Reading Our Way Through December

Advent calendars are an eagerly awaited part of the Christmas season at our house. Every year, faraway relatives gift us with the Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar. Junior can’t wait to dive into the day’s new activity, scene, or game. Junior also receives a Lego Advent Calendar. Breakfast can wait while he assembles the day’s mini Lego build. This year we’ve added a third: the book Advent calendar. I got the idea from the Cottage Mama: every day during Advent, you and your family read aloud a new Christmas-related book at bedtime. Below is our lineup for December—let me know if you have a favorite that we should include!

Raymond Briggs' work (except for The Snowman) is not well known in the U.S., but this book is a British classic. I grew up with Father Christmas grumping his way through December 25. I gave it to Junior and his cousins a few years ago and now they enjoy Father Christmas cursing the weather too!

Raymond Briggs' work (except for The Snowman) is not well known in the U.S., but this book is a British classic. I grew up with Father Christmas grumping his way through December 25. I gave it to Junior and his cousins a few years ago and now they enjoy Father Christmas cursing the weather too!

 

  1. “Christmas” chapter from Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Garth Williams.
    Junior actually stopped a Lego build to come listen to the story-within-the-story about how Aunt Eliza was almost eaten by the panther.
     
  2. The Very First Christmas, by Paul L. Maier
    It’s important to me that holidays be strongly anchored in the reasons that we celebrate. I’m fine with the pagan festivities surrounding Christmas, but I think that it’s important that children know the Christmas story well enough to ask questions. However, I find that most children’s Nativity books are either waaaaayyyy too syrupy, factually inaccurate (Mary was NOT blond) or both.
         The reviews online said that The Very First Christmas was a good book to use to discuss the birth of Jesus in a historical context with children.
         Maier sets this children’s picture book up as the story of Chris, a science-loving boy who declares that he only wants to read “real” stories at bedtime. Since it’s December, his mother reads him the story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Luke. Chris has lots of questions as they go through the story—why does Luke say that shepherds were terrified of the angel? Well, Maier points out, wouldn’t you be afraid if "the sky opens up, light pierces the darkness, and a dazzling being you've never seen before starts talking to you?" Maier’s text was friendly and incorporated a lot of interesting historical detail. I was able to rephrase the few syrupy parts.
         If you're looking for this book I have to warn you: there are three books by Maier with similar titles. The board book titled The Very First Christmas is awful. Maier also wrote a book for teens titled The First Christmas. Best to confirm that you're getting the correct version of this book before you order. 
     
  3. Hark! A Christmas Sampler, by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
    How can you go wrong with Jane Yolen and Tomie dePaola? This anthology contains stories, poems, legends, folktales, and carols relating to Christmas. We read the story from Luke and a few other pieces. Junior’s favorite part was singing the carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” because Father Christmas sings it in the Raymond Briggs book above, one of our all-time family favorites.
     
  4. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
    Junior loves trains, so you know that this one is a favorite. We have the book-with-CD version, which is terrific to keep in the car during the holidays. Junior happily reads along with the CD’s narration while looking at Allsburg’s sumptuous illustrations.
     
  5. This Is the Stable, by Cynthia Cotten
  6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
  7. Wombat Divine, by Mem Fox
  8. The Jolly Christmas Postman, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
  9. White Snow, Bright Snow, by Alvin Tresselt
  10. Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton
    We read this often when Junior was younger because he was fascinated with big machines. I love this book and I don't want to give it away, so I think it might end up stored it with the Christmas decorations so that we can take it out and read it seasonally each year. Have you seen the version staged with live music on YouTube?
     
  11. The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs
  12. The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot
  13. Father Christmas, by Raymond Briggs
  14. The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by James Marshall
    We also have an audio version read by his grandparents. Hmm, maybe I should put that into the car for this month.
     
  15. The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumor Godden
  16. Diggy Takes His Pick, by Racey Helps
  17. Peter Spier’s Christmas!
  18. A Treasury of Santa Mouse, by Michael Brown
  19. I Spy Christmas: A Book of Picture Riddles, by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick
The Jolly Postman bicycles his way throughout fairy-tale-land in December as he delivers the mail. You, the reader, not only get to check in with Little Red Riding Hood and Baby Bear as he drops off cards and letters, but you also get the illicit thrill of reading their mail. Best if you've already read The Jolly Postman.

The Jolly Postman bicycles his way throughout fairy-tale-land in December as he delivers the mail. You, the reader, not only get to check in with Little Red Riding Hood and Baby Bear as he drops off cards and letters, but you also get the illicit thrill of reading their mail. Best if you've already read The Jolly Postman.

Some of the books above are old favorites but others are new to us. I’ll post reviews in a Part 2 to this post in January. Some of you have done the math and are saying, “Hey! There are twenty-four days in Advent but she’s only listed nineteen books!” Relax. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a chapter book and A Treasury of Santa Mouse is three books in one. We’re covered.

Do any of you read your way through a book Advent calendar? I found some great lists of Christmas-related children’s books online.

My favorite non-picture-book list came from the Online Star Reader. It includes many non-U.S. authors and I’ve bookmarked a few of their recommendations for future Decembers. Another book I really want to get my hands on is Tea and Sugar Christmas, by Jane Jolly. Set in rural Australia, it’s about the Tea and Sugar Train (this was a real train) and a fictional little girl who is eagerly waiting for the train to make a special Christmas stop at her little settlement. 

Made Everyday and the other bloggers who cover the book Advent calendar idea admit that buying 25 Christmas books at once could get expensive. Many bloggers used library books to save some money and keep their Advent book lineups fresh from year to year. Little Lewes also laid out a series of money-saving ideas. I found six books around our house and got the rest through PaperbackSwap.com and the Unique Thrift Store monthly half-off sale.

Although Christmas! is a wordless book, the wonderful illustrations make this a book for all ages to enjoy.

Although Christmas! is a wordless book, the wonderful illustrations make this a book for all ages to enjoy.

Our books are in a stack and I bring a new book to bedtime every night. Wrapping up the books, numbering the packages, and putting them under the tree seems to be very popular--I wish I had that amount of time on my hands. Now, off to bake some more cookies for our faithful crossing guards. Happy holidays, everyone!