One of the things that Jude and I look forward to most about the month of December is that on December 1st, I always decree Christmas Book Season to be officially open. "Let the holiday reading begin!" Somehow, we seem to have collected an entire shelf of Christmas themed kids books and we love, love, LOVE them all. We laugh, we cry. And though it's a bit difficult to play favorites, I have narrowed it down to a Top Ten, which I am now sharing with you. In no particular order....drumroll...
- Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman - Little Mortimer mouse is tired of living in his cramped and creepy hole, and when he discovers a Nativity Scene set up in the living room, decides to move in, kicking that silly baby statue out of his cozy little manger bed. Eventually, he hears the story of who that baby is, and how there was no room for him at the inn, and Mortimer gives up his newfound home for the baby Jesus. This makes me cry EVERY time we read it. Oh look, I'm tearing up right now just typing about it. Really beautiful.
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg - Jude's favorite book in the world. The child actually obsessed over the story for a year before I even told him there was such thing as the movie. Who can resist a magical train ride to the North Pole? Another tear-jerker. It took me ages before I could get through the last page without sobbing. I BELIEVE!
- Asleep in the Stable by Will Hillenbrand - Baby Owl wakes up one night (owls being nocturnal) to find that some people are staying in the stable where Baby Owl and his Mama Owl live. Baby Owl asks all the questions that any kid would ask, and Mama answers him in a gentle and wise way (she is, after all an owl). "Who is that baby?" "That is Jesus, the Holy Child. He is the gift from God." Super sweet and simple explanation of the whole Nativity and God-sent-his-Son-to-us thing. Love, love, love this book! Makes me cry every time I read it. Okay, clearly I cry when I read EVERY ONE OF THESE BOOKS. What can I say?
- The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore - A classic, of course. We actually read it from an ancient edition that I've had since I was a little girl, complete with groovy '60's artwork. I'm not even going to give the Amazon link for this one, because there are about 50 editions, all with different artwork. Warning: Before reading to a curious 21st Century child, prepare yourself by knowing what a sugarplum is, why Mama is wearing a kerchief to bed, and what the hell "threw up the sash" means.
- Two Christmas Mice by Corinne Demas, Illustrated by Stephanie Roth - Charming and beautifully told story about two little mice, Annamouse and Willamouse who have never met, and live in cozy burrows in different hayfields. They each get snowed into their burrows, and prepare for a lonely, solitary Christmas Eve. Little do they know, that their burrows share a back wall, and when they eventually find each other they have a new friend for Christmas. The illustrations are delightfully detailed. This is a book that always makes Jude and I happy. We read it over and over, and still get just as excited when they finally meet each other.
- The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie DePaola - A beautiful retelling of the classic Italian legend. Technically, if anyone's getting nitpicky, this is an Epiphany book, not a Christmas book, as Old Befana is an Italian version of Santa Claus, who brings treats to children on the Feast of the Three Kings, January 6th. Old Befana is a cranky and compulsively tidy old woman (the compulsively tidy part totally reminds me of my Italian in-laws!). One day, the three kings show up, following a star and searching for a miraculous baby. They urge her to come along, but she's too busy with her housework to leave her house. The more she thinks about it though, the more the idea of a baby king who "comes for us. He comes for the poor." appeals to her "Well, heaven knows, Old Befana is poor." and she decides to bake a gift of goodies and bring them to the baby king. Unfortunately, she takes so long getting ready, that she never catches up with the kings, and dies looking for the Baby Jesus. The story goes that she is still searching to this day, and brings gifts to all children because she never knows "which child might be the Baby King". Which sounds kind of creepy and frightening in my cryptic retelling here, but when DePaolo does it it's much better.
- Santa's Kwanzaa by Garen Eileen Thomas, Illustrated by Guy Francis - In truth, I think that the relative who gave this book to Jude meant it as a joke. Little did he know that Jude would LOVE it. I'm afraid the book is a little odd, but sweet nonetheless, and it's the first time I've actually understood what the hell Kwanzaa really was. Here Santa (who just happens to be black) returns home to the North Pole exhausted by his 'round the world flight on Christmas Eve, and Mrs. Claus and the elves surprise him with a rollicking Kwanzaa party ("Welcome Home, Santa Kwaz" - I know, pretty hokey). Santa changes into his kente, and they all party for the next seven nights to show "their deep pride in their roots". Santa's elves are each named for one of the 7 principles of Kwanzaa (with names like Kujichagulia - try pronouncing THAT one). It's a clever combination of two holiday traditions.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. - Every time I read this, I find myself doing the voice of Boris Karloff. Which I think is okay. Because, you know, Karloff told the story so iconically in the tv special. Jude asked me this morning why his music teacher at school hasn't taught them how to sing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", because "it's a Christmas song, Mama". I told him that most Christmas songs don't have lyrics like "stink, stank, stunk". Which he thought was pretty funny. But anyway, I recommend reading the book too, because it's the original, and Dr. Seuss rules.
- Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner, Illustrated by Mark Buehner - I must confess that we actually love Snowmen at Night even more, so I suggest checking them both out. Did you ever wake up to find that your snowman was a little droopy, and maybe his carrot nose had slid slightly to the left? Well, this book tells you just what those crazy snowmen have been up to during the night. All sorts of fun and wacky snowman Christmas festivities. Big fun.
- The Christmas Story by Kay Chorao - An elegantly illustrated adaptation of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The pictures really are beautiful, they remind me of Renaissance art. The other night we were reading it, and we got to the big two page layout picture of the heavenly host visiting the shepherds and Jude said "Whoa. Mama. Imagine seeing THAT!" Which, I think, is kinda the point. A good book to have for keeping the "Christ" in Christmas.
Okay, that's my list of favorite kids Christmas books. What's yours? I'm always looking for another one to add to the season!
I hearby submit this humble list to ABDPBT's Monday list carnival. Go check out all the other listmakers.