"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Books Worth Reading

I've was hoping to have this post out before Christmas, but alas, things got busy.  Better late than never, now you can prep for next year!  Anyway, I've seen a number of facebook posts recently, asking about favorite books for Christmas.  I have a number of friends who do a countdown to Christmas with children's books, and I like to give a book to my kids for their Christmas Eve gift to open before bed.  That being said, there are a lot out there that are downright lame.  So, here are some of my choices that I think are worthy of your time:
1. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg

Read this instead of watching the movie.  Please.  A lovely tale about children who know and recognize the true meaning of Christmas.  Beautiful, haunting illustrations.

2. A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas

This story is about a little boy's experience with the sights, sounds, smells, and adventures of Christmas in his small Welsh town.  The characters in the story are wonderfully rich and quirky, and the warmth and laughter it brings truly will make you smile.  I believe this would technically be considered a prose poem, but it is very accessible and easier to read than some of Thomas' other poetry.  And if you can find an audio recording by the author, or even go see a play of this work, its almost better to listen to than to read.  You can really let yourself disappear into the richness of the language and the story.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Wales since I had the pleasure of studying abroad there for a few months during college.  One of the best experiences of my life. And one of the best days while there was when I was able to see a performance of this work at  the college a few days before my own Christmas in Wales.  It was truly a marvelous experience.

3. Merry Christmas, Festus and Mercury, by Sven Nordqvist

I came across this treasure in some used book sale, and one look at the cat on the front had me hooked.  When I read it and looked at the other illustrations, I loved it even more.  Its got a quirky feel to it because of its focus on a different tradition/culture, so its refreshing, and the relationship of this old man and his cat is hysterical and heartwarming all at the same time.  Not sure how easy it would be to find a copy, but keep an eye out.  I believe there are others in the series.

4. Duck and Goose, It's Time for Christmas!, by Tad Hills

A fun little board book for the younger crowd.  Duck and Goose and two funny characters who are getting ready for Christmas.

5.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

This is a chapter book instead of a picture book, but is a pretty quick read nevertheless.  Its about a town putting on their Christmas pageant and all the funny moments that entails, as well as how one family of misfits teach everyone the true meaning of Christmas.

6.  A Little House Christmas: Holiday Stories from the Little House Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I have re-read the Little House books so often I have lost count, and they only get better and better.  Many of my favorite excerpts (except for my all-time favorite parts about her falling in love with Almanzo - but that's for another post) are the Ingalls' Christmas celebrations.  They are so happy with so little, and I love the old-time traditions and family gatherings.  I'm so excited to find this collection because it gathers all these stories together to be enjoyed during the holidays.  And I plan to definitely get the collection that has the original Garth Williams illustrations.

7. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

A true classic, the story of Scrooge and his journeys with three spirits who teach him about the true Christmas spirit of love and kindness.  My favorite quote is when Scrooge is confronted with Jacob Marley's ghost, who is weighed down with the chains of greed he forged in life:
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge.
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

8. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski

A talented old woodcarver never smiles, having lost his family to illness.  But when a widow and her son ask him to make a new crèche, he discovers his own Christmas miracle.  Lovely illustrations and a touching story. 

9. A Christmas Parable, by Boyd K. Packer

This is a deceptively simple story about a man who has a dream that teaches him about the greatest Christmas gift of all - the Atonement of the Savior.  I especially love his poem at the end about being washed clean, in relation to the miracles of Christ both in the Bible and in our hearts today.  My mother started a tradition many years ago of reading this book to us on Christmas Eve and then writing down Christmas memories in the back.  We would then review our favorite memories from the year before, and then each take a turn picking one of the Nativity pieces to display.  Finished off with reading the Christmas Story from Luke.  So many joyous memories, surrounded by an eternal family.

10. Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Most of us know this poem better as the words to the carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", however it is interesting to read the original version, which has a total of seven stanzas.  Two omitted from the song make reference to the Civil War.  Either way, the words of this poem/song are some of the most joyous, hopeful, and true words you will hear.  No matter what each Christmas brings, whether in hard times or good times, Longfellow's verse will give you renewed hope that "God is not dead; nor doth he sleep! / The Wrong shall fail, / The Right prevail, / With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

So, there are some of my favorite books.  However, I can't end without sharing a few of my other favorite entertainments for Christmas:

It's a Wonderful Life
Mr. Kreuger's Christmas
White Christmas
Miracle on 34th Street
While You Were Sleeping

"O Holy Night" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel" by Manheim Steamroller
"Halleluja Chorus" from The Messiah
"Jingle Bells?" by Barbara Streisand 
"Silent Night" by Boyz II Men
"Ode to Joy" by Beethoven
"A Soalin" by Peter, Paul & Mary
"What Sweeter Music" written by John Rutter

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