Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Picture Book Review

 We have a family tradition of reading a Christmas book together every night in December.  It's taken me  17-years of parenting to collect enough books to read a different one for each of the 24 nights leading up to Christmas Eve and yet I'm still always on the look-out for new ones!  I consider it our advent calendar of sorts (without an actual calendar).  I've gone through our pile and picked the ones that I feel have the best messages, either because of the character traits it reinforces or because it helps us to remember Christ.  Here is a review of those books (in no particular order).  I'd love to hear what some of your favorite Christmas books are.  

Christmas Oranges--Little orphan children who have nothing band together to share their beloved Christmas oranges with a fellow orphan who has had theirs taken away as punishment.  The artwork is beautiful and the message profound and my kids love it.  It's a classic among Christmas stories and we love to give it as a gift at Christmas time, along with some oranges (or chocolate oranges).

A Christmas Dress For Ellen--Written by Thomas S. Monson, this book is about a very poor family who has recently moved to an isolated farm in Canada.  Their crops have failed them and they face a destitute Christmas lacking in the very basics in life, yet alone anything exciting for the children.  The oldest child, Ellen, is cynical and discouraged.   In a moment of desperation, the mother writes a note to her sister telling of their dire circumstances.  The sister rallies her community together and they tie quilts, sew clothes, and collect money to send to the family.  It arrives to the post office late on Christmas Eve and though the postmaster wants to go home and spend the holiday with his family, he drives the boxes through a raging snowstorm to their isolated home.    The joy that it brings to the destitute family, and Ellen in particular is heartwarming and the way the community rallied together to help someone they didn't even know, reminded me of the countless of selfless people who have rushed to the aid of those affected by Hurricane Sandy. 

The Tale of Three Trees--the touching tale of three trees' dreams to grow up to greatness--one to be a mighty ship, another to hold great treasure, and the other to stay tall and strong and point towards God.  Over time, the one that wanted to hold great treasure was disappointed to be made into a feedbox for animals, but then one day a baby is laid there and it knows that it has held the greatest treasure in the world.  The tree that was to be a mighty ship was made into a humble fishing boat who witnessed Jesus calming the stormy sea and he knows that he has carried the mightiest king of all.   Lastly, the tree that wanted to stay tall and strong is made into a cross and it knows that it will always point to God. 

The Crippled Lamb--Josh, a little lamb with a bad leg, always feels left out.  Abigail is a kind-hearted cow who has befriended Josh and reassures him that God has a special place for those that feel left out.  When the shepherds take the rest of the sheep to a faraway meadow and leave Josh behind, he is especially sad.  Then later that night he was awakened by the sounds of a tiny baby that was there in the stable with him.  It is the baby Jesus and Josh quickly goes to His side to help keep Him warm.   Josh is comforted and knows that this opportunity to welcome the Savior of the world was a special gift to him.

I Believe in Santa Claus--The words are simple, the artwork beautiful, but the way this book ties the secular with the religious is moving and powerful.  The first part of the book goes through listing (with beautiful pictures) simple facts about Santa Claus, then later in the book relates the characteristics of Santa Claus with characteristics of our Savior, Jesus Christ.   We love this book, but I'm sad to say that it's out of print.  I highly recommend searching for a used copy. 

The First Night--a very short book (perfect for toddlers or preschoolers) recapping the first Christmas night.  Artwork and text are simple, but lovely.  (Note:  The book on Amazon looks different from my version, but I confirmed that it's the same author and illustrator)

The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes--simple and beautiful, this pop-up book was one of the first Christmas books we ever owned.  Although some of the pieces don't work anymore, this is still one of the kids' favorite books. 

Legend of the Candy Cane--this one is a favorite of ours (can you tell from the well worn cover?) It goes through the story of a candy store owner introducing a town to candy canes, then teaching them the symbolic meaning in the shape and color and how they are meant to help people remember Christ's atonement.    We love to give this book, with some candy canes, as a gift to friends.

The Gift of the Magi
--this classic tale of a husband and wife who sell their most beloved possessions for the other's Christmas present is beautifully retold in this picture book version.  The language is a little lofty (even I had to look up a few words) and it's a little on the long side for reading in one sitting, but still it's one of my kids' favorite Christmas books. 

Christmas Day in the Morning--this very sweet tale is of a teenage boy that for Christmas, despite their meager circumstances,  desperately wanted to give something meaningful to his father.  Though he didn't love getting up early in the morning to help on the farm, on Christmas morning he awakened before his father, so he could surprise him by milking the cows.  His father was touched and it ended up being a memorable experience for both of them.  It's very beautifully retold and I'm not doing it justice with my review. 

Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect
--This story is about Small Pine who, while still a young tree, promised to be one of the most beautiful trees in the forest.  Then one cold night, a frightened animal comes to seek shelter in her branches.  At first she hesitates, not wanting to mar her perfectly spaced branches and needles, then finally her heart is touched and she lowers her branches and gives shelter to the animal.  Time after time, she provides shelter, rest,  and food for the winter weary animals.  This year when the Queen comes to choose her Christmas tree (the greatest honor for a tree of the forest),  she passes by all of the perfect trees who have closed their proud branches to the animals of the forest and she chooses droopy, uneven Small Pine, for the good queen had recognized the love of Christ expressed in her imperfect branches. 

Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
--This story is about a grumpy woodcarver who is commissioned by a widow and her young son to carve a nativity set. Through the story, the widow and son learn of the tragedies that have hardened the woodcarver's heart, but through patience, love, and innocent conversations with the child about how the nativity set should be, his heart is finally healed.  The story is a little long for one sitting, but it is a sweet love story interwoven with beautiful references to the gentleness and love of Jesus Christ.

Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle
--This is a sweet story about a young girl who recognizes the loneliness of an elderly neighbor at Christmas time and finds a way to add some joy and love (and the family's Christmas Jar) into his life.

Legend of the Christmas Stocking
--This story is of a young boy who works hard to help earn money for his family while his father is away, but with the small percentage he keeps for himself he saves up for a coveted model ship.  Just before Christmas and his father still hasn't returned, he sadly realizes that his family will not have much for Christmas unless he contributes the money he has been saving for the ship.  Still he is stubborn about keeping it for himself, until at church he learns of the legend of the Christmas stocking, which touches his heart and he decides to share the money with his family.  On Christmas morning his father returns and brings the model ship as a gift. 

Silent Night, Holy Night.
--a moving story about soldiers in World War 2 who stopped fighting on Christmas night and even enjoyed in some Christmas camaraderie with their enemies, which culminated in them singing, "Silent Night" together in their own languages.  Someone read this aloud at our ward Christmas party and had a cellist join in with playing, "Silent Night" during the ending of the book. It was very cool. 

Room for a Little One
--a very simple, short tale of an assortment of humble animals who are drawn to a stable for warmth, then get to welcome the Savior into the world.  Sweet story, lovely artwork. 

An Angel Came to Nazareth
--this book is a pretty simple recounting of the first Christmas night in rhyming style, but I am in love with the gorgeous artwork in here.  Look at that detail. (Just noticed that it's out-of-print as well, but used copies are available at a reasonable price)

Berenstain Bears and The Joy of Giving
--I bought this book to help remind my kids about being unselfish and thinking of others during Christmas, but it caught me off-guard when I discovered a much deeper religious element as well.  They use the familiar Berenstain Bear characters, Brother and Sister Bear, who learn through their participation in a Nativity reenactment what Christmas is really all about. 

Click here to see some of my other Christmas posts.

Don't forget to tell me some of your favorite books! 

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