Goodwill, Hope, and Fun

My previous blog was about children’s books that focus on the Nativity. Today’s post features fun Christmas books from my childhood, as well as recent books that send a message of goodwill and hope.

Christmas around the World (1961)

IMG_6126.JPGChristmas is celebrated in many ways, and this book highlights different traditions from around the globe from Austria to (the then) Yugoslavia. In Denmark, the Jul-Nisse, the “benevolent little man in the attic,”is seen by no one and “is responsible for many mischievous happenings in the house.” The children place of bowl of porridge and a pitcher of milk next to the attic door for him on Christmas Eve. In Mexico, “street vendors display hand-carved religious figures…and tapestries of religious design are used as banners.” In Brazil, “the Christmas fiesta season is solemnly heralded by an air mass at midnight on Christmas Eve…a colorful altar is set up in the Cathedral churchyard…in a fiesta atmosphere of banners.”

It’s a time-traveling trip to 29 countries through a book.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs (1973)IMG_6129.JPG

In this cheeky English tale, Father Christmas is a bit of a grumpy fellow. With no elves to be found and no Mrs. Christmas to keep him company, Fr. Christmas has to feed the reindeer, fix his sleigh, and lug the many heavy bags of presents by himself. On top of that, he has to travel through blooming cold, go down blooming chimneys filled with blooming soot, and weather snow, ice, frost, sleet, hail, rain while everyone else is enjoying their parties in warm homes. It’s not a glamorous life.

Still, Fr. Christmas gets to enjoy milk and cookies and sherry and mince pies while on the job. And when his long night is over, he sits down to a good cup of tea, enjoys a lovely pud and a good bath, has himself a good drop of ale and some lovely grub with his dog and cat. It’s not such a bad gig, after all.

While younger children probably won’t understand it, this book is lots of fun and older children who understand dry humor will enjoy this spin on Santa.

Father Christmas and His Friends by Christopher Maynard and illustrated by Colin Hawkins (1979)

In this behind-the-scenes tell-all, we learn a lot about Santa. We get an up-close and personal look at his features. For instance, he suffers from a swollen right knee; the inflammation is “local and seasonal. It is the result of having thousands of children sit and bounce on it.” We get to peek at his home, his friends (including a butler, a guardian, a chief elf, and his Spanish friend, Black Peter), and his attire. We even learn what Fr. Christmas eats for breakfast: an all-or-nothing IMG_6128.JPGsandwich.

Next, we visit the reindeer nursery and the stag bar (for adult reindeers to enjoy adult beverages), and we learn lots of reindeer facts, such as their great weakness for cherry and chocolate gateau. It’s off to the mines, the blacksmith’s workshop, and the toy workshops where quality control is performed. The traditions of carols, holly, mistletoe, candles in the window, and midnight snacks are explained. And for anyone who’s ever wondered just how Fr. Christmas manages to traverse the globe in a single night, we are privy to his sled routes, time management skills (including, perhaps, the ability to travel at the speed of light and to make time stand still), how he gets into houses (including the tricks and tools of the trade), and how he’s prepared for dogs and awake children. You’ll be reeling from all the information in this 92-page exposé!

Again, this isn’t for younger kids and it’s by no means politically correct by today’s standards (it is, after all, 35 years old). If you’re looking for a sanitized version of Santa, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you’re looking for a good laugh with some irreverent humor, then see if you can track down a copy.

Well-loved Carols chosen by Audrey Daly and illustrated by Peter Church (1986)IMG_6127.JPG

I love Christmas carols. Singing really is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit and to spread good cheer. This little book features 19 beloved carols that are a joy to sing. From Away in a Manger to O Little Town of Bethlehem to Winter’s Snow, gather your family and friends and sing to your hearts content. The illustrations are lovely and harken to olden days.

Grace at Christmas by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

IMG_6133.JPGThis story reminds us that the Christmas spirit is about helping others, even when you’re not feeling so merry and bright.

Book description from Amazon: “Grace loves Christmas – acting out the nativity story, opening presents, celebrating with Ma, Nana and Paw-Paw. But this Christmas Nana announces they will have visitors from Trinidad. Grace is horrified! She does NOT want to share the day with another little girl she doesn’t even know. But after some wise words from Nana, Grace’s generous spirit shines through. And in the end, as they all share a special surprise, Grace thinks it could be the best Christmas ever!”

