Friday, November 5, 2010

Favourite Christmas Books for Kids (and Parents)

We've had a recent, sad loss in my extended family, so I've temporarily lost enthusiasm for making subject-based resource lists. Instead, I feel the need to focus on things that nourish my heart.

For me, Christmas is all about heart. And love. And family.

And one of my favourite things about Christmas is the vast selection of seasonal children's literature.

These are our (my) favourites (in no particular order except how I pulled them off the shelf).

Picture Books

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Rumer Godden was a master storyteller and this charming Christmas story is lovely sample of her writing. "This is a story about wishing. It is the story of a doll called Holly and a little girl called Ivy, and how they wanted more than anything to be together at Christmas." My son has also enjoyed this touching story, so it's not just a book for girls.

B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner, illustrated by Elisa Kleven. I'm so sad to see that this marvelous book is no longer in print. I discovered it when I fell in love with Elisa Kleven's wonderful illustrations and was taking all her picture books out of the library. This is a stunning retelling of the Christmas story in the form of an alphabet book. Check the library for it or try for a used copy.

The Little Drummer Boy illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. The words of the beloved Christmas song set to illustrations by the incomparable Ezra Jack Keats. We love our copy. (Also check out The Snowy Day.)

Olive the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh. Olive the dog makes a fabulous reindeer in this endearing and humorous tale,  now a classic.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojclechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch. This book gives me goosebumps and makes me cry, all at the same time. It's a lovely story and the illustrations are gorgeous. Make sure you have a box of Kleenix beside you - you'll need it.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. A wonderful wordless book about a snowman that comes to life for one night. It's also been made into an animation, with a beautiful musical score. Our local symphony is performing the music against the video this Christmas - it will be glorious!

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Before the movie (which we also love), was the book. I still get a lump in my throat (and yes, I cry, too) every time I read this book. I've had my copy for over 20 years now and we read it every year.

Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett. Jan Brett has wonderful winter tales and so many of her books are fantastic to read at this time of year (including The Mitten, which is one of my favourites). We love to read this sweet retelling of the Gingerbread Man just before we embark on our seasonal gingerbread house making.

The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas. This is the best book about the Nativity that I've seen. Julie Vivas doesn't try to improve on the original text. Instead, she quotes passages directly from the King James version of the Bible. Her illustrations are so vibrant and precious... and a bit unorthodox. The angel Gabriel wears hiking boots (Doc Marten style), Joseph has to hoist a very pregnant Mary onto the back of a patient donkey, the baby Jesus is anatomically correct, and the shepherds are joyfully disheveled. It's a lovely read.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Within this clever story are embedded lots of details about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The illustrations, of course, are absolutely perfect (Trina Schart Hyman is my favourite illustrator).

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr. This book has nothing to do with Christmas. However, I love the crisp, cold feeling I get when reading the story and looking at the illustrations. It's perfect when paired with a cup of delicious, warm cocoa.

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox, illustrated by Kerry Argent. This highly amusing Christmas story by prolific Australian author, Mem Fox, is much more than a Christmas story. It's a story about friendship, self-worth, and being yourself.

Chapter Books and Novels

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. This is truly the best Christmas book ever written. I'm not going to give anything away... except to say that this hilarious and poignant story captures the essence of Christmas in a way that few others do.

Rover Saves Christmas by Roddy Doyle. You may have read Roddy Doyle's Booker Award winning book, Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha... or you may have watched the movie based in his novel, The Commitments (best version of Mustang Sally ever - language warning at end of video clip). But if you haven't yet read about Rover and his gang of humans (first introduced in the incomparable The Giggler Treatment), then this book will be a treat.

The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren. This is a heart-warming book about children living in Sweden in a simpler time. Although the book spans the seasons in terms of time frame, there is a delicious section about winter and the Christmas season (Scandinavian customs included!). The chapters are episodic so it's possible to just read the Christmas section at this time of the year (although the whole book is very enjoyable).

I'd love to know your favourite Christmas stories and books... please share!

(I just found a whole long list for all ages on Good Reads... might find some more ideas there!)