Get ready for next year, when I will be gathering your Christmas book memories! I've already gotten a few recommendations; I think next year we will all enjoy another excellent Advent calendar!
A New Coat for Anna, by Harriet Zeifert and Anita Lobel:
A beautiful story that really shows that Christmas can be filled with love and celebration, even in difficult times. A New Coat for Anna is set in Europe, in the days immediately following World War II. Based on a true story, it lovingly shows how hard Anna's mother works to make sure she can have a new winter coat.
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, by Robert E. Barry
This is is a book I adored when I was a little girl; Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree is a fun and sweet little story about a Christmas tree that's just a teensy bit too tall, but provides joy for a surprising number of people!
Away in a Manger: A Christmas Carousel Book
This lovely carousel book displays images that illustrate the lyrics to the Christmas carol, "Away in a Manger." These fun carousel books are displayed so they look like a series of diaramas -- but way prettier than the ones we used to make out of shoe boxes! We love this song and this book -- still part of our Christmas decorating tradition!
The Mitten , by Jan Brett
A book that evokes fond kindergarten memories for all three of my urchins. Over the years each of them acted out The Mitten in the winter class play, using puppets on sticks to depict the various animals who take refuge from the snow in one very stretched out mitten.
The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, by Rhonda Gowler Greene, illustrated by Susan Gaber
A gorgeously illustrated book that tells the story of the nativity from the animals' point of view. We have always loved storybooks that have a lot going on in the illustrations -- a feast for the eyes as well as the ears while the story is read aloud. This one is lovely.
Santa Calls, by William Joyce
This is the best Santa story ever! Santa Calls was out of print for a time, which was tragic -- but now it's back. Just look at the beautiful illustrations! Yummy! In this story a mystery box arrives with a note, telling Art, Spaulding, and Esther to "Come North!" Their rollicking adventure is sure to please!
Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Really, most of the Little House books have a wonderful Christmas story included as a chapter in the various novels. This Garth Williams illustration is of Laura on Christmas Day, right after she has received her beloved rag doll, Charlotte. My favorite Little House Christmas story is, of course, the tale of Mr. Edwards' meeting with Santa Claus in Independence, Missouri. A chapter in Little House on the Prairie, it is frequently anthologized. Other excellent Little House Christmas stories include Laura's first-ever sight of a real Christmas tree in On the Banks of Plum Creek, Almanzo waking up before 3:00 in the morning to discover a jack-knife in his stocking in Farmer Boy, and the beautiful swan-skin cape and hood made by Ma for little baby Grace, in By the Shores of Silver Lake.
Josefina's Surprise, by Valerie Tripp
Josefina's story resonates with our family because she is devoutly Catholic. Josefina's Surprise tells of the Las Posadas tradition that her village celebrates every year on each of the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve -- La Noche Buena. This little book does a nice job describing the traditional Las Posadas procession, and evokes a real sense of the sacred as the procession winds up at the village church to be welcomed by their priest to the Feast of the Nativity on Christmas Eve.
Look-Alikes Christmas, by Joan Steiner
We have always loved these quirky picture books. In a Look-Alikes book, intricate miniature scenes are created out of the most mundane and everyday items: combs, pretzel sticks, playing cards, dominoes. The challenge is to find all of the items used to create the scene. For some reason, we all took to the Look-Alike books with great enthusiasm, while the similar I Spy books left us cold. It's just so cool! Do you see the erasers and the dog biscuit used as chimneys in the cover photograph? Fabulous!
Santa's Book of Names, by David McPhail
Here is a great little story about a little boy who struggles to read. But when Santa loses his glasses, Edward must travel with him on Christmas Eve, and read from Santa's book so that the right gifts will be given to the right boys and girls. It's an important job, but Edward discovers he is up to the task.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
You know it -- you love it! It's hard to beat the animated television special, and you know why? It's because what's really going on is that you are listening to the complete text of a Christmas story, read to you by Boris Karloff. Boris Karloff, people! The animation is just delicious icing on an already fabulous cake. But you can read it out loud, too -- just put on your Grinchiest voice and let 'er rip!
The Lady of Guadalupe, by Tomie de Paola
Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. So while her story is not necessarily a Christmas tale, it is part of our family's Advent tradition. Today's book is a sweet story recounting the miracles encountered by Juan Diego at Guadalupe. We just love the author, Tomie de Paola! Strega Nona rocks!
The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
We love all of Chris Van Allsburg's books: Jumanji, Zathura, The Z Was Zapped, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, and the phenomenal Bad Day at Riverbend. The stories are all filled with just the right amount of eerie and weird, and the illustrations cannot be beat. The Polar Express includes the eerie along with a helping of Christmas sweet; it's a classic. The sound of the ringing bells at the end just slays me (get it? "Sleighs" me? Heh!).
