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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Long, candlelit evenings and no school in the morning.
Cocoa topped with whipped cream and peppermint candy flakes.
New Christmas jammies.
And a good book.

Sounds like a pretty great way to revel in some hygge during these darkest days of the year, right?
If you’re looking for a read-aloud perfect for that kind of holiday season, consider these old and new titles. Starting with books for the youngest listeners…

Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus, written by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia
first American edition 2010 by Kane Miller Books; 109 illustrated pages

One of my favorite little gals, Anna Hibiscus, travels from her home in Nigeria to spend the Christmas holidays with her Canadian grandmother.

It’s their first meeting and Anna’s first snow. In fact, there’s newness everywhere Anna turns, from Grandma’s quiet household instead of her boisterous, extended family, to dogs that live inside houses and chocolate cereal for breakfast!

Although Anna does miss home, she quickly feels happy and comfy in this new, cold land and has quite a merry time on her Canadian holiday. It’s a joyous read. Ages 4 and up.

A Toad for Tuesday, written by Russell E. Erickson, illustrated by Lawrence Di Fiori
originally published in 1974 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard; 64 pages

I adore Warton and Morton, two very likeable toad brothers who keep house together in a fabulous old series of early chapter books.

Morton makes an especially delicious Beetle Brittle. Warton, the more adventurous of the two, determines to deliver a batch to Aunt Toolia despite the fact that it’s mid-winter. He bundles up, straps on a pair of spiffy, homemade skis, and sets out.

Hygge, toad-style.

Alas! Shortly he is captured by a hungry owl! The owl decides not to consume Warton immediately, saving him until Tuesday, his birthday, for a special treat. That’s five days away. Will Warton’s pleasant conversation and cups of tea soften the heart of this grumpy owl? 

An ace story, plum full of high adventure, great suspense, plus lots of little mice on skis! Di Fiori’s drawings are brilliant. 4 and up.

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
originally published in 1971 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers; this edition, 2017; 48 pages

Dear Emmet Otter and his mom eke out a meager living in their Froghollow home by taking in washing and doing the odd job here and there. Emmet is young, but he shoulders a bushel load of responsibility with grace and determination, and the two of them lighten many an evening for one another by joining their voices in song.

Just now, times are even leaner than usual causing both Emmet and Mrs. Otter to daydream of having money enough to give the other a splendid Christmas gift, even just once. When a talent show is announced with a sweet prize for best in show, both of them risk everything to make that dream come true.

Russell Hoban was an enormously gifted children’s author. Here he presents an impoverished family with dignity, hope, and love. Lillian’s charming artwork enlivens the entire community of woodland personalities. 5 and up.

The True Gift: A Christmas Story, written by Patricia MacLahlan, illustrated by Brian Floca
published in 2009 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 82 pages

Lily and Liam are always eager to head to their grandparents’ farm to spend the Christmas holidays. This year, however, Liam is immediately distracted by the apparent loneliness of Grandpa’s solitary cow. The rest of the herd is gone. Even the donkey’s been sold. For Liam, it’s an untenable situation. He determines in his own, quiet way, to remedy White Cow’s sorry state.

Patricia MacLachlan spins this unusual plot masterfully, incorporating community and a lovely spirit of giving into this quiet, tenderhearted story. 5 and up.

The Story of Holly and Ivy, written by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
originally published in 1958; this edition 2006 by Viking Books for Young Readers; 32 pages

Rumer Godden’s story of the Christmas wishes of one little orphan girl, one china doll, and one childless couple, has been in print for almost 60 years now. It’s an old-fashioned story full of elegant dolls, telegraphs, brown paper parcels and hot chestnut vendors.  I have to say it also shows its age with some cringeworthy comments from Mr. Jones, who responds to his wife’s wistful feelings by chiding, “Don’t be daft,” then leaves the house for his overnight beat calling, “Have a good breakfast waiting for me” in the morning. Yeesh. 

Nevertheless, Rumer Godden’s heart for the lonely, her understanding of the longing to belong, are apparent and this poignant story will touch the hearts of children able to accommodate the vintage atmosphere and abundance of dolls. One villainous toy owl, plus Barbara Cooney’s precise artwork with its solemn, colonial New England sense, help avoid treacly sentimentality. Although it’s only 32 pages, the text is much longer than an average picture book and would easily break up into more than one sitting. 5 and up.

The Family Under the Bridge, written by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Garth Williams
first published in 1958; this edition 1989 by Harper Collins; 128 pages

I unabashedly love this book!

Unattached, responsible for no one but himself, Armand is a happy, old, tramp who knows his way around Paris, enjoys many friends, and glories in his carefree life. He is not on the lookout for a settled home, but for adventure. Above all, Armand wants to avoid children. Starlings, he calls them. “Witless, twittering, little pests.” His dear friend, Mireli, accuses him of being afraid of children. “You’re afraid the sly little things will steal your heart if they find out you have one,” she says.

So, on this cold December day, when Armand meets three, ragged children tucked under a bridge he considers his own, he feels decidedly grumpy. He wants nothing to do with them. Yet the Calcet children aren’t afraid of Armand’s gruff exterior. Before Armand knows what’s happening, these children have indeed wormed their way into his heart, and Armand is working overtime to help make their Christmas wishes — for a home of their own — come true.

