A Christmas Book Trio

Winter has so many aspects that I love.  While I don’t care for the longer nights and sometimes dreary cold for their own sake, I do appreciate the juxtaposition they create with the indoors.  How cozy wintry weather makes home seem!  I love cuddling up with a book in a warm house with a cup of cocoa when it’s cold outside.  I love the colors of snow, ice, evergreens, holly bushes, migrating birds, and Christmas decorations.  One of my favorite parts of winter is singing and listening to Christmas carols, and I am always tempted to break family tradition and listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, in spite of my sister’s objections.

What truly makes winter wonderful, though, is Christmas and the story of Christ’s birth which we celebrate during this season.  Christmas is a story that mankind has been commemorating since before it even had the name “Christmas” or the date December 25th.  This true story began with Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds and for over two millennia has continued with the young and old, men and women, around the world.  We continue to celebrate it in many ways, from decorations and traditions to music, movies, and books.  And as is my tradition, here are three Christmas books I have discovered over the past year.

A Child's Christmas in Wales

A Child’s Christmas in Wales / Dylan Thomas (illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman)

This children’s book is my most recent Christmas discovery.  A Child’s Christmas is essentially a collection of Christmas memories and scenes.  Dylan Thomas writes in a very poetic, stream of consciousness style that is sometimes confusing and at other times creates a vivid picture of what is happening.  The book captures the quirky, unfiltered reality of life at Christmastime in Wales.  However, although I appreciate the realism and the artistry Thomas displays, the content and tone don’t seem to suit a young audience.  While the book is packaged as a children’s story, contains “child” in its title, and follows a child’s perspective of Christmas, I think adults would appreciate the story more because of its complex writing style and nostalgic tone.  That said, I would definitely recommend the book for its art.  Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite children’s illustrators, and her artwork fills the story with character, expertly bringing to life the scenes Dylan Thomas paints with words.

The True Gift

The True Gift / Patricia MacLachlan

Liam and Lily are visiting their Gran and Grandpa for Christmas.  When Liam finds out that their grandparents’ pet cow no longer has her donkey friend, he worries that White Cow will be lonely and sets out to find her a new companion for Christmas.  This story resonates my Christmas memories and family visits in surprising ways.  From making snowmen cookies with red cinnamon buttons to debating how many books to pack for vacation, Liam and Lily’s experiences are funnily similar to my own.  I found this little book charming and hope you do as well!

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree / Julie Salamon

What’s your Christmas tree story?  Mine isn’t all that glamorous.  First, my father or brothers climb into the attic and haul down the artificial tree (version 3.0 since I’ve been around).  Then, my mother, siblings, and I shake the dust off the needles (and shake off some needles too) and spread the stiff branches.  After swathing the tree in strings of lights, topping it with an angel, bedecking it with ornaments, and swaddling it in a rug and a pile of presents, the journey is done.

Keeping this in mind, you can imagine my surprise and curiosity when I discovered in The Christmas Tree a story about the journey of perhaps the most famous Christmas tree in the world.  I had never thought much about where the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas tree comes from each year.  But in a beautiful story filled with fascinating characters, sweet illustrations, and Christmas themes, Julie Salamon crafts a delightful Christmas narrative that gives me a whole new perspective on Christmas trees.  I would say more, but it’s been a while since I read the book—and I want you to enjoy it for yourself!

Do you have a favorite Christmas book?  Or have you discovered any new ones this year?  I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Christmas for All Ages

Just as Christmas is a story for the ages, I’ve noticed that the season we have named for Christ’s birth has yielded stories for all ages.  This year, I want to share the six latest Christmas books I have found, some of them Christian and others secular, but all beautiful and special in their own ways.

Christmas in the Barn

Christmas in the Barn / Margaret Wise Brown (illustrated by Anna Dewdney)—Brown takes liberties with the original story as she turns it into lyrical poetry, but I found the poetry simple and sweet.  This book would make a good read-aloud.  I think little children will enjoy Brown’s rendition of the story and the quirky animals in Dewdney’s oil illustrations.

