.

In it we meet the rascally Herdman children, who end up cast in the church play after initially just showing up for the free treats. Anxieties run high that they will destroy the play, but their innocence and curiosity as they approach the nativity story lends a freshness to everyone.

The Biggest, Most Beautiful Christmas Tree by Amye Rosenberg
We meet forest animals that live in a large evergreen tree. At Christmas time, they grow sad that Santa never fills their stockings or brings them gifts, but they realize they must be hard to find in the middle of the forest. They decorate their tree; Christmas Day arrives, and there are gifts for the first time. (I've since passed this on to a friend, but I'll leave it up here in case it's of interest to others.)

A Charlie Brown Christmas, Pop-Up Edition by Charles M. Schulz
I have fond memories watching this Christmas special every year - in high school, I put the soundtrack on my Christmas list, so that music is in regular rotation during the holidays. As I was tweaking my holiday book offerings for this advent activity, I knew I wanted to include this volume. The pop-up feature charms my girls, and it's regularly in rotation.

A Christmas Carol illustrated by Joe Boddy
The classic Dickens tale is re-imagined with animal characters, although the storyline is unchanged. I've had this book awhile, but it's pretty long, so the girls flip through the pages for the pictures, but they default to shorter variations to be read aloud (a la Mickey's Christmas Carol, detailed later on this page). With Brennan becoming an avid reader, though, this may be the year I get to read it in its entirety.

The Christmas Crocodile by Bonny Becker
This was an accidental discovery for me, found when I was digging through the holiday offerings at the local library book sale. I bought it after only a cursory glance (there's a lot of competition at those sales - no time to linger!), but it has become one of our favorites to read.

A crocodile is delivered as a gift to the family, and they're coming to terms with him eating everything in sight. At the end, there is regret when they learn the gift was delivered to them by mistake. The illustrations are charming, the family members are distinct in their personalities and reactions, and it's just a fun story overall.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
This is a new addition for Advent 2017, a sweet book about a hard-working farm family that makes ends meet but doesn't have much to spare. The teenage son, who grudgingly helps his dad with early morning chores, decides one Christmas to show his love by waking in the middle of the night and doing them all by himself as a gift. I love the message and tone of the book.

Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I devoured the Laura Ingalls Wilder books in my childhood and have enjoyed introducing the books to my oldest daughter. When I saw this book available at a book sale in Fall 2017, I snatched it up.

It's a shorter picture book describing a Christmas the Ingalls family shares with relatives and friends. Fans of the series will recognize details.

I even see there are several Laura Ingalls Wilder picture books that would be well suited to my winter-themed advent collection (Winter on the Farm, Sugar Snow, and Winter Days in the Big Woods).

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
This book contains highly detailed illustrations and is more serious in nature. The title character is an older man who is sullen and withdrawn. He is a woodcarver. Early on it's revealed that his wife and baby became quite sick and died. He has retreated into himself, and this story details his heart thawing and him finding peace.

This is a beautiful and touching book.

The Christmas Tree That Grew by Phyllis Krasilovsky
This story shines a spotlight at how easy it is to live around neighbors but have no interaction with them. We see an apartment building where people kept to themselves. However, one year when the family on the ground floor gets a Christmas tree, it grows at record speeds, forcing them to initiate contact with the neighbors above them. A new community of friends is forged through the experience.

Corduroy's Christmas by Don Freeman
A lift-the-flap book where children who are familiar with the original story of Corduroy can participate with him preparing for and celebrating Christmas.

I've begun retiring some of the more simplistic board books, so this was brought in as an intermediary for Christmas 2017 for my three-year-old.

Counting to Christmas by Nancy Tefuri
Here's a sweet book following a girl as each day closer to Christmas she prepares by baking, wrapping, and creating.

There are also instructions for the various crafts at the close of the book (which will be a highlight for my girls as they encounter it for the first time in 2017).

It appears this book is no longer in print, although used copies are still available online - I've unwittingly stumbled upon several treasures at our phenomenal library book sales (they kindly assist by curating a holiday section in the children's area, which I scour).

An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola
The author sets the scene in New England in the early 1800s around Christmas time, when holiday traditions weren't practiced, and he imagines how a German family moving into town could begin to influence others to begin lighting candles in the windows, decorating trees, and so on.

This is a harder book to come across compared to some of dePaola's other work, but it has his characteristic illustrations and can be a good conversation starter about how (and why) various traditions came to be.

Elmo Saves Christmas by Christine Ferraro and Tony Geiss
This book could be of interest for fans of the Sesame Street cast of characters. Here we have Elmo wish what many children surely have at some point: that it would be Christmas every day (a familiar trope). However, as his wish is granted, he learns the holiday loses a lot of its magic and creates a lot of headaches.

There's also a Christmas special, which is what inspired the creation of this book.

Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano
This book is simply the familiar song lyrics, but as we not only love Christmas books but we also love Christmas music, I jumped at the chance to include it for Christmas 2017.