This 1959 Newbery Honor title spills over with humor and heart and as a bonus, it’s illustrated by the one-and-only Garth Williams. 6 and up.

The Lion in the Box, written and illustrated by Marguerite De Angeli
originally published in 1975 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers; out of print; 63 pages

Sadly, this sweet story is out of print but if you live near a large library you may be able to find it.

Mama and her young family live in New York City at the turn of the century where she struggles to earn a living plus raise her five children. She relies greatly on her oldest three daughters to look after the others, and the whole crew is well trained in household chores. Even so, as a single mother she works tremendous hours cleaning offices, then setting the bread dough to rise or the soup bones to simmer after returning home at midnight.

It’s a happy household despite the deprivations. Still, little Lili longs for a real doll rather than her pinned-together tea towel, and wishes Ben had an actual toy train instead of the pickle bottle he chug-chugs around the floor. In her wildest dreams, though, she could never have imagined the strange surprises in store for them this Christmas, especially the huge wooden crate delivered to their door in the night causing such a commotion and fright.

Based on a true story told to the author by the real Lili, this story shines with contentment and a loving family, with the mutual support of immigrant neighbors and the incredible outpouring of generosity by one woman towards another. Illustrated with Marguerite De Angeli’s delicate pencil drawings. An afterword tells about the real Lilli. 6 and up.

Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift, written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2017 by Disney Hyperion; 176 pages

Mona the mouse works as a maid at the Heartwood Hotel. It’s situated in a great tree with root floor space for moles and voles, branch floors for chipmunks, twig floors for birds, and a kindly badger as innkeeper. Mona is quite happy in her charming community of woodland friends and ready for a bit of ease while most hotel guests settle in to their hibernation suites.

The winter is anything but peaceful and dreamy however! One petulant rabbit duchess arrives, one bumbling bear threatens their safety, and another hair-raising difficulty arises to test the pluck of Mona and the Heartwood staff.

These stories are delightful. They’ve got a bit of a tiny-animal-Downton-Abbey feel with all the gossip and goings-on among the hotel staff, lots of charming descriptions of acorn soufflés and moss carpets, and darling illustrations. This is the second of a series. 7 and up.

Odd and the Frost Giants, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
published in 2016 by Harper; 120 pages

This is the epic story of Odd, a young boy in medieval Norway who is fairly down on his luck. With his father drowned during a Viking raid, his leg lamed via a logging accident, his mom remarried to a lazy lout, and a long sluggish winter ahead cooped up with cranky villagers, Odd determines to hike into the forest and live independently in his father’s old hunting lodge.

Sooner than you can say Thor’s Hammer, though, Odd encounters a curious threesome — a fox, an eagle, and a bear. These three are definitely more than meets the eye. In fact, they’re Norse gods, transformed and deposed by some cunning, evil, Frost Giants. Journey with Odd and his companions to Asgard to right the wrongs in this heroic tale brimming with cups of mead and tricksters tricked, frozen landscapes, and the relentless pursuit of Beauty. Neil Gaiman spins his saga magnificently while Riddell’s ink drawings are enchanted and mythical. Ages 7 and up.

The Thirteen Days of Christmas, written by Jenny Overton, illustrated by Shirley Hughes
originally published in 1972; reissued in 2013 by Oxford University Press; 154 pages

It’s Christmas-time in Tudor England. Annaple, eldest in the Kitson household, has burned one too many dinners to please her kindly father and harassed siblings. They’d like to see her married off and done with their cooking detail. Francis, a wealthy nobleman is besotted with Annaple, but she won’t have him, preferring her romantic notions of country living. It’s up to Annaple’s siblings to coach Francis in the art of wooing. “Do something fanciful,” they encourage him.

And so he begins with a miniature pear tree, occupied by one plump partridge, delivered Christmas Day. Annaple is charmed. The next day, an ornate, gilded cage housing two cooing turtledoves arrives and, surprisingly, another potted pear with partridge. As Francis’ gifts become more elaborate and more embarrassingly conspicuous, Annaple’s brothers and sister fear their plan has gone seriously awry!

Such a funny story that also incorporates real and fanciful traditions for keeping each of the twelve days. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes in black ink drawings. Ages 8 and up.

Winter Holiday, written and illustrated by Arthur Ransome
originally published in 1933; paperback 2014 by David Govine; 336 pages

Winter Holiday is the fourth book and one of my favorites in the Swallows and Amazons series. It does help if you’ve met the Walker and Blackett kids in the first book, but you can read this one as a stand-alone and fare decently well I think.

It’s winter school break and these great friends are together again in the Lake District, hoping against hope for an unusually great freeze to ice over the whole lake and accommodate their epic Arctic expedition plans. Stir in a couple of new friends, sneaky adventures by moonlight, Nansen’s Fram, astronomers, mumps, and ice sledges racing across the lake at untenable speeds…and you’ve got the makings for excellent adventures, near disaster, and a fabulous, lengthy read-aloud for ages 7 and up.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser
published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 293 pages

The Vanderbeeker family — Mom, Dad, five children, three pets — fill their Harlem brownstone with liveliness and love. So much liveliness! Too much, it appears, for their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord living on the top floor has given notice he’ll not be renewing their lease. They’ve got to move out, and right at Christmastime, too.

