Day 16: December 9th
There is nothing quite as wonderful as sharing a book with a child. My favorite customers are the families that select a stack of books and then cuddle in the reading nook and read aloud. I watch them arrange themselves with a familiarity that proves their experience in knowing just how to fit bodies together so everyone can see and share. My heart aches this Christmas season because one of my favorites, a friend, fellow book lover and a loving grandfather passed away and I won’t be seeing him with grandchildren gathered round. The parents still maintain the tradition though and I treasure the sight of them and find it an unspoken tribute to him.
When asked what parents can do to help their children become readers, Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, said the following:
“I think it's an easy physical thing: When my father read to me, I leaned into him so I became part of his chest or his forearm. And I think children who are hugged, and children who are held on laps – nice yummy laps – will always associate reading with the bodies of their parents. And that will always keep you a reader. Because that perfume, that sensuous connection is lifelong.
We're only animals. And you watch puppies needing to be licked to survive. Well, we need to be licked to survive. And reading becomes a licking, if you will. When you not only hear a treasured story, but also are pressed against the most important person in the world, a connection is made that cannot be severed. For instance, I'm reading straight through Shakespeare now, and when I get alarmed and frightened by him, and feel cowed and then go on, there is some tissue connection to my father as a reader that keeps me going.
If there's any advice I have to give, I would say it's that. If you're looking for a way to get closer to your kids, there ain't no better way than to grab 'em and read. And if you put them in front of a computer or a TV, you are abandoning them. You're abandoning them because they are sitting on a couch or the floor and they may be hugging the dog, but they ain't hugging you.”
– Maurice Sendak, interview with Marion Long from HomeArts, the publisher of many magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Redbook, etc.
I love to see my grandchildren receiving this kind of attention from their parents. One of my daughters-in-law has gift-wrapped Christmas books to be opened and read each day as a countdown to Christmas. What could be a better tradition? A book each day begs for variety, some poignant Christmas messages, some traditional stories and a good dose of just plain silly.
Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno, illustrated by Jane Dyer and Brook Dyer is a fun bit of tradition with a twist.
Gifts of the Heart is new from Patricia Polacco filled with the usual Polacco life message and the wonder of Christmas miracles.
Dwarf in the Drawer by L. van King, illustrated by Chuck Gonzales is a fun bit of push-back for those people who are sick of a little guy keeping score from a shelf.
Day 17: December 10th
The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert and illustrated with photos by Per Breiehagen is one of this year’s bestselling Christmas Books and the story of Anja’s search for Santa. The photographs are lovely. Snow Bunny's Christmas Wish by Rebecca Harry might be a good book to share with the very young. The only thing Snow Bunny wants for Christmas is a friend. The shiny foil embellished illustrations certainly seem to please children and when all is said and done we are left with a valuable lesson about finding friends. If you are a “scanimation” fan you will be pleased with Santa! By Rufus Butler Seder -of Gallop, Swing, & Waddle fame. Watch Santa back flip, cartwheel and even hoola-hoop.
Day 18: December 11th
Our family agrees that our best Christmas’s are home grown. We love gifts that are hand-made. Christmas is still far enough out that kids and adults can enjoy making things for the people they love. The “upcycling” trend hasn't skipped children’s books. From Paper Beads by Anne Akers Johnson and Stencil Art to Toolbox Jewelry by Kaitlyn Nichols, Klutz kits have everything you need and instructions so you can try a new craft to see if you like it. Or grab a favorite book and come up with your own creative ideas for supplies.
Day 19: December 12th
I enjoy fantasy. Willing suspension of disbelief comes easily and I appreciate the insight fantasy affords that cold hard facts can obscure. Having established that I love the genre I will admit that in the prolific fantasy feeding frenzy of today’s book world I find myself at times saturated with acute fantasy fatigue! The only cure is a good dose of reality. Realistic fiction, contemporary or historical works very well. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is just such a book. NOT to be confused with Fifty Shades of Gray, Between Shades of Gray is the story of fifteen year old Lina and her family being wrenched from their home in Lithuania by the soviet secret police. Targeted because they are educated the father is separated from the rest of the family and they all struggle to try to find ways to survive. This is well written and shouldn’t be missed but it has been because of the unfortunate similarity to a title I would never recommend. (teen-adult)
After Iris by Natasha Farrant is, as the back cover describes, “The story of a lovably imperfect family trying to hold it together without driving each other (too) crazy.” This is not an ‘everyone in their places at the dinner table every night’ kind of family. Their lives, like so many present day families, are chaotic, with prolific challenges. They will make you laugh, cry, and be very glad that there are lots of ways to make family life work. (middle grade)
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen is just the kind of book I love sharing. It has hard circumstances to be dealt with but it is full of hope and I haven’t given it to anyone who hasn’t enjoyed it. It isn’t just an overcoming trials book. It is a book that stays with you and changes your outlook. (teens – adult)
Read the first paragraph of The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson and you are going to want to follow this spitfire of a girl into solutions. “My Name is Abbey Force, and my story starts about a year ago, on the last day of school when we were getting out for summer break. It was a time when I was feeling meaner than a stepped-on rattlesnake, because in the previous nine months I had lost everything that mattered to me: my pony, my home, my dad.” (middle grade – teen)
What genre do you prefer?
Day 20: December 13th
I have been buying Christmas books for more years than I care to admit. Just let me say that I started when I was still a teen. This means that I don’t read every Christmas book I have every year. I do have a select few that I look forward to every year and I do not miss. Some of them are no longer in print. I am going to list my favorites here. Next week, if you were to ask me, I would probably add a few more titles. This is the short illustrated book list:
The Glorious Impossible by Madeleine L’Engle illustrated with frescos by Giotto from the Scrovegni Chapel. This book has been long out of print but you can pick up used copies. It is enough in demand that even used copies are not cheap. This is my Christmas Gift to myself, my personal advent activity. Perfectly organized for Christmas, I read one essay each night Dec 1 – 25.
Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S Buck is wonderful with or without illustrations but my favorite is the version illustrated by Mark Buehner, a Salt Lake City artist.
Santa Calls by William Joyce is a bit quirky as a Christmas book for some. There are evil elves, danger and adventure but you will love seeing a sister’s Christmas wish fulfilled as arranged by a wise Santa.
Voices of Christmas by poet Nikki Grimes illustrated by Eric Velasquez is a poetic narrative of the participants in the first Christmas. The voices are skillfully individual and they grab my heart and imagination no matter how many times I read them.
A book I am buying for myself this year is The Nativity with artwork by J Kirk Richards. When you look at the price keep in mind that you are purchasing art. I didn't plan to indulge but it puts all the other choices I had in mind for this year in the shadows. We see an abundance of religious art but how much of it is reverent? J Kirk Richards’ art turns my mind to worship. What more could I want for Christmas?
What are your favorite Christmas books?