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman

IMG_6132This sweet book with perfectly adorable illustrations proves that home is where your heart it.

Book description from Scholastic: “Mortimer Mouse needs a new house — a house that’s not so cold, cramped, and dark. Where can he go? He sees a huge tree covered with twinkling lights. And next to the tree, a mouse-size house. And inside the house, a wee wooden manger just Mortimer’s size. But statue people seem to already live there! One by one, Mortimer lugs and tugs the statues out of the house — only to find them all put back in their places each evening! What is Mortimer to do? It’s not until he overhears a very special story that Mortimer realizes whose house he is sharing and where Mortimer himself belongs. It is the story of Christmas and the night the baby Jesus was born that warms Mortimer’s heart in this magical holiday offering.”

Santa’s Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki and illustrated by Ivan Gantschev

IMG_6130.JPGKeeping the focus on the birth of Jesus while acknowleding the fun of Santa can be a difficult process. This book manages to balance both aspects of Christmas in a gentle, non-judgmental manner.

Book description from Barnes & Noble: “Discover the true meaning of the holidays with Santa’s Favorite Story. The forest animals are alarmed when it appears that Santa might be too tired to make his Christmas rounds, until he recounts for them the Nativity story which gives the holiday its true significance.”

The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund and illustrated by Feridun Oral

I reviewed this book last year on Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature reviews.

ThIMG_6131.JPGe Message of the Birds tugged at my heart. It is a simple, still book, but it is full of the warmth and innocence that parents so often desire for their young children’s lives. The book encompasses a single theme: let there be peace on earth.  As the birds in the rafters of the stable watched over the Baby Jesus, they “heard in his voice…the words of a song that they would carry throughout the world…It was a special song of blessing, of joy and good will.” Unfortunately, as old owl explains years later, that message has been forgotten or ignored. But Robin believes that children will listen and understand, and that the hope for a better world lies with them. So, the birds plan to carry the special message by singing to children. It’s a lot of work, full of long journeys, but the birds try their hardest. And something wonderful happens:

“They saw hands linked together—white hands, brown hands, black hands. Children everywhere were joining together. The children had heard the message of the birds, and what had started as a whisper now resounded from shining faces all over the world.”

What a wonderful thought to teach children, especially this time of year.

The illustrations are spot on.  The snowy, wintery scenes juxtaposed to the birds’ colorful plumage and children’s cheeriness bring the story alive. And in a way that only a masterful artist can manage, the pictures seem both lively and still.

During what is one of the busiest times of the year for many people, taking a break to enjoy and understand The Message of the Birds is well worth the time.

Merry Christmas and happy reading!

Christmas Books for Children

I love Christmas. I think it’s a wonderful time of sharing, caring, and hope. Fittingly, there are loads and loads of books written about this holiday and its various aspects. My family and I enjoy many of them–books about Santa, presents, reindeer and other animals, food, and traditions. It’s important to my family that we focus on the birth of Jesus, in addition to enjoying the more secular aspects of the celebrations. Here are books on the Nativity that we read or share at Christmas.

Baby’s First Nativity written by Muff Singer and illustrated by Peter Stevenson (Reader’s Digest Children’s Books Publishing)

Using simpleIMG_6053.JPG rhymes that will keep young children (ages 1-3) interested, this board book has cut-outs on the first few pages that create a peeking window. The book includes activities on each of its spreads. Shepherds in the Fields: On hills above Bethlehem, shepherds and sheep suddenly awoke from their peaceful night’s sleep. The sky was filled with angels who started to sing, “Born in a stable is Jesus, your king.” [Pretend you are a shepherd. Stretch and yawn like you are waking up.] The colors are vibrant and the illustrations are adorable.

On This Special Night written by Claire Freedman and illustrated by Simon Mendez (Scholastic)

This is a paperback book for ages 4-8. Little Kitten iIMG_6047.JPGs snuggled warm next to Mother Cat in a barn when a thirsty donkey arrives. Soon, a lamb, mice and calf join them. All are very tired from their journeys. Little Kitten wonders why the stars are shining so brightly. The other animals know. Calf smiled, his big, brown eyes shining. “Tonight is a very special night,” he said. “Something amazing is going to happen.”  “Come with us–and you’ll see it, too!” squeaked the mice. Little Kitten and Mother Cat follow the animals to see a very special baby. The illustrations are very realistic and luminous in their colors.