Unable to fathom living in a different home and neighborhood, the five children set out to change their landlord’s mind. Kill him with kindness, so to speak. Some of their ideas are good, some definitely not-so-good, yet as the few days before Christmas tick by, none of their plans go as intended. Instead, they only make things worse. What is curdling the heart of that landlord anyway? And how can they win him over?

This is a contemporary story with a lovely glow of old-fashioned, big family, warmth. In addition, it features a biracial family, a needed bit of diversity in the canon of children’s Christmas literature. If you like the Penderwicks, or even some older books like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family series, you’ll love this, with at least one sequel promised. Ages 9 and up.

The Coat Hanger Christmas Tree, written by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Susanne Suba
published in 1973 by Atheneum; 75 pages

Here’s another out-of-print title and quite an unusual story. It takes place in Brooklyn when ethnic neighborhoods each held their distinct personalities, and features a young girl named Marianna, her older brother, and her deeply unhappy mother.

If that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a Christmas story, you’re right — this is not your average Christmas story. Marianna’s mom doesn’t really permit Christmas to enter their home. No Christmas trees, is the rule. But Marianna longs for a tree and this story witnesses her determination to change her mother’s mind.

Eleanor Estes was a wondrous story teller. Her books about the Pye family and the Moffats glow with warmth. This story, on the other hand, allows her to explore the longings of children in more difficult circumstances, the bonds they forge with one another, and the hidden wounds some parents carry. It’s thought-provoking and deeply satisfying for the right audience. You can read more in my longer review here. Ages 9 and up.

The Greenglass House, written by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars
published in 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers; 400 pages

Finally, this longest read, a mystery adventure with a gothic twist that won some hefty awards last year.

It’s Christmas break. Milo and his parents sigh with happy relief as they look forward to a period of no guests in their rambling old Greenglass Inn. Perched as it is atop a precipitous cliff, just getting there in the midst of the current blizzard is nigh unto impossible, so they believe, until one by one an odd assortment of folk land on their doorstep fairly bursting with dusky secrets and… there goes Christmas.

Adding to Milo’s discomfiture at giving up his holiday is a mysterious map one of the guests seems to have dropped which Milo would very much like to puzzle out. And a series of thefts. And the cook’s daughter who annoyingly shows up and insists Milo join her in a role-playing game to solve these baffling events — not Milo’s normal cup of tea. And the Inn’s history as a haven for smugglers. And before you know it, we’re entangled in a fantastical, dangerous, adventure!

Running throughout the story is Milo’s unease as an adopted child who dearly loves his parents but yearns to know his birth parents as well. As you can tell, while this book is set during Christmas, it has very little actually to do with Christmas. Nonetheless, for older listeners who may want to enter a more sinister world together by candlelight, it could make a good, lengthy holiday read-aloud. Ages 10 and up.

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The first order of business today is awarding the give-aways of that splendid nature journal and those jazzy magazines. As always with these giveaways, I wish I could give one to everyone who enters! However…

Charity — congrats on winning the Small Adventures Journal!
Kristie Hammond — congrats on winning the Anorak and Dot issues!

Please e-mail me at jillswanson61@gmail.com with your shipping addresses and I’ll get those right out to you in time for gifting 🙂

Today I have some new Christmas stories to brighten your holiday bedtime reading stack. There are every so many more titles in the Subject Index under Holidays: Christmas so look there to find lots  of favorites.

The Little Reindeer, written and illustrated by Nicola Killen
first published in Great Britain in 2016; first American edition 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This simple, dear story is about a little girl named Ollie who awakens on Christmas Eve to a jingling sound. Out into the frosty night she goes, speeding on her sled to find the source of that ringing.

Turns out it’s a scarlet collar trimmed with silver bells, caught on a bare branch! Ollie returns it to its antlered owner, and in exchange receives a breathtaking ride back home! Beautiful, tender, gray-scale illustrations feature smidgeons of crimson, shimmers of silver, and enticing cut-outs to make the whole story feel magical. Ages 18 months and older.

The Princess and the Christmas Rescue, written by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
first published in the UK in 2016; first US edition 2017 by Nosy Crow

Princess Eliza lives in an ethereal palace, blush pink, festooned with crystal icicles. What she loves most is inventing, spending her days tinkering all by herself. This, her royal parents decree, is not what princesses do. Too dusty. Too lonely. Time for her to play normal games with other children.

In her quest for neighborhood friends, Eliza comes upon a small house overflowing with chaotically-busy elves. It seems their boss has the flu and they’re swamped with toy orders. Just the kind of problem Eliza’s schematic drawings are made for!

Vivacious rhyming, wonderfully appreciative of science-y girls, this is a bright blast of fun for ages 3 and up.

A Christmas for Bear, written by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

I do hope you know these two by now — Mouse and Bear. If so, your heart will skip a little happy beat to discover this new tale about two unlikely friends.

