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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Stories of Christmas

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First, a note to any of my readers who do not observe Christmas: I hope that you will indulge me as I write about books that celebrate this Christian holiday.  Christmas is a big part of my religion, my traditions, my memories -- it's a big part of my life.  I understand, however, that it is not a part of everyone's life.  I wish to be inclusive on this blog, and would love to hear about books that celebrate other holidays and traditions.  Please feel free to recommend any of your favorites to me!

I love Christmas!  I love the music, the decorations, the family time, the traditions, and, yes, the presents.  I also love the stories.  I have been collecting Christmas books all of my adult life.  One tradition I cherish each December is reading a book or two aloud to my kids by the light of our Christmas tree every night before bedtime.  I wanted to share some of our family's favorites with you today.  (I plan to share a couple of others next week.)  I have divided them into a few different categories.

Books about the Nativity:

The Story of Christmas, written by Patricia A. Pingry and illustrated by Lorraine Wells, 1998...  This board book tells the story of Jesus' birth simply, and is appropriate for very young children.

Who is Coming to Our House?, written by Joseph Slate and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, 1988... I love this sweet little lyrical story about the animals in the stable, getting ready for special visitors.

The Christmas Story, illustrated by Stefan Lemke and Marie-Luise Lemke-Pricken (originally printed in Germany, the book does not list an author), 1977...  This book about the Nativity, which I've had since I was a young girl, is geared more toward beginning readers. 

The Christmas Story, retold and illustrated by Carol Heyer, 1991...  This book is for more advanced readers, or for parents to read aloud to older children.

Books about Santa:

The Santa Claus Book, written by Eileen Daly and illustrated by Florence Sarah Winship, 1972...  I've had this book since I was little, and I remember my parents reading it to me.  While delivering presents, Santa discovers a lost puppy and must figure out where it belongs.

Auntie Claus, written and illustrated by Elise Primavera, 1999...  Sophie, a rather spoiled and unpleasant young girl, has often wondered about her unusual great-aunt, Auntie Claus.  When Auntie Claus leaves on her mysterious annual trip, Sophie stows away in her luggage.  She finds herself at the North Pole, where an elf, Mr. Pudding, assumes that Sophie's a new elf employee.  Sophie learns a lot during her adventure, including her aunt's true identity, and comes home a changed and happier girl.

Merry Christmas, Curious George, written by Cathy Hapka and illustrated in the style of H.A. Rey by Mary O'Keefe Young, 2006...  This time, George's curiosity leads him to climb a large tree which is then cut down and taken to a children's hospital for Christmas.  George decides to decorate it with things he finds lying around -- his silly ornaments make all of the young patients laugh!  Later, when Santa arrives, he gives George a special job.

A Letter to Santa Claus, written by Rose Impey and illustrated by Sue Porter, 1988... This is a wonderful story for animal lovers, and has long been my son Nick's favorite Christmas book.  Charlotte can't read yet, but she loves to write, copying down any words she sees.  When it's time to send her letter to Santa, she accidentally sends along a shopping list instead of her Christmas list.  Santa isn't quite sure what to make of the unusual requests, but when he brings the items to Charlotte's house, she knows just what to do with them!

The Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, 1985...  Our copy of this well-loved book lost its dust jacket long ago.  A young boy, struggling with his belief in Santa, wakes up on Christmas Eve to find the Polar Express running through his front yard.  He climbs aboard and is whisked away to the North Pole (with several other children) for a chance to see Santa.  This is a perfect book for all those, young and old, who still listen for the sound of sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, written by Barbara Shook Hazen (adapted from the story by Robert L. May), and illustrated by Richard Scarry, 1958...  Did you know that even the reindeer who don't pull Santa's sleigh are given important jobs to do, like testing the toy trains and cuddling the Christmas kittens?  Another book from my childhood, this one adds a few fun details to the story everyone already knows about Rudolph the outcast.

SantaKid, written by James Patterson and illustrated by Michael Garland, 2004... Chrissie, Santa's young daughter, must save the day when Warrie Ransom (Big Boss of the Exmas Express Company) decides to buy Christmas and take over the North Pole with his large corporation.

A Wish for Wings that Work, written and illustrated by Berkeley Breathed, 1991... This book makes me giggle every time I read it!  The only thing that Opus the penguin wants for Christmas is the chance to fly.  When he is awakened by a snow duck on Christmas Eve, Opus discovers that, though his wings only "sputter" in the air, they work very well in the water.  He saves Santa from impending disaster, and is thrilled by the special gift a grateful Santa leaves behind.

Books about other Christmas-y characters:

Frosty the Snow Man, retold by Annie North Bedford and illustrated by Corinne Malvern, 1951...  This is probably my all-time favorite book from childhood, and I proudly display this copy with my collection of snowmen every December and January.  (I also bought a brand new copy a couple of years ago, to prevent more wear and tear on this one.)  I especially love the classic, colorful pictures of this snowman come to life.

Snowmen at Christmas, written by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner, 2005...  So maybe it's not just Frosty who can come to life.  These snowmen come alive on Christmas Eve, celebrating the holiday in their own way, with a special Santa made of snow.  Hidden pictures in the illustrations turn this story into a fun little game, as well.

Snow What Fun!: When Snowmen Come to Life on Christmas Eve, written by Cheryl Hawkinson and illustrated by Mike Esberg, 2004...  Another story about snowmen celebrating on Christmas Eve, I especially love the adorable illustrations and clever verse.

Gingerbread Baby, written and illustrated by Jan Brett, 1999... In this book, Brett gives us her unique take on the traditional tale of the gingerbread man.  A young boy, Matti, creates a gingerbread baby who runs away, outsmarting all the people and animals of the village.  Matti has an idea, however, and just might be able to capture the escaped cookie.

Christmas crafts:

My First Christmas Activity Book, written by Angela Wilkes and photographed by Dave King, 1994...  For many years, this was my daughter Emmalie's favorite Christmas book.  She especially loved the large, detailed photos, but was also intrigued by all the craft and activity ideas inside.

Christmas treasuries:

The Golden Christmas Treasury, compiled by Rick Bunsen and illustrated by several different artists, 1986... This book contains 25 stories, poems, and carols, such as Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas", "The 12 Days of Christmas", and Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Fir Tree".

The Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury, selected by Alice Low and illustrated by Marc Brown, 1989...  This book offers over 50 poems, songs, and stories about Christmas, including A.A. Milne's "The More It Snows",  "The Friendly Beasts", and Russell Hoban's "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas".

For older readers:

A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens (and, in the edition shown below, illustrated by Walt Sturrock), 1843...  This classic tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge and the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come has been one of my all-time favorites ever since I first saw a movie version of it as a young girl.  When I finally read the actual book as a teen, I fell in love with Dickens' rich language and imagery.  Now I reread it every December, and I enjoy it every single time!

A New Christmas Treasury, edited by Jack Newcombe, 1982...  This book is filled with poems, short stories, and essays including my favorites, e.e. cumming's "little tree", O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi", and The New York Sun's "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus".

Christmas music:

Reader's Digest's Merry Christmas Songbook, edited by William J. Simon, 2003...  Christmas wouldn't be complete without music!  I've collected several Christmas songbooks over the years, but really  don't need any others besides this one, with its large selection of more than one hundred songs.  It includes all of the traditional carols, plus popular hits like "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "(All I Want for Christmas Is) My Two Front Teeth".

What books do you love to read, either to yourself or aloud, this time of year?  I'm always looking for new books to add to my collection and would love to hear about them!

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