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Thursday, December 06, 2007

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All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea

One of the first boxes I lug out of the attic in December is the one marked "Xmas Books and Video." Through Advent, I try to read the boys a Christmas story each night at bedtime. They usually open a new book on Christmas Eve, so over the years, we've built up a nice library. A really good childrens' book can be hard to find, and a really good Christmas book even harder, so I thought I'd share some of our favorites. I'd love for you to share yours in the comments, and please don't feel confined to the Christian holiday. We'd love to incorporate other winter celebrations into our Advent library.

Disclosure: I've used my Amazon associates account to build the links, so I can legally show you the images. If you click through and purchase anything, I do get a small referral fee. But I am sure you can find most of these titles just as easily at your independent bookseller or public library. So don't hate on me.

(I know, first with the advertising, now the product links. Where will it all end?)

The Baker's Dozen. This is a really charming folktale about a pre-revolutionary baker in New York, who encounters Saint Nicholas as a trickster and shape shifter, and gets taught a lesson in giving.

The Nativity. The text is straight out of the King James bible, and the illustrations are out of this world. The Holy Family have natty dreads, the angels are ragged and pot-bellied, Gabriel wears army boots, and the baby Jesus is anatomically correct. It is my hands-down favorite. Divinely inspired.

The Donkey's Dream. This beautiful book draws on symbol and myth. Even the text is dreamlike. Lots of imagery of the Sacred Feminine. Primes the wee ones for the Da Vinci code.

Christmas. I wish "Miffy" hadn't become so ubiquitous. It kind of takes some of the charm out of Dick Bruna's illustrations for me. But there are no rabbits or kittens in this book, and the story is told very simply, so it remains a favorite. I like how the people are all brown and black (except the angels who are colorless) and how Mary has a patch on her dress. Whoever the historical Jesus was, however he was born, we can be reasonably certain it wasn't to the Breck shampoo girl in flowing blue velvet robes.

Wombat Divine. Who doesn't love to say "wombat?" My school-age boys, who participate in the annual Christmas pageant, really like this antipodal perspective on auditions. When everyone tucks into the pudding at the end, I have to explain to them that it's likely a steamed pudding with raisins and hard sauce, the sort I grew up with, not the Jello kind, and they look thoroughly disgusted with me, like I just said we ate reindeer meat. Wait till they find out about flipper pie...

Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve? What would Christmas be without Jan Brett? We read The Mitten year-round, but this one we save for December. It's full of ugly little trolls, who get their comeuppance from a ravenous polar bear. Excellent therapy for bloggers.
The Snowman. Someone gave us this animated film the Christmas just before my second son was born. I will forever associate the musical score with the endless twilight of newborn time. The lovely thing about having babies in January is not feeling the need to go anywhere. I think the fact that this short, bittersweet film is without dialogue made me feel better about keeping it on more or less continuous loop for my then two-year old that entire winter.

Finally, one that comes handed down from my family in Newfoundland. I don't remember hearing it as a little girl, but every Christmas Eve after I became a teenager, my father would read to us A Child's Christmas in Wales. There are more lavishly illustrated editions to be had, but I favor the woodcut original. "A Child's Christmas in Wales is all about the language. Better to let the imagery roll in and wash over you. I highly recommend hearing the audio version recorded by Dylan Thomas himself, but by all means, read this one aloud yourself, with all the Welsh gusto you can muster, pint glass in hand. Do it year after year. You will find yourself quoting it forever, like bits of scripture. Can the fishes see it's snowing?

Okay, now your turn...



Blogger lucaseth said...

I also have a Christmas book collection...mostly the classics....Twas the Night Before Christmas, A Christmas Carol, The Polar Express, The Crippled Lamb and some funny kids books,How Santa Lost His Job, Bear Stays Up, Froggy's Best Christmas...I add a new book every year; will have to add some of your titles this season..

8:09 AM  
Blogger lenniekat said...

Those are great pics, Kyran - I have a few of those (one of which I have you to thank). Others my kids and I enjoy are: The Scarves, by Daniela Bunge; Tree of Cranes, by Allen Say; The Night After Christmas, by James Stevenson; and Olivia helps with Christmas, by Ian Falconer.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Katy said...

Hi, I've been reading for a little while now, but it's my first time commenting.

Our favourite Christmas book was (still is) J.R.R. Tolkien's "Letters from Father Christmas" In the twenties and thirties, Tolkien would write letters every Christmas to his children, posing as Father Christmas. The letters tell stories from the North Pole and have wonderful Tolkein-esque illustrations. There are a lot of them, so they make good 'countdown' to Christmas material. And it's J.R.R. Tolkein....what's not to love?

~ Katy

4:22 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

I really like Olive, the Other Reindeer, about the dog who wants to be a reindeer.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an obvious choice, but has had a great impact on me, even until this day.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Mrs. G. said...

We always return to the Christmas's not a picture book but it's a classic.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

My mom used to read us The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell. She had an old copy of it from when she was a little girl. Good memories. I am going to check out yours, Kyran, and some from the comments for my girls. Thanks for this post.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Laylabean said...

Why the Chimes Rang. My mom has a dogeared copy we'd read every Christmas Eve and I continue the tradition with my kids.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I love Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's _Certain Poor Shepherds_. The shepherds of the title are a goat and a dog who visit Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the manger. There is some violence that might upset young kids, but I plan to read it to my son when he's older (he's only six months now).

11:06 AM  

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