Christmas rolls around, and what to our surprise but Bear is feeling some Christmas spirit! Some, mind you. He’s particularly fixated on poems and Christmas pickles! Mouse, of course, is more interested in presents. Read this warm, funny story to discover how each enjoys a merry holiday. A treat for ages 3 and up.

Finding Christmas, written by Lezlie Evans, illustrated by Yee Von Chan
published in 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company

Hare, Squirrel, and Mouse are happy housemates. The air in their snug burrow is festive with tree-decorating and hazelnut cookie baking. There’s just a wee bit of shopping left before the celebrations can begin.

Suddenly, an emergency presents itself in the form of a swallow, sick, collapsed on a drift of snow, who needs tender nursing care to survive. Bit by bit, the gifts our friends secretly bought for one another are urgently needed to treat their ailing guest. These sacrifices prove to be the truest display of Christmas in this heartwarming story. Charming illustrations will captivate ages 2 to 3 and up.

The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story, written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2016 by Schwartz & Wade Books

A group of animal friends huddle atop Merry Woods Hill. It’s Christmas Eve, and they are terribly excited to spot Santa flying by on his sleigh. But as he whooshes past, one package tumbles out!

 The tag says it’s for the New Baby at the Farm. Delivering it will take some doing, and not all members of the party are happy about it. But generous hearts prevail, and in the end everyone happily gets a share of Christmas treats. Ages 3 and up.

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hot-cocoa

Cozying up with a mug of hot chocolate, a plate of festive cookies, and some holiday stories…that’s a recipe for happy memories. Here are five new choices for your stack of books:

The Christmas Boot, written by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers

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Award-winning artist Jerry Pinkney has richly-illustrated this magical Christmas tale. Open the book and be transported into a wintery wonderland, a heavily snow-laden forest, and an Old World mansion regally appointed for the holidays.

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Hannah Greyweather is an elderly peasant woman whose gnarled, chilblained hands bear witness to the hard life she lives out of her rustic log cabin.

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When she happens upon a large, jet-black, boot in the forest, fur trimmed, deliciously warm, her fortunes take a most surprising turn. Wishes start coming true with dizzifying amplitude!

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That boot belongs to someone else, though — a crimson-coated stranger who appears at her cabin door one cold night. Hannah is an honest and generous soul. What will happen when she has to give up the boot?

This is a lovely tale, cram full of Christmas spirit, that you will thoroughly enjoy reading again and again with children ages 3 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link: The Christmas Boot

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Walk This World at Christmastime, illustrated by Debbie Powell, written by Zanna Davidson and Mary Sebag-Montefiore
originally published in 2015; first U.S. edition 2016 by Big Picture Press, Candlewick

Christmas is a time of surprises, and this book packs oodles and oodles of surprises behind a myriad intriguing, tiny flaps.

We’re traveling around the world to see how people celebrate the season. Visit six continents, stopping in 32 countries, all vividly illustrated with so much punch, vivacity, and color. These pages are mesmerizing.

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There are doors and windows galore to open, each holding a small picture and a brief sentence telling something about the local celebrations. Peek inside one and learn that, “in Kerala, India, star lanterns are made from colorful decorative paper and hung on poles.”

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Or, in Nigeria, “the Christmas feast might include pounded yam, fried rice, jollof rice, and beef, goat, or lamb in a delicious stew.” Meet a Swedish tomte. Find out Santa’s postal code. Check out what’s for dessert in Australia.

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You can blitz through the whole book, or try parceling out the numbered flaps to use as an advent calendar. That sounds a bit tricksy to me, but…maybe you have incredibly patient children! Ages 4 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link: Walk this World at Christmastime

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Presents Through the Window, written and illustrated by Taro Gomi; English translation by Tadashi Yoshida
originally published in 1983 in Japan; first U.S. edition 2016 by Chronicle Books

Beloved Japanese illustrator Taro Gomi created this juicy treat over 30 years ago and it’s as fresh as ever! Just look at that contemporary design!

Santa has arrived in his helicopter. He’s dressed in cozy, electric pink with a darling white pompom on his cap and a bundle of goodies slung over his back. Santa zips from house to house, peeking through the windows to see who lives there so he can lob in the perfect gift. And we get to peek, too! Such fun.

Santa thinks he spies a zebra through this window…

Slight problem, though. Santa’s window-peering is not quite enough to see who really lives there. Thus his gifts are quite a jumble!

...but it's really three geese!

…but it’s really three geese!

Preschoolers funny bones will be merrily tickled by the astonishing mix-ups and everyone’s heart will be warmed by the happy solution. A delight for ages 2 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link: Presents Through the Window

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Gingerbread Christmas, written and illustrated by Jan Brett
published in 2016 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Any new Jan Brett book speaks for itself. This is the third of her gingerbread stories, all set in a picturesque Swiss mountain village. If you haven’t read the first one, Gingerbread Baby, which I reviewed here, I’d heartily recommend it.  You don’t have to read these stories in order, but I think those who have already met Matti and his mischievous gingerbread child in their first adventure will enjoy this a teensy bit more.