Silent Night, by Will Moses
Coleen turned our family on to this gorgeously illustrated book; Will Moses is her favorite artist. With the lyrics to the lovely carol as section headings, it tells the story of the Miller family as they prepare for the Christmas Eve birth of a baby girl. It's a great bedtime story.
Carl's Christmas, by Alexandra Day
We got our first Carl book when the tall boy was a tall newborn: Carl's Afternoon in the Park (thanks, Boyce and Deneen!). Others include Carl's Masquerade, Carl Goes Shopping, and Good Dog, Carl! Each book tells a story about Carl and Madeleine, the lovely baby he takes care of. So the premise of every book is that the parents go out somewhere fun and leave their baby with the pet Rottweiler. Now that's good parenting! And the wonderful thing about the books is that the only words spoken are, "Take good care of the baby, Carl!' when the parents leave the house, and then when Mommy and Daddy get home: "Good dog, Carl!" Every page shows intricate details of the adventures of Carl and the baby, and the story is told with no words at all. In Carl's Christmas, he and the baby prepare Christmas gifts for several different people. After baby falls asleep, Carl is surprised by a visitor!
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
This is a great little picture book that perfectly depicts the joy of bundling up to go outside and have an adventure in the snow. A classic!
The Night of Las Posadas, by Tomie de Paola
Las Posadas is the Latin American tradition that focuses on the scripture passage, "because there was no room for them at the inn." My family has always been drawn to this tradition; the "Catholic" part of the tradition appeals, even though we cannot claim to be Latin American. This book by Tomie de Paola is a sweet telling of the Las Posadas story. We do love us some Tomie de Paola. I hope you enjoy The Night of Las Posadas as much as we did.
Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
This fun collection of essays is really a treat for grownups rather than kids. Back when I used to exercise, I listened to the essay "Six to Eight Black Men" while I was out walking. People, I laughed so hard I had to sit down on the curb and put my head between my knees. Holidays on Ice is the perfect antidote to the sickly sweet junk that often gets pushed at us this time of year. I actually prefer the audio version, narrated by Dave Sedaris himself. It's perfect for your listening pleasure while you're up way too late wrapping those gifts that you waited too long to buy. Oh. Is that just me?
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
We love just about every version of this story: it's a treat to curl up under a blanket and listen as the story is read aloud, but there are also so many wonderful movie versions of the tale! Whether we watch George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart or Michael Caine (love me some Muppets!), it's hard to beat the story of Scrooge's Yuletide change of heart. But I do always keep coming back to the book. I know I have a bias toward the printed page, but I just cannot help but believe that this is a story that everyone should read. I challenge you and your family to plunge into the book together. Dickens wrote this Christmas ghost story knowing that it would be read aloud -- and I believe that everyone should experience the story this way at least once.
Madeline's Christmas, by Ludwig Bemelmans
The fun illustrations are the best part of this story, but we have always had a soft spot on our hearts for Madeline -- one of the great heroines of children's literature. As for me, Miss Clavel is one of my role models. Ask the urchins how often I have stopped in my tracks and said, "Something is not right!"
Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton
This is such a fabulous book! It was written by Virginia Lee Burton, who wrote Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House -- so you know it's wonderful. As Katy the snow plow proceeded to dig out an entire town, the urchins used to have so much fun following her route with their fingers as she traveled from the hospital past the police and fire stations and out to the airport, before digging out the schools and the stores. This is a great book for a snowy day -- or for a family that yearns to experience one truly Big Snow.
The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale, retold by Angel Elwell Hunt
This is a retelling of an old folktale about three trees who each dream of greatness. One is cut down and made into a manger; one is cut down and made into a fishing boat. The third is cut down and is horrified to learn that he will be used to crucify a criminal. Do you think they all found greatness?
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojchechowski, illustrations by P.J. Lynch
This is the one book that each of my three urchins insisted had to be included as part of our favorite Christmas book memories. The tall boy even texted me special from college, just to make sure I was including it on my list. It's wonderful.
Jonathan Toomey is a carpenter who has experienced a great sadness. When a widow and her young son move into his town and commission the carving of a new Nativity set, he initially rejects every one of their overtures of friendship. But as the figurines that make up the Nativity scene are brought to life through his skill as a carver, he finds that his heart has made room to welcome the kindness of these two new friends.
I have given this book as a gift to so many of my family's friends. The universal report back is, "This is the most wonderful Christmas story! Maybe someday I'll be able to read it to my kids without getting a lump in my throat." Maybe -- but I doubt it.
The Gospels, according to St. Luke and St. Matthew
On Christmas Eve, our family goes straight to The Christmas Story -- really, the only one we need.