Some of you celebrate throughout the twelve days of Christmas which only begin on December 25th and continue through the 5th of January.
From Saint Stephen’s Day to Three Kings’ Day, these books cover celebrations in keeping with the traditional church calendar.
Good King Wenceslas, by John M. Neale, illustrated by Tim Ladwig
published in 2005 by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers
I was in Prague last spring — truly one of the most beautiful cities on earth — and saw the mighty statue of Wenceslas as well as his tomb in the Saint Wenceslas Chapel. Suddenly, he seemed so much more real than all the thousand times I’ve sung his carol.
Wenceslas was a tenth-century king raised by his grandmother to be a generous, benevolent ruler. He is known for his fairness and his charity. Centuries after Wenceslas’ death, an Anglican priest named John Mason Neale wrote a poem in his honor which was put to the music of a 16th-century carol.
You’ve heard it and sung it many times, but reading the lyrics in the context of Tim Ladwig’s colorful paintings will make the somewhat archaic wording much more understandable. His focus on the young page nicely draws children into the story. Wenceslas makes his trek through the fierce winter to a poor man’s abode on the Feast of Stephen, which is celebrated generally on December 26.
That makes the day after Christmas a great occasion to consider what our own charity might look like. Ages 3 and up. Historical Note and music for the carol are included.
The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
published in 2014 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers
A charming pair of young sweethearts lead the way in this ebullient, multicultural, thoroughly happy rendition of the old song.
Our dapper True Love chooses lots of feathered friends to begin his parade of presents. Ridiculous hens and geese with spectacularly-varying plumage strut and flee and waddle across the pages.
It’s when we start collecting the milkers, dancers, leapers, pipers, and drummers that things really ramp up, though.
Here is a splendid cast from the nations. Women in kimonos, dirndls, ornate headpieces, and expansive African headties. Men in boubous, turbans, colonial wigs, and ostrich-feather headdresses. Bagpipes and panpipes. Snare drums and djembes.
An explosion of culture and color! Plus all 78 gifts tucked into the final group portrait! If that doesn’t make you smile…well, you should go back to bed.
Music is included, as well as a lengthy, interesting explanation of the history and traditions of the twelve days of Christmas. Fabulous new book for ages 2 and up.
We Three Kings, a carol by John H. Hopkins, Jr., illustrated by Gennady Spirin
published in 2007 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Written in 1857 by an American clergyman, We Three Kings might conjure up visions of Christmas pageants with children draped in their fathers’ bathrobes trudging their way to the manger.
Here are the three kings in full Oriental splendor as illustrated by brilliant artist Gennady Spirin. Lavish watercolor and colored pencil scenes capture the regalia of kings in flowing robes, ornate horse trappings, elephant howdahs, and camel saddles. Gold seems to drip from the hems of all in the retinue as they parade across desert sands. Angels and magi adore the baby in Renaissance-style glory.
Spirin is a highly-decorated, Russian-born artist whose illustration work often reflects Medieval and Renaissance style, an unusual voice among children’s illustrators. Lyrics and music are included in this book, ready to be sung and enjoyed with children ages 2 or 3 and up.
Frederico and the Magi’s Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story, written and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
published in 2004 by Alfred A. Knopf
Roses and jasmine bloom and barefooted children squeal with delight. Candy-colored balloons soar and firecrackers snap. It’s Christmas in the southern hemisphere.
Pablo and Mariana are dancing in anticipation, because today is Three King’s Day, when the splendid magi ride through the night sky bringing gifts to good boys and girls. They’re gathering hay and water for the camels, placing their shoes carefully on the windowsill, imagining what the wise men might bring.
But 4-year-old Frederico is glum. He’s been a bit naughty and is nervous that his shoes will remain empty tonight. Even after Father helps him set things to rights, Frederico lies awake, worrying. So in the middle of the night, he tiptoes out, and beneath a sky studded with millions of stars, Frederico has quite an amazing experience.
Beatriz Vidal based this magical story on her childhood in Argentina. Her jewel-toned paintings saturate the pages in color. Bright, tropical flowers, jolly striped blankets, a brilliant night sky, and an incredibly-colorful caravan of exotic kings make this a wonderfully-attractive book for children.
Included are an Author’s Note about the Latin American traditions surrounding the Feast of the Three Kings and a glossary for the Spanish words sprinkled into the narrative. Ages 3 and up.
The Secret Stars, by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Felipe Davalos
published in 1998 by Marshall Cavendish
This is another account of the Night of the Three Kings, set in New Mexico, written in free verse.
Grandmother lives in a snug house with her two sweet grandchildren, Pepe and Sila.
On this night, an ice storm sweeps over the hillsides. Icy pellets drum on their tin roof, and the garden becomes a magical landscape of ice-coated reeds and glittering frost.
Inside, the three of them burrow in warm quilts, the children snuggled up to grandmother as though she were their private hearth. Pepe and Sila are worried that this weather will keep those kings away, but grandmother assures them that those kings have secret pathways. The best thing to do is go to sleep and dream, because the Three Kings will never come to a wakeful child.
Mysteriously, the three of them dream together, and in their dream they travel, floating through the night sky, spying on garden and pond below, chicken coop and barn, and all the animals tucked here and there.
When they wake up, lo and behold, the hay box is filled with gifts. Such a happy, pretty morning!
The acrylic illustrations here are bold, warmed by the colors of Mexican weavings — maize and chocolate, cayenne and turquoise, The remarkably handsome faces of grandmother and the children are my favorite elements, but the architectural details, landscapes, furnishings, and even the magnificent rooster, are all strikingly beautiful.
A sweet story of family and tradition and hope, for ages 2 and up.