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As you can guess by the cover, this episode features a gingerbread band, plus some more quick-thinking on the part of that spunky Gingerbread Boy and Matti. I won’t spoil the surprise, but as with the other two books, there’s a splendid, giant, fold-out to wrap up the story. Definitely an ooh-ah moment. Soak in the detailed beauty of these illustrations with kids ages 3 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link: Gingerbread Christmas

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The Biggest, Smallest Christmas Present, written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster
published in 2016 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Clementine is a sweet, little girl. I mean, she is a really little girl. Smallest one in the world, with a matchbox for a bed and a teacup for a tub.

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Life at this tiny size is happy enough for the most part, but sadly, Santa Claus just cannot seem to grasp how minute Clementine is, and keeps leaving her regular-sized presents. This does not work out well at all. Imagine plying a paintbrush the size of a small sapling, or wearing slippers fit for a giant.

Though Clementine thinks of many ingenuous ways to remind Santa of her diminutive stature, nothing seems to work. Until one message finally gets through. And just wait till you see what Santa thinks of! It’s the biggest, smallest Christmas present ever!

Thoroughly charming illustrations with plenty of peppermint-pink and spearmint-green set a perky, cheery tone from the sweet endpapers straight on through.  This is a Christmas dream, especially for little girls, even if they’re not quite as little as Clementine. Ages 3 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link: The Biggest, Smallest Christmas Present

And P.S. if you like all things miniature, you will love Harriet’s blog, victoriastitch.blogspot.com where you’ll find more art like this!

There are gobs more Christmas titles for your holiday reading in my Subject Index under Holidays: Christmas.

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Today I have two more excellent nativity tellings to offer you, widely differing in style and substance.

First, coming from the UK, is this poignant, thought-provoking version…

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Refuge, written by Anna Booth, illustrated by Sam Usher
published in 2015 by Nosy Crow

I bought this small book last year, but had to order it from the UK. This year, you can purchase it in the U.S. as well, and I hope you do!

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Anna Booth’s telling of the Nativity is different from any you’ve read before. The baby is born on page two! Rather than dwelling on all the events leading up to the birth of Christ, the bulk of this story focuses on what happened afterwards.

Very lightly touching on shepherds and kings, the text pushes forward to Joseph’s “dream of danger” and the secretive, long, worrisome journey out from Bethlehem into a land of strangers, seeking — and finding — refuge.

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Yes, the Holy Family were refugees! What an immensely important connection for us to make. Booth accomplishes this with grace and finesse. Not a heavy, clobbering word will you find. Instead, her economical, gentle text carries a lovely sense of humanity, tenderness, empathy.

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It’s illustrated by Sam Usher in his marvelously-loose, quiet, ink-and-watercolor illustrations. I love his work! Here he brings a hush to the town of Bethlehem, immense warmth to the family, and solemn vastness to the star-studded night skies. It’s definitely one of my new favorite Nativity stories. Ages 2 and older.

Here’s the Amazon link: Refuge

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The Nativity, retold and illustrated by Julie Vivas
first published in Australia in 1986; this edition 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A dear friend of mine introduced me to this telling of the Nativity (Thank you, Christine!) which features a Mary who is truly great with child! I love this real-mama interpretation.

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The retelling is nimbly done using phrases from the King James Version of the Bible, pared down a bit in order to move things along and lessen the cumbersome nature of the language.

Vivas’ vision of these events is at once earthy and whimsical. I love her rounded, very physical bodies, exuding the true humanity of this small family, rustic shepherds, eager sages, and sweet, unmistakably-male, baby.

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The color palette is strikingly different from traditional versions, with loads of pastel Easter-y tints predominating. And Vivas does not constrain herself to historically-accurate images. Ancient mid-Eastern architecture cozies up to Jesus in his stripey footie-jammies.

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Her levity is at its height in her portrayal of the angels, which I’m not in love with, but then, I’m remarkably picky about angels. I do love that there’s nary a blond hair to be seen on all the pages! Ages 2 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link: The Nativity

Both of these untraditional, very human approaches to the story will surely appeal to kids who have heard this story a hundred times and offer them fresh perspectives.

There are almost 2 dozen more Nativity stories listed in my Subject Index under Holidays — Christmas. They’re marked with a diamond.

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Because my roots are in Sweden and Finland, I’m quite partial to Christmas stories coming from the Scandinavian region.

by-jenny-nystrom

Previously I’ve posted some of my favorites, which you can find via the links at the end of today’s post. Today I have five more.

These titles are a bit obscure here in the U.S. but if you are really motivated, I think you can find them.

erik-and-the-christmas-horse-cover-imageErik and the Christmas Horse, written by Hans Peterson, illustrated by Ilon Wikland, translated by Christine Hyatt
first published in Sweden in 1968; first American edition 1970 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.

It’s December 13, St. Lucy’s Day, and Erik is perched at his window in the city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) thrilled that it is finally snowing. He’s been dreaming of building a snowman and maybe even an igloo if enough snow comes down.

As he heads out to school for the day, Erik meets up with old Mr. Lindberg and his cart-horse Mari who are delivering packages. These two are dear friends of Erik’s and he greets them warmly. But Mr. Lindberg says a strange thing: “You’re lucky, Erik. You can run upstairs to your mother’s kitchen and get warm. But it’s not so good for many other people who have nowhere to live.”