Silent Night, Holy Night: Book and Advent Calendar illustrated by Maja Dusíková (NorthSouth)

I adore this book. The cover is an Advent calendar, so we look at it every day. The illustrations are siIMG_6051.JPGmply beautiful, and are representations of the carol’s lyrics. For instance, Silent night, holy night features a winter wonderland scene complete with snow-covered pine trees and houses with rabbits huddling under a full moon. My favorite scene is All is calm, which shows a closer view of the houses with their trees, wreaths and candles and the back of a cat sitting on a roof enjoying the serenity. The history of the carol, which was written by Father Josef Mohr and set to music by church organist Franz Gruber in 1818, is included, as is the musical arrangement with lyrics.

Stable in Bethlehem: A Christmas Counting Book by Joy N. Hulme and illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Sterling)


The countdown to the Nativity is told in this book for 3-5 year olds. Bethlehem awaits the birth of Jesus, and the animals are no different. Seven soft sheep are still awake and see the stars grow bright. Guarding the fold, six faithful dogs are ever alert nearby…From eastern lands, four camels come with humps and shaggy fur. The illustrations are luminous in their golden hues.

The Christmas Baby written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey (Simon & Schuster)

IMG_6055.JPGThe birth of Jesus is celebrated by the beasts in the stable and by the angels in the heavens. When the baby was born, the beasts shouted with joy. “Have you heard?” they whinnied and brayed and mooed and barked and bleated. “He is come!”  This book is for ages 2-5, and features cherub-like angels and sweet animal faces. It is also suitable as a gift for new parents, as the end of the book features a question for today’s newborns: And you–when that dear little baby was you–do you know what you did? … You smiled back at us all with God’s own smile!

The Christmas Story (A Mini Magic Color Book) written by Janet Sacks and illustrated by Luana Rinaldo (Sterling/Pinwheel Books)IMG_6050.JPG

A board book perfect for ages 1-3, who will learn colors along with the Nativity story. Each of the five spreads includes a pull-out tab that changes the character’s color. Baby Jesus is born in Bethlehem. He sleeps in a manger. Here is baby Jesus. What color is the manger with baby Jesus? [Pull the tab.] The manger is brown. Using age-appropriate language, the book is colorfully illustrated with cartoon-like images.

The First Christmas: A Pop-up Nativity Book written by Justine Swain-Smith and Marie Greenwood, illustrated by Ingela Peterson, and paper engineered by Allison Gardner (Discovery Kids Books)IMG_6048.JPG

This book is a treasure, and is possibly my youngest child’s favorite Christmas book. It is an interactive, pop-up book that comes complete with a pull-out Nativity scene and Advent calendar. The text is for older children (ages 6-10). Mary and Joseph were very happy to have found a place to rest at last. That night in the stable, Mary gave birth to her baby son. She wrapped him baby Jesus in strips of cloth to keep him warm. However, younger children will find the book enjoyable and accessible for its images and pop-ups.

The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats (Penguin Putnam)IMG_6054.JPG

This paperback book for ages 3-6 is a representation of the carol. The little drummer boy spots the procession of the Three Kings and joins in.

Baby Jesus (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / I am a poor boy, too (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / I have no gift to bring pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / That’s fit to give a king (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum) / Shall I play for you (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / On my drum? 

The artwork, while in muted colors, is vivid and almost other-worldly and includes patterns. The carol’s words and musical arrangement by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone are also included.

The Story of Christmas written by Patricia A. Pingry and illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh (Candy Cane Press)

IMG_6052.JPGA wonderful way to introduce the Christmas story to children ages 2-5, this board book presents simple language that helps connect the biblical story to today’s celebrations. For example, Do you know why we give gifts at Christmas? We give presents because it is Jesus’ birthday. They [the Wise Men] brought presents because they loved Him. We give gifts at Christmas to show our love. The text’s font and multiple colors engage the young readers, and the illustrations are lovely.

Merry Christmas, and happy reading!