Find the Nutcracker in His Christmas Ballet
This is an interactive book. Think back to the days when you'd pore over the Where's Waldo books, but replace Waldo with the nutcracker, and you have this book. Each page spotlights a part of the ballet with a key of items to find hidden in the pages.

Froggy's Best Christmas by Jonathan London
I found this at the library book sale and grabbed it to add in to our rotation for Christmas 2017. Our girls are familiar with a few of the Froggy books. It's a simple story of Froggy's friends waking him from hibernation to experience his first Christmas.

The Gingerbread Doll by Susan Tews
Rebecca is 9 years old and longs for a porcelain doll for Christmas. However, it's the Depression and her family cannot afford one. Her mother bakes a large gingerbread cookie and sews a special outfit for it to wear. Rebecca recognizes the love that went into the gift and, decades later, she still counts it as her favorite present ever.

I feel spoiled yet again by my library book sales (I know I'm a broken record, but I've repeatedly found treasures there that are out of print). This was discovered Fall 2017. The illustrations are captivating and the message focuses on the love behind acts of giving, even in this instance when the gingerbread doll could not last forever.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
I have fond memories watching the video of How the Grinch Stole Christmas every year, so I bought this classic story.

Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw
This book is reminiscent of Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree, detailed below. A king purchases a bolt of beautiful red cloth and has a cloak made for the princess. The scraps are left outside the castle, where they are discovered by a maid, who makes a jacket out of it for her mother. Then she leaves her scraps out for another, and the generosity continues, each recipient creating a gift from it.

The Legend of the Poinsettia retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola has a distinctive illustrating style, one that I'm drawn to. This book tells the traditional Mexican legend of the poinsettia.

There's a beautiful line when Lucida is anxious about attending the Christmas service since she has no gift to offer after her mother becomes ill and cannot finish her woven blanket that was to cover Jesus in the annual procession. An older woman tells her, "Any gift is beautiful because it is given." In this spirit, Lucida gather up tall green weeds nearby, and a transformation happens.

Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
We only have one other Llama Llama book (the fun-to-read Llama Llama Red Pajama), but I jumped when I saw this one at the library book sale, thus adding an amusing read to our 2017 Christmas season. In it we see Llama Llama struggle for patience, as waiting for Christmas is SO HARD. Our girls will be able to relate to the difficulty, and they'll giggle along as we exaggerate his moanings.

Madeline's Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
This book opens on Christmas Eve. Madeline is carrying for everyone, as she is the only one not suffering from a cold.  A knock at the door provides her opportunity to purchase gifts for her peers, and a little magic happens along the way.

Merry Christmas, Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey
A certain curious monkey and the man with the yellow hat go to a tree lot. While there, Curious George has climbed to the top of the perfect tree, only to have it cut down beneath him. He is whisked away to the tree's new home: the children's hospital. George, in an attempt to be helpful, creates some trouble, but as we all have learned to expect, things are smoothed out in the end.

Merry Christmas, Everybody!
Grover keeps turning down various fun winter activities with his Sesame Street friends because he is in a hurry to complete a task. On the last page, his mission is revealed, to much amusement.

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad by Mercer Mayer
We have a relatively extensive collection of Little Critter books. This is a fun book in the Christmas rotation. The earnest words of Little Critter don't exactly match up with the visuals, so my girls giggle over his less-than-helpful antics.

Merry Christmas, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff
This is the mouse of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fame. It's a numerical book, detailing all of the ornaments Mouse is using to decorate his tree.

The Merry Christmas Mystery by Betty Birney
Winnie the Pooh wakes up on Christmas Day, excited to check his stocking. He's puzzled when he sees thistles instead of honey. As he encounters his friends, they, also, are confused about their gift from Santa. At the end, all is revealed and made right.

Mickey's Christmas Carol: A Little Golden Book
There are several holiday videos that make me very nostalgic. Every Thanksgiving, my maternal grandparents would help transition us to Christmas time; my grandma would bring a toy magazine that we would pore over to give her gift ideas, and my grandpa would pull out a VCR tape of Mickey's Christmas Carol. It was a given that I wanted this book in my collection (we also have a longer version of this story, but the toddler doesn't yet sit through that reading).

The Mole Family's Christmas by Russell Hoban
A mole family is learning about Christmas and Santa for the first time, and they hope to receive a telescope from Santa so they can see the stars (being near-sighted, they've never had that opportunity before).

(I've since passed this on to a friend, but I'll leave it up here in case it's of interest to others, or I want to acquire it again some day.)

Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson
Mortimer is a mouse just trying to get comfortable at night. When the humans put out a tree and nativity set, he finds the manger a perfect fit but comes to think better of it when he overhears the story behind the various pieces.

Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
When Mr Willowby's Christmas tree is delivered, he is delighted by its size, only to learn it won't fit in the corner. He instructs his butler to chop off the very top. The butler gives that remnant to the maid. The maid adores it, but it's a smidge too tall, so she snips off the top and the gardener ends up with it. On and on it goes, even making its way through the animal kingdom; each new recipient needs to alter the size of the tree, until many are blessed by the offering.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
Clearly there's a theme here - I like to include books whose stories I first knew in movie form. The Muppet Christmas Carol movie is actually one I didn't see until having children (my husband was the one who was familiar with it growing up), but now it's in regular rotation during the Christmas season and I really enjoy it.