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Thoughts of unsheltered people, and especially worries that Mr. Lindberg himself and that good horse, Mari, have nowhere but a bush to sleep under at night, plague Erik throughout the day. When he encounters Mr. Lindberg again after school, Erik generously invites him to their home for Christmas.

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Watch as Mr. Lindberg gently helps Erik see that he does indeed have his own home, even while his heart is warmed, as is ours, by Erik’s tender concern and generosity. It’s a lovely story, illustrated by Ilon Wikland’s gorgeous, charming watercolors. Ages 3 and up.

christmas-eve-at-santas-cover-imageChristmas Eve at Santa’s, written by Alf Prøysen, illustrated by Jens Ahlbom, translated by Richard E. Fisher
originally published in Sweden 1971; this edition 1992 by R&S Books

Carpenter Anderson lives in a Carl Larson-esque house with his many children. It’s Christmas Eve, and while his wife and kids gather round the warm hearth, cracking nuts and playing games, Carpenter Anderson tiptoes out to the woodshed.

That’s where he’s stashed his Santa suit and a wooden sled loaded down with “a big sack full of Christmas presents.” When Anderson starts across his icy yard, though, his feet go out from under him and with a flop and a whoosh he’s riding that sled down the road, smack into another sled. This one is steered by a little, white-bearded fellow. Calls himself Santa Claus. Anderson goes along with the joke.

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Santa suggests swapping places for a bit. Anderson can visit his children, and he’ll visit Anderson’s with the presents. Anderson agrees to this, though he doesn’t have anything to give Santa’s children. “Aren’t you a carpenter?” asks Santa. He’s quite sure that with some wood, nails, and a knife, Anderson can come up with some gifts for the Claus household.

Carpenter Anderson does indeed come up with some beautiful gifts for Mrs. Santa and the elf children. He’s that clever with a piece of wood! It’s quite a Christmas Eve for all concerned.

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This is a happy, imaginative story, illustrated in warm, fetching watercolors that include many quaint Scandinavian touches. A treat for ages 4 and up.

lottas-christmas-surprise-cover-imageLotta’s Christmas Surprise, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ilon Wikland
originally published in Sweden in 1977; first English translation, 1978; this edition 1990 by R&S Books

We have thoroughly enjoyed the stories of the irrepressible, unruly Lotta and her siblings, Jonas and Maria, though they are less well known in the U.S. Lotta has a big heart, which puts her bullheadedness and peevishness in perspective at the end of the day. She’s a lovable little rascal.

It’s Christmastime which means — of course! — time to get a tree from the market. So imagine the numb despair when Dad shares the bad news that “there’s not a Christmas tree for sale in the whole town.” Seems that heavy snows made it difficult to trundle as many trees out of the forest and the shopkeepers in the square are plum sold out. Nothing anyone can do about it.

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Christmas without a tree is a glum prospect. Lotta, however, has been boasting recently about the fact that she can do anything. “I can do anything — almost!” she announces over and over to her underwhelmed family. Now Jonas lays down the gauntlet: “You said you could do anything, Lotta, so get us a Christmas tree.”

Challenge accepted.

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You’ll enjoy this long-ish story of the small-but-determined Lotta and how she manages to procure a tree for her family. Illustrated by Ilon Wikland — my edition is in full color. So much happiness plus the charm of a Swedish household — I spy lingonberries spilling over the pancakes! Ages 3 and up.

pippi-longstockings-after-christmas-party-cover-imagePippi Longstocking’s After-Christmas Party, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Michael Chesworth, translated by Stephen Keeler
originally published in Sweden in 1950; this edition published in 1996 by Viking

Surely you all know Pippi Longstocking, that feisty, unconventional lass from Villa Villekulla. This story was written by Lindgren shortly after the original book was published, but was not translated into English for more than 40 years.

The translator notes that one Swedish tradition is the plundering of the Christmas tree before it is taken down. All those gingerbread hearts and baskets of goodies that decorate the tree are gathered up by the children. That’s the cultural background for Pippi hosting this splendid After-Christmas party.

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She invites all the kids in town, of course. Pippi doesn’t do anything half way. When they arrive, there’s such a tree to behold! Blazing with huge candles, covered with “great big gingerbread men and huge baskets made of tin foil and enormous twists of toffee and, of course, lovely Christmas crackers that you pull at each end.” And dozens of jolly presents!

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But that’s not all. There’s an igloo to gather in for hot chocolate and cream cake, and a crazy-steep sledding hill…off the roof! Pippi delights in providing for all her friends, as well as a little newcomer who wanders shyly in. It’s an extraordinarily merry party that should set visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads! Ages 4 and up.

the-tomens-christmas-porridge-cover-imageTomten’s Christmas Porridge, written and illustrated by Sven Nordqvist, translated by Arden Haug
first published in Sweden in 1991; published in the U.S. in 1991 by Skandisk

If you’re at all familiar with Scandinavian lore, you’ll have heard of the tomtens, wee folk who live on Swedish farms watching over the welfare of man and beast. They’re secretive. Never seen by humans. Yet every Christmas Eve the farm family sets out a bowl of creamy, sweet Christmas porridge as a sort of tip of the hat to their tomten. A thanks for his protection.

