Bookishness, Mamaishness, Teacherishness

Five Favorite Christmas Books.

In honor of the consumer madness that is today, and the fact that December begins on Sunday, I thought I’d share some Christmas choices with y’all today.

christmas books for kids

There’s no way that I can call this the “five best” of anything. My Christmas book taste varies from year to year, and I can only assume it will change even more as the girls get older and no longer want to read certain books seventy-eleven times a day. (Sob.) I will note that this is completely the opposite of my opinion regarding Christmas movies, where [amazon text=Love&asin=B001JIFYSA] [amazon text=Actually&asin=B00EIBO8UK] remains my unqualified favorite.

I’m trying to share some new book ideas here, not just remind you of your favorites, so the Grinch isn’t going to make this list. Equally, I prefer books that are actually fun to read with children, not just books that adults think children should like, so there will be no selections by Max Lucado. I’m all about healthy debate, so if you think these choices are terrible, feel free to use the comments and tell me what you would rather see listed.

astrid lindgren christmas bookWe’ll start with one of my childhood favorites: [amazon text=Christmas in Noisy Village&asin=0140503447], by Astrid Lindgren, author/illustrator of [amazon text=Pippi Longstocking&asin=0142402494]. This is part of a series about the children who live in Noisy Village, a fictional Swedish place where things are never quiet and calm. The children do all sorts of things to get ready for Christmas: bake cookies, make ornaments, feed the farm animals, and cut the Christmas tree. When Christmas arrives, they celebrate in grand fashion with special gifts, a feast, and a visit from Santa Claus.

You can’t really convey the spirit of this book without reading it. Lindgren was clearly gifted at knowing what children enjoyed seeing, and I remember poring over this book to examine the details of exactly what the ornaments on the tree looked like. At this point, it’s a glimpse into a simpler, more agricultural past, as well. For kids like me, growing up in a place where we never saw snow, the idea of going skiing on Christmas night was magical. Read this book with the little folks in your life, and you might just pick up an idea for a new Christmas tradition – even if you can’t go skiing.

christmas book

Funny story: I first came across this book in a store, grabbed it, and used it in my classroom without prereading it. Since [amazon text=Santa’s Favorite Story&asin=141695029X] consists of Santa telling the Biblical Christmas story, I was fortunate the ACLU wasn’t on the scene. For future reference, I always recommend previewing resources before you use them, whether at home or at school.

The premise of the book is simple. Santa takes a nap against a tree, and is awoken by woodland creatures. They are afraid that he is too tired to bring Christmas, but he reassures them by telling them that Christmas is not about him at all, and then proceeds to recount the story of Jesus’s birth. The animals love the story, and the fox adds, “How silly we have been . . . to think that Christmas was only about presents.” Needless to say, this is a book perfect for a kiddo who has gotten a little too wrapped up in the ‘getting,’ and has forgotten about ‘giving.’

Also, this is a gentle introduction to the fundamental idea that Christmas is not about Santa. If you’re in the process of transitioning your family Christmas away from the big red elf and toward Jesus, this is a great choice. If your Sunday School class tells you that Christmas is Santa’s birthday, this is a great choice, too. (Ahem. Not that I’d know anything about that.)

christmas book

[amazon text=Bear Noel&asin=0374400016], by Olivier Dunrea, tells the tale of a forest full of animals excitedly awaiting the arrival of the title character, who brings presents and warm feelings to them each year. The pictures are so amazing that you can basically hear the snow falling in the dark woods, and they are entirely captivating for young listeners/readers. The jingle of bells announces Bear Noel’s arrival, and all the animals come together to celebrate.

The book’s subtitle claims that it is ‘a story for lovers of animals, art, and holiday harmony.’ If you’re not entirely religious, but still love the joyful community of the season, this is a perfect book for you. If you’re raising or teaching an animal lover, you’ll love the way the animals come together once a year. Along those lines, Bear Noel makes an excellent choice for bringing together siblings or classmates who have been struggling with conflict – often, overlooking their disagreement for a day will allow them to overcome it soon after.

christmas book tomie depaolaOh, Tomie de Paola. You never disappoint. Some of you might have been expecting [amazon text=Merry Christmas, Strega Nona&asin=015253184X] or even [amazon text=Strega Nona’s Gift&asin=0399256490] to put in an appearance, give my oft-mentioned love of the good strega. Instead, I’d like to point you to one of Mr. de Paola’s older treasures, [amazon text=The Legend of Old Befana&asin=0152438173].

This is a retelling of the Italian tale of Old Befana, who is far too busy sweeping to help the wise men when they come to her house, looking for help in finding the Christ Child. Once the wise men and their caravan leave, Befana begins to wonder if maybe she ought to be going to find this special baby, too. She immediately bakes all sorts of treats as a gift for the child, and carefully shuts up her house and sweeps, sweeps, sweeps, as she sets out on her search. While she does receive some heavenly encouragement, she never does find the Baby Jesus.

The text explains that Befana’s journey continues today, and that Italian children wait excitedly for Befana to give them some of the treats she carries, just in case one of the children she visits might be the baby she has sought for so long. A short afterward explains some of the symbolism in de Paola’s dynamic illustrations, and gives older readers a reason to go back through the book and pay careful attention to the pictures. For more on the Befana legend, the Wikipedia article is surprisingly good. You’ll want to note that Befana actually arrives at Epiphany rather than Christmas.

{Fun fact for book geeks: As I was writing this post, I noticed that Mr. de Paola dedicated this book to the indomitable Colleen Salley, whom I discussed briefly here.}

christmas children's book

Y’all. I was THRILLED to find out that [amazon text=The Donkey’s Dream&asin=0399212337] is still available! Another childhood favorite of mine, this one is unparalleled in its unique retelling of the Christmas story. Told from the point of view of the donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem, the story and illustrations convey both the earthly nature of the story and the mystery surrounding Jesus’s arrival. Barbara Helen Berger has a way of making ordinary scenes extraordinary, so even the donkey’s water trough comes across as imbued with holiness.

(I know you think I’m exaggerating here, but I’m not!)

The donkey’s dreams foretell what Jesus will be, and they indicate some ancient symbolism for both Mary and Jesus. Berger has included an afterward explaining their significance, as well as the significance of the forget-me-nots that adorn most of the book’s pages. Personally, I love the emphasis on the role of Mary in the story, as well as the beautiful depictions of the love within the Holy Family. This is a book to read snuggled up together by candlelight or firelight, if you’re into that sort of thing. You won’t be disappointed.

A special note about today’s post:

As usual, I’ve used compensated affiliate links to a great big Internet store, but I’d much rather you went out and supported your local independent bookstore tomorrow, on Small Business Saturday. If you’re local, I recommend the following stores:

*Bound to Be Read Books, in East Atlanta Village. New books, used books, and a small section of children’s books, where you never know what you might find. Tell Jeff & Jef I said hello, and maybe I’ll see you there!

*Little Shop of Stories, in Decatur. Children’s books all over the place, with some great adult choices, too.

*Avid Bookshop, in Athens. My friend Janet owns the joint, and she will help you find whatever you want, I promise.