The Birds' Christmas Carol

The Birds’ Christmas Carol / Kate Douglas Wiggin—This Christmas story has little to do with actual birds, which is what I went in expecting, most likely because of the cardinals and greenery on the paperback edition my family owns.  Instead, the story is about a little girl who is born on Christmastime and her family.  The Birds’ Christmas Carol is very touching and reminds me of Angel Unaware by Dale Evans Rogers.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street / Karina Yan Glaser—Christmas is only days away, but the Vanderbeekers are more focused on winning over their landlord so they can stay in their townhouse than anticipating Christmas gifts and surprises.  This is a fun children’s novel in the vein of All-of-a-Kind Family books, but with a modern setting.  At first, the book seems like an unconvincing imitation of Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays or similar series.  But as the story progresses, Yan Glaser finds her own voice and characters, and the book establishes its own place in children’s literature.

Christmas Fairy Tales

Christmas Fairy Tales / Selected by Neil Philip (illustrated by Isabelle Brent)—These twelve Christmas tales include new renditions of popular stories like “The Nutcracker” as well as a few I had never encountered before.  Overall, I liked the selection and retellings.  Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Last Dream of the Old Oak” is especially beautiful, both in its illustrations and content.  (Note: The featured image for this article is one of Isabelle Brent’s illustrations.  Her artwork is beautiful and perfect for a collection of fairy tales with its delicate colors and style.)

The Mitford Snowmen and Esther’s Gift by Jan Karon—For fans of Mitford, these two Christmas short stories are sweet and mix the spirit of Christmas and Mitford in a cheerful combination.


Have you found any new Christmas books this year?  Or do you have any longtime favorites?  If so, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

A Children’s Christmas

As in previous years, I’ve compiled a list of the latest Christmas books I’ve discovered.  This year, they’re all children’s books, but I think even older audiences will find them fun.  Happy reading, and Merry Christmas!

Christmas TapestryPatricia Polacco’s Christmas Tapestry is a touching story that highlights the wonders of God’s designs as he uses people, places, and events to bring about his will.

On Christmas EveOn Christmas Eve by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Nancy Edwards Calder is a beautiful word picture, even though it isn’t strictly speaking a poem.  Brown details a brief scene on Christmas Eve as curious children tiptoe through their house.  Her descriptions are well-chosen and breathe life into the scene, and in this book, the words enhance the story even more than the pictures.

The Christmas StoryAn unusual type of picture book, The Christmas Story by Robert Sabuda contains some amazing pop-ups accompanying paraphrased Nativity passages (see the featured image of this post for an example of one of the illustrations).

Stopping by WoodsRobert Frost’s famous winter poem comes to life with Susan Jeffers’ lovely illustrations in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  While some people might argue that pictures are superfluous because of the descriptive nature of poetry, I think artwork like Susan Jeffers’ in this picture book enhances the poem and offers a new viewpoint on how one might imagine the scenes the poem portrays.

A Northern Nativity

In A Northern Nativity by William Kurelek, 12-year-old William dreams of what it would be like if the Holy Family came here and now (in the 1930s).  Would people recognize Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and if so, would strangers welcome them or refuse to help them?  By placing the Holy Family in unexpected contexts across North America, Kurelek teaches his audience about Christ and the Bible.  He also reminds readers of the far-reaching extent of Christmas and the good news it proclaims to all people of every race in every time and place.

Christmas Stories

Christmas has inspired many traditions, stories, and poems which fill the season with delight – the best of which point to the original tale from Bethlehem.  The following are three lovely books that I hope my readers will find time to enjoy this December.  Above all, I recommend reading Luke 2:1-20 and the Scripture passages found in Handel’s Messiah.

An Illustrated PoemThe Night Before Christmas

I have read many of Jan Brett’s Christmas books, but only this year did I discover her illustrated version of Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.”  Brett’s illustrations suit this famous Christmas poem.  The pictures are full of warm, cheery colors and funny human and animal characters.  I also like how there is a second little story playing out in the pictures in the margins.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan ToomeyA Picture Book

Despite its uninviting title, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P. J. Lynch is one of the best picture books I have ever read.  The writing style, story, and illustrations are splendid.  I especially love the onomatopoeia and parallelism that Susan Wojciechowski uses.