If that porridge isn’t delivered, you’d better watch out because all out of keeping with his size is a tomten’s temper! If he’s overlooked on Christmas Eve, he’s sure to visit mischief and trouble of one sort and another on the farm.

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Yet that’s exactly what’s about to happen on little Anna’s farm this Christmas. Mamma tomten can feel it in her bones. The family is growing away from tradition. They’re talking about a fellow named Santa Claus, for goodness sake! And forgetting all about tomtens. Pappa tomten is sure to strew unhappiness about the farm for the whole next year unless that porridge appears. Can Mamma tomten figure out a way to make everyone happy?

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This exciting adventure is accompanied by Haug’s thoroughly-Swedish illustrations. Warm interiors of pine, woven linens, candlelight, julboks, ginger hearts, and round rye loaves hanging to dry adorn these pages. Plus lots of darling, red-capped tomten children. It’s a longish story. Read it aloud with children ages 4 and up.

And here are some other Scandinavian Christmas stories I’ve previously reviewed:

Christmas in Noisy Village

The Christmas Tomten

Flicka Ricka Dicka and Their New Friend

Gingerbread Baby

In Wintertime

Lucia, Child of Light

Ollie’s Ski Trip

Peter and Lotta’s Christmas

The Tomten

 

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archie-snufflekins-oliver-valentine-cupcake-tiberius-cat-cover-imageArchie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat, written and illustrated by Katie Harnett
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

Blossom Street is a quaint lane edged with charming brick rowhouses. It’s home to a lovely jumble of folks, from Madame Betty, lounging most elegantly, swathed in plush pinkness, to the Sikh gardener who grows his perfect pumpkins at Number Fourteen.

It’s also the home to this plump cat.

The cat has a great gig going. Visiting each household along the avenue, he’s treated to affection and goodies from every hand. Fish from Mr. Green. Tea at the Hoskins’. His appointed rounds are as much a part of the routine as the sun coming up in the morning.

Until. One day Archie stops visiting. Where has he gone?

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Discover the warmhearted conclusion to that mystery in this exceptional story. Harnett welcomes us into this beautifully-diverse community with her gorgeous palette, vivid personalities, and oodles of charm. Every page is a treat and the final spread is as heartening as a mug of tea on a cold afternoon. I see a bit of a Maira Kalman influence in her work. Don’t miss this! Ages 2 and up.

the-white-cat-and-the-monk-cover-imageThe White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Ban”, words by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrations by Sydney Smith
published in 2016 by Groundwood Books

An anonymous Irish Benedictine monk paused in the midst of his studies one day, over a thousand years ago, probably at an abbey in the south of Germany.

His brief reflections, written in Old Irish, were about himself and a quiet companion in his small room – a fluffy, white cat. These thoughts are at once tranquil, simple, insightful. They are both humble and elegant in their perspective, as he compares his scholarly pursuits with those of this skillful hunter.

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Sydney Smith’s handsome watercolor and ink illustrations hugely magnify the impact of this book. Such spare elegance! He evokes the focus, strength, solitude, and gentleness of the monk’s world while Bogart’s rendition of the poem gracefully leads us through the monk’s train of thought.

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It’s a transfixing combination that can be appreciated on several levels. A rare gem for ages 2 to adult.

they-all-saw-a-cat-cover-imageThey All Saw a Cat, written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
published in 2016 by Chronicle Books

Have you ever thought about what the world looks like from another vantage point? What would it be like to be 7 feet tall? Or to have extra color receptors in your eyes? What does the world look like to an ant? Or an eagle?

Brendan Wenzel explores this idea in his fabulous, thought-provoking book. One cat is just minding its own business, walking through the world where it is encountered by many different creatures. Children. A skunk. A fish. What do they see? How do their physical eyes and their views on cat-ness, affect their perception?

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A bee sees the cat in a pixilated image.

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A mouse sees the cat as just about the devil himself! Yikes!

This book is a marvel, start to finish. Fantastic idea, fabulously carried out. Don’t miss it, for folks ages 3-Adult.

this-is-not-a-cat-cover-imageThis is Not a Cat!, written by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
published in 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books

Today’s lesson in the cheery woodland school is “Recognizing Danger.” A cat, for example, is a Danger!

While Miss Mouse flips through her handy chart of Things That Aren’t Cats — cute bunnies and yummy ice-cream-cones — the attention of her class wanders mightily. Yawn. This lesson is a bore.

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What neither teacher nor students are observing, though, is a huge marmalade cat looming just outside the door!

Hysteria and pandemonium break out when finally everybody recognizes this Clear and Present Danger! Run for your lives!!

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Surprises, plot twists, thrills, dangers, escapes — are all crammed into this guaranteed-to-please story. There is so much going on in Wohnoutka’s illustrations! Hilarious! Take your time to take it all in. Quite a merry choice for ages 2 and up.

cat-on-the-bus-cover-imageCat on the Bus, written and illustrated by Aram Kim
published in 2016 by Holiday House

It’s the holiday season but things aren’t looking so merry for this patchy fellow.

He’s a poor, homeless thing and wherever he turns for shelter, he’s treated to the bristly side of the broom. Scat, cat!