The Muppets: The Gift of the Magi
This is at least our third Christmas with this charming advent calendar, and it's a favorite. Many are familiar with O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. This is slightly altered to star Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog. When you open the cover of this book, there are 24 little books that break up the story day by day, and each mini book doubles as an ornament. This isn't one of the books we wrap up in our advent pile, but we keep it near our tree and read each daily installment before hanging it up. I suspect our newly blossoming reader will take over the reading duties this Christmas.

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas by Natasha Wing
I found this at a garage sale during summer 2017 and quickly stashed it in my craft room out of sight until I could store it with the other holiday selections. I had only skimmed it initially, but my youngest found it and asked Daddy to read it (she likes to explore where she shouldn't). He told me later that it was quite the amusing read (and he can be a hard sell, so take that as a high compliment for the book).

It's December 23rd and we're following a family frantically trying to prepare. The book follows the meter of the familiar "Night Before Christmas" poem.

Noel by Romeo Muller
If you've ever wondered about the emotions of your Christmas tree ornaments, look no further! This book opens with a glassblower making globe ornaments when he learns he has become a grandfather. A tear of joy falls upon the ornament he was making, embodying that ornament with a special happiness. The rest of the story is from the ornament's perspective: being purchased, annually decorating the tree, and so on.

(I've since passed this on to a friend, but I'll leave it up here in case it's of interest to others.)

Not Enough Beds! A Christmas Alphabet Book by Lisa Bullard
This was another delightful surprise. It's a rhyming alphabet book detailing the troubles fitting a large extended family into one house for the holidays ("Aunt Alison snores in an overstuffed chair, while my young brother Ben stretches out on a stair"). The illustrations are amusing and this has become one of my favorites.

The Nutcracker based on the classic story by E.T.A. Hoffmann
The Nutcracker story was written by Hoffmann, and after its publication, Tchaikovsky was approached to translate it for a ballet; some of the darker elements were softened or eliminated in the production we know today. This book does describe the original story, giving background as to why the nutcracker was ugly and it details his only hope for transforming back into a prince.

It's an interesting read, but if you're looking for an account that will more closely match the ballet, check out something like this Little Golden Book, which we also have. This retelling of the story closely matches the popular ballet. I love the music and the dancing and have been waiting patiently until my oldest daughter was old enough to enjoy the production, and this was the year. After I bought the tickets, I pulled out these two books and we read them both so she would have the story fresh in mind. Just as I'd hoped, she was on the edge of her seat. And for Christmas 2017, I added in this copy of the Nutcracker that has profuse pictures from the ballet, along with a CD of the music. This way my oldest daughter and I can relive our experience while whetting the appetite (and gauging the interest) of my youngest daughter.

Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh
Olive thought she was a dog until she heard a Christmas carol that suggested she was, indeed, the other reindeer. She finds her way at the North Pole, since that seems the most natural setting for a reindeer during the Christmas season.

The Perfect Christmas Tree by Rita Walsh
This is a small book, both in size and length. It's a simple story about animals mourning their beloved tree having fallen over. They all individually go on a search through the forest to find a new tree, and at the close, they learn they all found the same tree.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Take a boy who is losing his belief in Santa, but one night he has a magical experience on the Polar Express that restores his faith.

While we have several titles that acknowledge Santa's traditional role, we've never "believed" in Santa here. However, my girls are aware of his traditional role and my oldest saw this move for the first time at Christmas 2016. She enjoyed it and this title seems a standard one to include in our rotation (I find we typically enjoy saturating ourselves with Christmas movies in December, often making a point to enjoy various titles the weekend after we've read the books, so this is a natural inclusion).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a Little Golden Book
Yet another holiday classic.

One thing we sometimes do, after opening a book that also has a movie, is make a point to watch the corresponding show that night (easy to do for something like the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, and A Charlie Brown Christmas, but the movie-length ones usually have to wait for the nearest weekend, what with our oldest in school).

Silver Bells by Livingston and Evans
I picked up this book for Christmas 2017, which is simply a visually welcoming picture book with the lyrics of the familiar song.

When Christmas Feels Like Home by Gretchen Griffith
This is a new title for Christmas 2017. In it, we meet a Spanish-speaking family who moves to the United States. Eduardo, a young boy, struggles with all the changes and keeps asking when this new place will feel like home. He is given several markers to look for ("Those pumpkins will smile," "the trees will become like standing skeletons," "when your words float like clouds from your mouth"). As time passes, we see Eduardo become more comfortable in his new life as he makes friends and also shares his culture with them.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston
I discovered this at my library's fall book sale, so this 2017 we'll see how my daughters react to this title. It's a lovely book, though.

The town rotates which family donates the holiday tree, and when it is time for Ruthie's family to provide the tree, they select and mark it very early in the year, with plans to cut it down in December. Her father has to go to war, and we watch as the family bands together in a time of uncertainty.

No comments: