When I wrote about our Book Advent Calendar in December, we were only four books in. Below are reviews for the rest of the books. The real surprise for me was that we didn't finish the reading list--there were a lot of activities during the month which kept us out so late that we had to skip bedtime reading. I asked for reviews of the month's reading post-Christmas, and both Junior and my partner said that they want to do the Book Advent Calendar again next year.
- “Christmas” chapter from Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Garth Williams.
This chapter details how the Ingalls family spent Christmas Day, 1870. Junior was mostly interested in the story-within-a-story about Aunt Eliza and the panther and the cousins’ snow games. Laura and Mary’s cousins Alice, Ella, Peter, baby Dolly Varden, and their parents, Uncle Peter and Aunt Eliza arrive on Christmas Eve (the book doesn’t mention that they’re double cousins, because the Ingalls sons Charles and Peter married sisters, Caroline and Eliza Quiner). Laura’s memories revolve around the involved preparations for Christmas dinner, being thrilled when the older children included her in their games, and being nearly overcome on Christmas Day when she received a homemade doll in her Christmas stocking. The other children were happy with their presents too—a pair of handmade mittens and a stick of store-bought candy each.
- The Very First Christmas, by Paul L. Maier
Junior was interested in this book when we were reading it, but he didn’t ask to read it again. My partner says that she liked the book and especially the historical detail in the story, which she didn’t hear as a child. We’re going to keep this one in the lineup, but also look for other books focused on the historical birth of Jesus.
- Hark! A Christmas Sampler, by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. Stories, poems, legends, folktales, and carols relating to Christmas.
This was Junior’s most-requested book in December. When we first read this book, we read the story from Luke, read a few other short pieces, and sang “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Junior kept the book out and referred to its index repeatedly at bedtime for carols for us all to sing.
- 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.
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson.
This kept everybody spellbound because we were all waiting (like the congregation in the book) to see what the six rambunctious Herdman children would do next. Our favorite part was when Gladys Herdman heralds the angels’ appearance to the shepherds with a hearty “SHAZAM!” We also liked the TV movie, but opinions differed from “Oh, boy! This is better than football!” to “I can see why this movie isn’t very well known.”
- Wombat Divine, by Mem Fox
We’re big wombat fans after reading Jackie French’s Diary of a Baby Wombat. Wombat Divine featured an adult wombat who really, really, really wants to be a part of his local church’s Christmas pageant—but is unsuited for many of the parts due to his wombat nature (too sleepy, too heavy, too clumsy). I think it’s important to show Christmas celebrations from other parts of the world and I’ll continue to look for good books from other countries to incorporate in our Advent book lineup.
- Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton
Much loved at our house. We’ve read it many times before. This one, along with Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman (also a favorite) will stay out past Christmas, to be read when we have a big snowfall.
- The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot
This is one of my favorite James Herriot stories. Debbie the fiercely independent cat doesn’t live with Mrs. Pickering, but she visits every once in awhile. This book raises a lot of questions. Why won’t Debbie stay? Where does she live? Why does she keep returning? Definitely thought-provoking for animal lovers, and especially for us because a lot of feral cats live in our area.
- Father Christmas, by Raymond Briggs
Worth seeking out—I cover the reasons why this book is a beloved part of our holidays in my earlier post. I’m going to make a concerted effort to locate Father Christmas on Holiday this year.
- The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by James Marshall
Marshall and the publisher set this version up as spreads with a page of text on the left and a full-size illustration on the right. Marshall illustrated some standard scenes from the classic, but our favorite pages were his entirely original illustrations. Like Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas, this Santa is bored with the standard plate of cookies and and a glass of milk—but he is willing to pose for a photo.
- Peter Spier’s Christmas!
This is a truly terrific picture book. We loved the detailed depictions of the different parts of the holiday—from shopping to decorating to caroling. The key difference to this book is that it’s one of the few to show what happens after Christmas: the family’s tree is out at the curb, along with a mountain of boxes and wrapping paper. We also see the tree lot with its woebegone leftover trees and wreaths. Hopefully this book will spur a few conversations about commercialism and some environmental thinking.
- Hilary Knight’s The Twelve Days of Christmas
Junior told us that he knew the “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol when we were reading Hark! I think he learned it at school. He was very surprised when C and I informed him that we also knew the carol—happily so, because we sang our way through this book, which illustrates the havoc that overenthusiastic gift-giving can create. Luckily for gift-giver Benjamin Bear, his paramour Bedelia Bear is both resourceful and creative. My favorite part of this book was the back endpapers, which show what it was like to grow up in the Knight family.
Probably Best for Younger Children
- This Is the Stable, by Cynthia Cotten
Not a hit. This Is the Stable contains rhythmic text and beautiful illustrations (including hidden angel wings on every page). I think that this one is best suited for a younger child. The text would lend itself very well to reading with a child and letting the child complete the lines.
- White Snow, Bright Snow, by Alvin Tresselt
Surprisingly, not a hit, even though this was a Caldecott winner! Rhythmic text and terrific illustrations.
On Deck for Next Year
Some books we didn't get to, what with late bedtimes brought on by all the holiday festivities.
- The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumor Godden
- Diggy Takes His Pick, by Racey Helps
- A Treasury of Santa Mouse, by Michael Brown
- I Spy Christmas: A Book of Picture Riddles, by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick
- The Jolly Christmas Postman, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. I plan to order The Jolly Postman this year and then we’ll be in good shape to read The Jolly Christmas Postman.