His luck turns when he zips onto a city bus and finds a seat next to a kindhearted grandpa. Watch what happens next, in this warm-as-toast, “purrrrr-fect” story.

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Bold, colorful illustrations tell almost the whole tale here, with just a word or two sprinkled in. Lots of absorbing details are tucked in for a slow, happy wander through with ages 18 months and up.

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miracle on 133rd street cover imageMiracle on 133rd Street, by Sonia Manzano, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
published in 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

A riot of color, an array of cultures, and a generous helping of neighborliness shine in this swizzling story from New York City. 

José and his mami and papi are originally from Puerto Rico. And every Christmas, Mami is homesick. To make matters worse, this year’s traditional pork roast does not fit in her oven. Oh, for a big, sunny, Puerto Rican yard to roast the Christmas pig in, she thinks.

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So, Papi boxes that roast up and sets out with José for Regular Ray’s Pizzeria where ginormous ovens await. Along the way, these two meet neighbors and friends galore who are not looking very merry. But as they return, the heady aroma of olive oil and garlic beckons one and all to share in their feast, until an apartmentful of DiPalmas and Santiagos and Wozenskys and more are happily celebrating together.

This kindhearted story was written by Sonia Manzano, best known for her decades-long role as Maria on Sesame Street. Marjorie Priceman splashes every page with energy, warmth, and cheer with her hot-tamale, gladsome, effervescent illustrations. Great choice for ages 3 and up.

the christmas carp cover imageThe Christmas Carp, by Rita Törnqvist, pictures by Marit Törnqvist, translated by Greta Kilburn
originally published in Sweden; published in the U.S. in 1990 by R&S Books

Apparently, in Prague there’s an old tradition of cooking a carp for Christmas.

One goes to the Christmas market just before Christmas Eve, buys a fat carp from the fishmonger, hauls it home, and sets it to swimming in the bathtub. There its silveriness stays nice and fresh until it’s time for Christmas dinner. Oy.

This is the story of a little boy named Thomas and his Grandpa. Of Christmas bread and fish-shaped cookies and floating walnut-shell candles. Of carolers and the bridges of Prague and a carp bought by Thomas who he names Peppo which seems destined not to be eaten on Christmas Day.

the christmas carp illustration marit tornqvist

It’s a sweet story of a tenderhearted boy and his understanding grandfather, rich with the atmosphere of this beautiful, historic city. Marit Törnqvist’s delicately-hued, detailed watercolors envelop us in this place and these lives. An appealing, sensitive story for ages 5 and up.

la noche buena cover imageLa Noche Buena: A Christmas Story, by Antonoio Sacre, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2010 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Nina is visiting her dad’s side of the family in Little Havana, Miami, for the Christmas holidays. No snowy Christmas scenes here. Instead,  palm trees and parrots and heat.

Her abuela welcomes her into a bustle of women cooking marinade with the old family recipe. Nina quickly becomes a part of the commotion, lugging jars of marinade from the spicy kitchen to her Uncle Tito’s yard where a bathtub and a barbecue pit await their 3-day, pig-roasting extravaganza.

la noche buena illustration angela dominguez

A backyard feast, the Rooster’s Mass, and all-night dancing under the stars make up the traditional celebration of La Noche Buena, the Good Night, Christmas Eve, the best night of the year for this Cuban family. Enjoy a welcoming, vibrant look at these cultural traditions with kids ages 4 and up.

a stork in a baobab tree cover imageA Stork in a Baobab Tree: An African Twelve Days of Christmas, by Catherine House, illustrated by Polly Alakija
published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

On the first day of this Christmas, my true love gives me a stork in a baobab tree. And on day five, he shows up with five bright khangas —  brightly-colored lengths of cloth used as wrap skirts, headdresses, baby slings, or what have you.

Travel around the continent via this traditional carol, gathering carvings from Nigeria, baskets from Ethiopia, dancers from Morocco, and learning a teensy bit about each gift as we go.

a stork in a baobab tree illustration polly alakija

There’s a nice variety of stops, although you’ll have to look in the Note from the Author to identify each place. In the text, they’re all referred to as “Africa.” That’s a small quibble with an otherwise intriguing, informative book, handsomely illustrated. Ages 4 and up.

baseball bats for christmas cover imageBaseball Bats for Christmas, story by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, art by Vladyana Krykorka
published in 1990 by Annick Press Ltd.

Inuit storyteller Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak grew up in what is now Nunavut, then Northwest Territories, where he and his family lived a traditional, nomadic lifestyle. 

This story offers a delightful peek into his arctic homeland. In 1955, when he was just seven years old, a beloved bush pilot arrives at Christmastime and delivers a bunch of…what on earth? Green, spindly things. No one is quite sure what they are for, but they come in quite handy for turning into baseball bats.

baseball bats for christmas illustration vladyana krykorka

Get to the bottom of the mystery, meet Michael and his playmates, taste the vastness of Repulse Bay, and learn the generous custom of Inuit gift-giving in this lovely story for ages 4 or 5 and up. The illustrations beautifully portray the handsome Inuit people, blue-cold landscape, and warmth of friendship.

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