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 show you 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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