Storytime: Christmas II

 

My favorite Christmas decorations are the picture books that sit on a top shelf most of the year, waiting for their moment to be put face out for a month (or two). If you’re interested in last year’s list of Christmas favorites, check my picks out here. And keep reading to see this year’s, from a generous dragon to angels in combat boots, I adore these books that put hope and joy front and center.

The Nativity by Julie Vivas

My edition, purchased in the early 90’s, features a cover where a very pregnant Mary smiles down at a beaming Joseph, both of them in slippers (the footwear in this book slay me), but I love this cover, too. The text is the Christmas nativity story as told in the King James version of the Bible, and the more formal language paired with the illustrations of angels with long, tattered rainbow wings and combat boots is part of the charm. Chickens wander under the table as Mary and the angel, raggedy wings spread over them both, share a cup of coffee. I love that the soft watercolors sensitively portray the realistic shape of a pregnant woman’s belly and breasts, and that baby Jesus comes into this world naked and anatomically correct. I love he’s swaddled in a striped onesie. And I love that the angels come playfully to the shepherds, some of them landing on the backs of sheep. Every year I linger over these pictures and words and am filled with delight all over again.

Olive the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh

The premise of this book rests on a misunderstanding. When a dog named Olive hears “All of the other reindeer,” she thinks it’s “Olive, the other reindeer,” and she’s off to the North Pole. The dry wit in this book cracks me up. Santa knew a lot about dogs, for instance, they can’t fly. But as it was time to go, he decided to give Olive a chance. Ahhh. Santa is such a softy! And don’t you know kids who’ve been told they’re too little and can’t do something are on team Olive?

There’s great visual humor, too, like when the text tells us that Olive is surprised it’s so easy to fly, but we see that she’s actually tied to the reindeer with a piece of ribbon and they’re the ones doing the flying. Of course Olive is the one who ends up saving the day using all her doggie gifts, from chewing and sniffing to fetching, and when they get caught in the dreaded North Pole fog (love this new lore) Santa asks Olive, “Won’t you guide my sleigh this morning?” There are lots of jokes for those who know the Rudolph song, and while some of the pages are a bit text heavy for the youngest readers, the bright, cool pictures can be enjoyed by everyone. Read beforehand if you want to condense for squirmy littles with short attention spans and they’ll love it, too.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

This is about a little girl named Francis who notices suffering when the rest of the world is too busy, and what she does about it. She feels compassion for an old organ grinder on the streets who’s playing music and taking tips in a tin cup while his little monkey dances for those who pass by. Her mother is busy and distracted as she gets her daughter’s angel costume ready for a Christmas pageant, and Francis is left with questions about what should be done for the man who sleeps on the street below her window. The next evening, and on the way to church, Francis breaks away from her mom and drops a coin in the man’s cup. And then she does something so simple, inviting him to church to come watch her say her one line, and “the organ grinder smiled at her. But his eyes looked sad.” Will he come?

She stands amongst the nativity on stage and can’t speak, filled with thoughts of the man’s sad eyes, but then the door opens! “Behold!” Francis shouts. “I bring you tidings of Great Joy!” Turn the page and you see the party afterwards, a room warmly lit with the man sharing a cup of tea with Francis’s mother in the midst of all the people, and he’s smiling. The illustrations are beautiful, the expressions perfect. If there were a Hallmark movie for kids, this is it, minus the romantic love but full of the kind of love we crave at any age.

Dragon’s Merry Christmas by Dav Pilkey

I love ALL the dragon books by Dav Pilkey, featuring this super loveable blue dragon who is kind but slightly ditzy. He cracks me up, and better yet, he cracks kids up, too. The books consist of short little chapters, this one has 4, each just a few pages long. Dragon finds the perfect Christmas tree, but it’s so lovely he can’t cut it down, so he leaves it outside and decorates it there (including an extension cord that runs from his house). In chapter two he makes a candy wreath, then can’t stop himself from eating it all. Pilkey perfectly captures dragon’s loss of willpower, his eyes squeezed tight as he shakes every last piece of candy off that wreath so he can eat it. I am dragon.

In chapter three he loses his mittens so he goes out and buys a pair of clip on ones and clips them to his coat and then (what a great page turn, wait for it . . .) he loses his coat. And in the final chapter he buys himself some wonderful presents, then ends up gifting them to woodland creatures on the way home from the store. When he gets home his sack is empty but he isn’t sad, and as he curls up under his quilt we see those same creatures singing outside his window (and we also see the tree from chapter one). It’s a pretty perfect package of a book, just right for Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Goodell

I love the rhymes and bright illustrations as we follow a crow who is gathering things throughout a bustling town.

A broken chain

A lonely sock

a single key without its lock

some scraps of cloth

a crimson bow

a perfect sprig of mistletoe

He passes a parade of people, shoppers, carolers, people buying Christmas trees and a woman on a bench in the park with seeds for birds. Finally, at the end, we see what this busy crow has been up to, decorating a snow-covered tree, and if you look closely you can find all the things mentioned in the pages before. There’s the key and the sock, the bow and the cloth, and after one more page turn we see all the people from before gathered round the tree to sing as various birds perch on the festive branches.

A magic sight

All hearts aglow

Merry Christmas, merry crow!

Such a sweet, satisfying, fun story to read again and again.

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