Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas: the oral tradition

Hey. How's it going? Awkward silence. Um, I really do intend to finish my children's book series. Really. I do. No, really. This is not simply a case of ambitiousseriesitis that I've come down with. Although there is a wee bit of that, now that I think about it.

I don't know if any of the rest of you have noticed, but December is a rather busy month. It hit me like a bolt from the blue, I swear. So what with gingerbread houses, chocolate truffles, sugar cookies, hosting brunches, trying to knit a gift sweater and having a hacking, horking kid on my hands, I've been a tad sidelined on the blogging front. In an effort to appease your book-loving hearts, I offer up a list of 10 (or so) great Christmas books for kids. Please feel free to embelish in the comments. I know that we could go on for days building the perfect list.

Mouse's First Christmas by Lauren Thompson is a sweet introduction to the unique sights and sensations of Christmas. Recommended for 1-3 year olds.

Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present by John Burningham
Santa resorts to every type of locomtion you can imagine in order to get his final present delivered to the top of The Roly Poly mountain. A quite charming read with lots of repetition for the 2-5 year-old set.

Olivia Helps With Christmas by Ian Falconer
Falconer adds GREEN to his red and white upper middle-class world. Olivia, as always, will charm your socks off and the illustrations say everything that the words need only subtely suggest. Once again, a book for the 2-5s in your house.

Pippin the Christmas Pig by Jean Little
A contemporary retake on the Christmas story. While all the other animals in the barn are caught in a game of one-up-manship about whose ancestor was the most important player in Bethlehem, the unassuming Pippin rescues a lost? homeless? woman and her child who are trapped in a blizzard on Christmas Eve. Ages 4-7

The Chirstmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski; illustrated by P.J. Lynch. Like Pippen above, this story is a little heavy-handed with the sentiment but if ever there was a time to dally in sentiment, Christmas is it. A young boy and his widowed mother help a grieving wood carver reclaim his joy by requesting a hand-carved crèche for Christmas. Ages 5-9.

The House of the Wooden Santas and Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards by Kevin Major
These books by Newfoundland fiction writer John Major have charm in spades. The former comprises 24 short chapters to be read before bed each day in December and features the wood carvings of Imelda George. Combined, the chapters tell the story of Jesse and his single mother who have recently moved to the seaside. The latter, illustrated by Bruce Roberts provides a visual history of Christmas as seen through the eyes of a 95-yr-old great grandmother and as documented through her collection of historical post cards. Both these books are for older children: 6-9.

The Huron Carol by Father Jean de Brébeuf
There are two great picture book editions of this carol, one illustrated in 1990 by Frances Tyrell and one illustrated by Ian Wallace in 2006. This gorgeous, minor-key carol was originally written by a Jesuit missionary in 1641 and depicts the Christmas story as having taken place in a Huron village. When I sang it for Miss M last night, she interuppted me to say "No, mommy. Mary had blond hair. She didn't have dark hair." Oh. My.

Tyrell also has a lovely edition of the Twelve Days of Christmas entitled Woodland Christmas.

If you haven't seen any of the reproductions of Ernest Nister's movable books from the 1890s, find out if your library has one or more. Most of his books were reproduced in the early 1990s and there are several Christmas titles. I have Christmas Surprises and Ernest Nister's Book of Christmas sitting in front of me now. The poetry isn't great, even by Victorian standards, but the movable illustrations are gorgeous and provide a lovely touch of nostalgia. Tasha Tudor's nostalgic Book of Christmas is indebted to Nister.

Like, duh: Clement Moore's The Night Before Christmas. Don't settle for whatever $2 version happens to be circulating in the remaindered bin. There are fine illustrated editions by Arthur Rackham, Bruce Whatley, Anita Lobel, Max Grove, Tomie de Paola, Kim Fernandez, Grandma Moses and Jan Brett to name just a few. Heck, the dusty Golden Book version still charms my retro heart.

Speaking of Jan Brett, she has a few Christmas books. Miss M loved her most recent Gingerbread Friends; you could almost eat the page, so tasty were all the illustrations. I like The Wild Christmas Reindeer. The Night Before Christmas, The Christmas Trolls and Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve are slightly less spectacular in my opinion. The Mitten, though not specifically a Christmas book is a great seasonal story based on the Ukrainian folk tale. All these books are for 3-7 yr-olds.

And, of course, I can't end the list without mentioning Van Allsburg's The Polar Express and Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas. We can only hope the freakish movie version does not usurp the former. Boris Karloff's TV version has indeed ousted Seuss's original book when it comes to claiming holiday supremacy, but that's just fine with me. Never was there a finer marriage of film and book.

OK, so let the list continue in the comments. Don't forget to tell me why you like the books you recommend or, at the very least, let me know an age range. If I am on top of my game late next November, I'll compile the whole she-bang into one long list to kick off the '09 holiday season.