 

A Short Story

A Christmas Carol

Other than The Muppet Christmas Carol, I have never liked a movie version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and until this year, movies were all the experience I had with the story.  Then in February, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and illustrated by P. J. Lynch.

Pervading the story A Christmas Carol is an eeriness uncommon in Christmas stories.  But despite its ghosts, somber spirits, and icy-hearted main character, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a beautiful tale of character change.

Confronted with a future of death and despair by the ghost of his former business partner Jack Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge fears he will never have a chance to change his life.  Is it already too late?  If so, why did he receive a warning?  Full of desperate hope, Scrooge travels with three spirits, remembering his past, seeing his present, and passing through what could be his own future.  Each story points Scrooge to new resolutions of personal change.  With the 20-20 vision of hindsight, he views his past mistakes regretfully, understanding better what he should have been, but failed to be.  The stories from the present show him the kind people he has mistreated and turned against himself – yet another reminder of his failures.  The future reveals that Scrooge’s current path will lead to ignominy and lonely death.  What kind of man will Scrooge be remembered as?  Or will he even be remembered?

PJLynchThough there are no open references to Christianity and Dickens held a works-righteousness worldview which plays out in Scrooge’s character changes, hints of the true meaning of Christmas and the Gospel shine through.  The Ghost of Christmas Present demonstrates Christ-like attributes of mercy and the spread of goodwill.  The possibility of heart-change echoes the message of the Gospel and reminds Christians of how wonderful, undeserved, and inexplicable God’s abundant mercy is.  Even though Scrooge “saves” himself by good works and generosity, he would never have changed without outside forces acting upon him, and this is a good reminder of man’s lost condition without God’s condescending grace.  Also, the fact that Scrooge is spared when many, like Marley, were not emphasizes the truth of unconditional election.  Nothing requires God to save all men, or even any men.  But in his inscrutable love, God has chosen to spare some.

With its very own title, A Christmas Carol reveals what this story truly is:  “a song of praise or joy, especially for Christmas” (“Carol” 241).  Dickens is reminding the world of the joy, hope, and redemption that Christ brought at Christmas for sinners that are just as selfish, miserly, and lost as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Illustrator Biography

Patrick James Lynch was born in 1962 and has worked as an illustrator of children’s books since leaving Brighton College of Art in England in 1984.  He has won many awards including the Mother Goose Award, the Christopher Medal three times, and the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal on two occasions, first for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, and again for When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest (“Bio”).  The Gift of the MagiIn recent years Lynch has designed posters and sets of stamps in addition to illustrating books.  P. J. Lynch has lectured on his own work and on art and illustration at the National Gallery of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland and at the National Print Museum of Ireland, as well as at numerous conferences and colleges across the U.S.  He illustrated beautiful versions of A Christmas Carol and The Gift of the Magi in 2006 and 2008 respectively.  With his gorgeous and richly-detailed paintings, P. J. Lynch makes picture books a delight to read.  P. J. Lynch lives in Dublin with his wife and their three young children (“Bio”).

Works Cited

“Bio.”  PJ Lynch.  2011.  14 Nov. 2015 <www.pjlynchgallery.com/biog.html>

“Carol.”  The American Heritage Dictionary.  2nd ed.  1985.

Celebrate Christmas

The sun shone brightly outside as my grandmother and I browsed the shelves of a little downtown shop.  Suddenly, Grandmama stopped and plucked a paperback book from the top of a shelf.  I leaned over her shoulder and glimpsed an image of a dog and the title – Poor Jack – just as Grandmama opened the book.  The story was a Christmas one.  Much to my surprise, Poor Jack was set in a small town in Louisiana, and was written by a local author, and illustrated by a local artist.  In a minute, we had finished reading the book.  Grandmama and I smiled, and as she set the book back onto the shelf, I tucked it away in my mind for the future.  Seven months later, I was again shopping downtown, this time with Mama, Grandmama, and my sister.  I spied a copy of Poor Jack in an antique shop and showed it to Mama, saying, “See, this is the book I told you about.”  After flipping through the book, Mama decided it would be a good addition to our family’s ever-growing collection of Christmas books.

