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.


alejna said...

You know, I haven't read that many Christmas books. The only one Phoebe has is a Froggy one, which is pretty awful. Maybe we need to get our hands on some of the ones on your list to offset.

My favorite Christmas book from my childhood (or at least one that I remember fondly) was a scratch and sniff book called The Sweet Smell of Christmas. I know it was republished in recent years, but I haven't yet looked at it with adult eyes. Or smelled it with an adult nose. (I'm not really a fan of scratch and sniff anymore.)

No Mother Earth said...

We really like the Christmas Mice. Forget the author.

I've been looking at Pippin the Christmas Pig, and I think that you've just convinced me to buy it.

I am totally loving (LOVING) illustrator Jackie Morries right now. Did you write about her in your book series post? I can't recall.

kgirl said...

I love Jan Brett. The Snow Bears is a big fave 'round our place.

And, are you really knitting a gift sweater? You know there are 9 days left, right? I am in major danger of not finishing the x-stitch I am doing for my m-i-l.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I haven't read a single one of these, not even the Seuss! Hie me to a library.

Jenifer said...

I will need to rifle through all our books which are upstairs in their bedrooms which seems very far away at the moment. I will try to get back here, we do have a couple I just love. We have a fairly decent version of The Nutcracker the girls love, even if it used to scare them a bit.

Anonymous said...

Jenifer -- I'm still scared of the Nutcracker.

But I have a soft spot for anything by Tomie de Paola. We just finished The Holy Twins -- my kids were entranced.

Anonymous said...

This year, I enjoyed "How Santa Got His Job," by Stephen Krensky. (4-8) It's funny.

Yeah, I've been feeling like a few days got erased off the calendar or something. Happens every year. As of today, I'm slipping from Ho Ho Ho to Humbuggish. Perhaps tomorrow (if the kids aren't off for a snow day!) I will try to catch some extra sleep instead of pushing on to the next thing.

Omaha Mama said...

Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck and Felicia Bond is a great board book. Love it.
Merry Christmas Curious George is good, but he end up in a children's hospital (silly George) so could be good or bad for those sad about sick kids.
An all-time favorite, that I loved as a child and then paid too much for online as an adult (and later saw as a bargain book at Barnes and Noble, darn it) is Santa Mouse by Michael Brown, illustrate by Elfrieda De Witt. The illustrations are great, the story is sweet. And I don't even like mice!

ewe are here said...

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a very popular book in our house right now... but that might have something to do with letting them watch the classic cartoon, too.

We also have a new Christmas board book that has lights in it... very popular... my mom brought it over this week.

Mary G said...

I am now on my second generation of the love affair with the Grinch. My kids had it memorized at ages 3 and 4. So did I, she said with a long suffering sigh. When my kids were a bit older the cartoon version came out and it became a Christmas tradition to watch it, reciting with Boris. They also sing the carol, in harmony the show-offs.
I made my own version of the story of Christmas, using the King James wording with a bit of simplification, because I could not find a book that had anything but saccharine illustrations and, yeah, a blonde Mary. One of my daughters still has it. I am definitely going looking for one of the versions you recommend. Many thanks.
There is a story about finding the animals kneeling in the stable at midnight that my kids loved, but that is literally all I can remember about it, except that it was illustrated in sepia and grays, since it was dark when the little protagonist went to the stable and on the last page a star shines in and lights the kneeling animals in gold. Ring a bell with anyone?
Hey, I'm getting about one post a week up. Don't beat yourself up.

Gwen said...

My favorite Christmas book is an old one: The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden. I can't get through that book without crying.

I have a soft spot in my heart for those old fashioned Rumer Godden books, especially A Doll's House, which I read over and over and loved fiercely as a child. Still do.

painted maypole said...

i don't know how many times I apolozed to my hubby for making him go see the terrible Grinch movie with me - I love the book and the old cartoon, but Jim Carrey RUINED the grinch (you can't be a grinch and have that much fun, it ruins the whole darn point! and that's just my BIG complaint...)

thanks for a great list. and trust me... I understand busy...

Beck said...

Oh, those are all good ones! My favorite nativity book has a picture of Mary BREASTFEEDING - and beautiful illustrations, too.

I like the Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, but my children fear my reading of it, since it makes me CRY HYSTERICALLY. Awesome!

I'm doing my annual read aloud of The BEst Christmas Pageant Ever right now - that's my favorite.

Bea said...

I've been reading Margaret Wise Brown's Christmas in the Barn to the kids this year, and I get choked up every single time. I think it has something to do with the way it's illustrated - my edition is illustrated by Diane Goode, who made no attempt to create an authentically Middle Eastern setting: the "ancient barn" is set in what looks like a Yorkshire countryside, and somehow everytime I hit the words "Because there was no room at the inn" it feels like a surprise.

crazymumma said...

I know it is SUPPOSED to be Christmas books, but I gotta tell you about the love my Elder has for the Inkheart series.....

valerie said...

I can't get through Pippin without tearing up. :p
My daughter really likes Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman. We also LOVE the bear books by Karma Wilson - Jane Chapman's illustrations are gorgeous and make me want to frame them. There is a Christmas one - Bear Stays Up for Christmas.

Woman in a Window said...

Eric Carle's Dream Snow. It's gorgeous, simple, a little odd and did I mention gorgeous. And then the little button on the back, the actual sound of dream snow. How did they do that? ah.

Age group, young to old.

Magpie said...

Another vote for Dream Snow!

Little Tree is charming.

I think the all time best is Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory - but it's more a read-aloud for the medium-sized set. It'll almost make you want fruitcake.

kittenpie said...

Oh, I do love Jonathan Toomey...

I also love christmas carol books, like the Kellogg version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as well as the Whatley-illustrated Here Comes Santa Claus.

But one of my other favourites is Don Gillmor's The Christmas Orange (ill. Marie-Louise Gay).

Janet said...

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. All about how one Christmas tree brings joy to a number of families, human and animal.
One for older children is a chapter book called Biddy Christmas, by Priscilla M. Warner. It's about a little girl named Janet and her donkey. I still read it every so often. It was actually my mom's book, so it's probably out of print (copyright 1948).

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