a list of…five favorite Christmas stories

Every year, one of the delights of the Christmas season in our household is hauling out the boxload of Christmas-and-Winter picture books which are tucked away for the other 11 months of the year.  Pulling out these beloved favorites, and seeing their familiar faces, brings a happy warmth inside like a mug of peppermint cocoa!  For the next few Mondays, I’ll be listing a few of our favorite holiday stories.  These five are some of the best-of-the-best:

Angel Mae, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

Winner of the  Swanson’s-Very-Favorite-Christmas-Story award.  Not surprisingly, it’s by Shirley Hughes. 

Mae Morgan is a sturdy, brown-pigtails-and-overalls, five-year-old.  She lives with her older brother, Frankie, and her mum and dad on Trotter Street.  Mae’s mum is expecting the newest Morgan baby to be born around Christmastime and there are lots of preparations going on in the Morgan household.  As they wait,  Dad and Frankie are rooting for a boy, while Mae is very much hoping it’s a girl.

Meanwhile, the children at school are getting in the Christmas spirit, too, cutting out paper robins (this is England), and getting ready to put on the play of Jesus’ birth for their parents.  Mae is not pleased with any of the parts her teacher suggests she take in the play, until she comes up with the angel Gabriel — a very special angel.  Mae likes the sound of that, telling everyone that she is going to be the Angel Gave-you!  However, when the night of the play arrives, the Morgan baby arrives, too, so mum and dad are not able to see the pageant.  How disappointing!

All is not lost, however,  Several delightful and surprising twists and turns, including one dramatic moment in the Christmas play,  bring the story to a happy conclusion, and at last we get to meet the newborn baby! Is it a boy or a girl?  You’ll have to read to find out.  Mae is an engaging, true-to-life little girl and her story and family shine with  love and humor.  This story is a gem!

Christmas Eve at the Mellops’, written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer

Have you ever met the Mellops?  They are an adventuresome family of pigs — Father, Mother, and their four sons, Casimir, Isidor, Felix and Ferdinand.  Quite a mouthful of Mellops.

In this episode, each of the boys secretly sets out to surprise the family by bringing home a Christmas tree;  the unhappy result is a houseful of trees… and tears.  Father wisely suggests that the boys bring their trees to some needy orphans.  This seems to be a great idea.  But…the orphanage already has an enormous tree, surrounded by presents and singing children.  The Mellop brothers visit the hospital, the jail, and the soldiers in their barracks, eagerly looking for someone who will appreciate their trees…but everyone is already taken care of.  The Mellop brothers are simply drooping with sadness.

Just when they have given up hope,  they discover a weeping little pig, who introduces them to an entire apartment house full of folks in desperate situations.  Not only are the brothers able to find homes for their trees, they are able to pitch in and help in many other ways, bringing Christmas to every room in the house.  Which makes them very, very happy.

Back home, the Mellops celebrate their own Christmas, topping it off with Mother’s beautiful plum cream cake, a magnificent concoction that makes its way into every Mellop story, I believe.  Charming story brimming with the milk of human kindness. 

The Dolls’ Christmas, written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Ahhh.  This book is a favorite with my three daughters.

Two adorable little girls, Laura and Efner, have a fantastic, ginormous dollhouse, named Pumpkin House.  It’s so tall, Efner has to stand on a chair to reach the second floor!  And…it has a conservatory with a live turtle, a complete set of china, and even electric lights.  Sigh.

The two dolls who live in this grand place are Sethany Ann and Nicey Melinda — generations-old and still loved.  Every year, these two dolls send their doll-friends invitations by Sparrow Post to a lovely Christmas dinner party and after-dinner marionette show.  This story is a peek at all the goings-on at this festive season — cutting and decorating the dolls’ Christmas tree, baking the tiny pies and biscuits, dressing in finery for dinner, greeting guests, and watching the dramatic play, “Little Red Riding Hood.”  It is impossible to travel through this story without becoming inspired for some make-believe activity yourself!  Our household has definitely had its share of dolls’ trees, Sparrow Post-boxes and miniature Christmas stockings!

Tasha Tudor wrote this book from her memories of the quaint traditions she maintained all through her children’s lives, including her elaborate dollhouses.  Her imagination and creativity in both creating the charming, antique world she lived in, and rendering the detailed, delicate watercolors that bring it to life, are Tasha’s trademark.  Old-fashioned charm.

Peter Spier’s Christmas!, a wordless book, illustrated by Peter Spier

With his uncanny ability to view a subject from many, many viewpoints, Peter Spier depicts one family’s busy Christmas season.  Page after page after page of colorful, detailed pictures show us familiar scenes, such as shopping, caroling, and eating Christmas dinner; as well as fascinating glimpses of aspects more often overlooked — the Christmas tree farm after the harvest, the snowy stillness of Christmas morning before sunrise, the heaping piles of dirty dishes after Christmas dinner, and the vacuuming-up of pine needles after the tree is taken out.   Dozens and dozens of vignettes absorb our attention in these pages.

The lively, cheerful pictures are so packed with details, you can look at this book over and over again and still miss the little guy oops-ing over a shattered ornament, the cat swiping cookies, the ornaments still hiding in the tree that’s been hauled out for the trash collectors.  We love Peter Spier’s artwork, and this book is another wonderful presentation of ideas which clearly, joyfully tell a vivid story without words.

Gingerbread Baby, story and pictures by Jan Brett

Stir together Jan Brett’s signature nordic-style artwork, a sweet twist on a familiar nursery tale, and a downright delectable surprise ending, and you have the ingredients for a dandy picture book.  This one has made the rounds with my baby-sitting daughters, charming neighborhood children right and left!

You know the story of the gingerbread man.  Well, Matti’s mother sets out to bake  a lovely, golden gingerbread boy in her gorgeous wood-burning stove, but…Matti simply can’t resist peeking in the oven before the cookie is quite done baking, and out jumps a gingerbread baby

Well.  He may be just a baby, but he’s got plenty of spice!  This little raisin-eyed, peppermint-buttoned imp leads Matti’s parents, the tabby cat, the basset hound, several Swiss goats, numerous villagers, and of course, a fox, on a merry romp through the snowy, forested countryside until…suddenly and unexpectedly…that gingerbread baby disappers from view!  All that remains is some crispy golden crumbs on the snow!

What happened?!  And what has Matti been up to the during this whole crazy chase?  The answer is:  Matti has been exceedingly clever and you will be excessively pleased!  A visually stunning treat of a story that young children will ask for again and again.