Collecting Christmas books is an endless task.  There are so many rich or fun or special stories involving this holiday. Here is a list of some of my favorite Christmas books.  For more Christmas literature recommendations, click here.

Devotionals for Christmastime

A Classic Nativity Devotional / compiled by James Stuart Bell

As its subtitle explains, this book is “a collection of timeless Christmas readings.” It includes poems, hymns, and adaptations of sermons by Augustine, Martin Luther, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Milton, and others.

A Classic Nativity Devotional

 

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent / John Piper

An excellent book to read during advent.  With each short chapter, John Piper reminds readers of what Christmas truly means to the world and to the Church.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy

A Graphic Novel

Herobear and the Kid / Mike Kunkel

Herobear and the Kid

Picture Books

The Story of Christmas / from the King James Bible (illustrated by Pamela Dalton)

This book melds the two Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke into one continuous narrative.  Pamela Dalton’s cut-paper artwork creates a beautiful accompaniment to the story of Christ’s birth.

The Story of Christmas

Christmas Is Here / from the King James Bible (illustrated by Lauren Castillo)

A fun book perfect for children with large, cheery illustrations.  It includes a portion of the Matthew Nativity narrative, but uses more pictures than words to tell the story.

Christmas Is Here

Christmas in the Country / Cynthia Rylant (illustrated by Diane Goode)

The story of a little girl’s Christmas with her grandparents in the country.

Christmas in the Country

The Twelve Days of Christmas / illustrated by Gennady Spirin

Gennady Spirin combines the well-known words of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with rich illustrations.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Poor Jack / George Rhymes (illustrated by Ellen G. Howell)

Meet Jack, a dog who hates fireworks, and who lives in a city that loves them. With humorous illustrations and a story in poem form, this is a great book for children.

Poor Jack

The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler’s Sons / Ruth Sawyer (illustrated by Barbara Cooney)

A delightful story involving a legendary but mischievous goblin king who visits the three sons of a poor cobbler one Christmas Eve.

The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler's Sons

The Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-ween / Ruth Sawyer (illustrated by Max Grafe)

This magical tale, set in Ireland around the time of the Irish Potato Famine, tells the story of Oona Hegarty, a woman whose lifelong dream is to have a home of her own.

The Wee Christmas Cabin

A Short Story

The Gift of the Magi / O. Henry (illustrated by P. J. Lynch)

Combine beautiful illustrations with a beautiful story, and this is what results.  P. J. Lynch’s artwork brings O. Henry’s spectacular story to life.

The Gift of the Magi

Books for Christmas

Christmas is a special time of year that calls for special kinds of books.  I have too many book recommendations for this season to be able to write individual reviews for them, so I have created a list of some of my favorite Christmas and wintertime books to read.  Most of these books are picture books, which makes them great read-alouds.  Some of these books are favorites in my family, but others are ones that I recently discovered.  Of course, above all of these books, I recommend reading Luke 2:1-20.  I hope that you will enjoy reading these books during the Christmas and winter season.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas – Spiritual

1. The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader by Donna W. Payne and Fran Zenzo

Handel's Messiah Family Advent Reader

2. Christmas Spirit by George Grant and Gregory Wilbur

Christmas Spirit

3. Take Joy by Tasha Tudor

Take Joy

4. Papa Panov’s Special Day by Ruben Saillens

Papa Panov's Special Day

5. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

  1. One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham

One Wintry Night

  1. I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge

I Saw Three Ships 002

Christmas – Not Necessarily Spiritual

8. The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by Jan Brett

The Twelve Days of Christmas

9. Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett

Trouble with Trolls

10. Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett

Christmas Trolls

11. The Hat by Jan Brett

The Hat

12. Cranberry Christmas by Wende and Harry Devlin

Cranberry Christmas

13. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers

The Nutcracker

14. Winter Story by Jill Barklem

Winter Story