Storytime: Christmas

I love seasonal books, maybe because I only take them out once a year and they go along with so many memories of family gathered and good meals. In December, they beckon me to slow down in the midst of busyness. I put as many as I can face out, setting them against the spines of other books on shelves and scattered on the coffee table. They are a part of my home, ingrained in my family’s lives, part of our stories. Here’s a few of my favorites.

Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed

It’s the story of a young boy who calls himself the Red Ranger of Mars who doesn’t believe in Santa but begins second guessing himself when he sees a small man with pointy ears turning up the path next to a mailbox labeled Saunder Clös. The boy is so shocked the most “flowery” thing he can think to say is, “Mister, you look like a turnip.” That line gets me every time. It goes on to say, “I could not recall ever actually seeing a genuine elf, nor calling one a vegetable, but I was certain that I just had.” The boy meets the most ancient man he’s ever seen, gets his hopes up, has them dashed, and in the end experiences a Christmas miracle when he turns from anger to kindness for the sake of an old man’s dream, and ultimately, his own. That last page turn, inspiring.

Only a Star by Margery Facklam, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

This book is very short, perfect for the very young and up. It explores a simple question, “What were the trimmings that first Christmas morning? What brightened the stable to welcome the child?” From dewdrops on a spider web that turn to diamonds in the starlight, to a scurrying scarab beetle that gleams like an emerald, the author imagines what might have been found in nature and declares it beautiful. I love a book that explores the “extraordinary in the ordinary” theme, a book that causes us to pause and notice the world around us in all its glory. It is what children do, too, calling us to see snail trails and dust sparkles. And if you have a child like my youngest still is, at the ripe age of 21, you’ll love the notes at the end that give fun facts about each creature.

Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

As a Texan my experience with ice is very different from Ellen Bryan Obed’s, who hails from Maine. This beautiful little book isn’t necessarily a Christmas book but I put it out each December, a perfect read with a cup of hot chocolate and even nicer with a warm little body by your side. It goes through the winter season as defined by ice, starting with “first ice,” described as the ice that forms at the top of a sheep pail in the barn, “a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it.” It goes on through “black ice,” where the children skate on the Great Pond, “garden ice,” explaining how they transform their vegetable garden into a small skating rink, to the “last ice” which has, “grainy places that were coarse like sugar.” The language is lovely, and the black and white pen and ink illustrations pair perfectly, drawing us into this world of ice and the life that revolves around it.

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story

By Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Alison Jay

When I first saw this book I felt like I was seeing an old friend. Alison Jay illustrated a quirky little board book I loved reading with my kids called Picture This, and her crackle-paint style is easily recognizable. This book is about anticipation, and culmination, as creatures and creation announce, “It’s time! It’s time!” The leaves rustle with a rumor, and one of my favorite spreads, “The skies shouted it to the seas that thundered it to the waves that roared it to the great white whales that sang it to the starfish in the deep.” What’s all the chatter about? A tiny baby, wrapped in rags. The book starts with the line, “The world was about to change forever, and it almost went by unnoticed . . .” The illustrations and words are gorgeous, and I love how it broadens the perspective of the Christmas story far, far beyond a stable in Bethlehem. The stars sing and the animals proclaim what so many couldn’t see.

The Christmas House

By Ann Turner, illustrated by Nancy Edwards Calder

I fall into this book every Christmas like entering a familiar home. The glowing windows on the cover and tiny face peeking out the window in the front door are so inviting. The text is a series of poems told from different perspectives, from the house itself to the cat and dog, various people, and even the table. So many lines to love. The table’s poem ends with:

Now all are here

where I hold your faces deep

inside my polished wood

And the house poem ends with this lovely sentiment:

I welcome them all,

I hold them all,

I gather them in,

and I let them go

at the end.

Careful words that capture so much feeling, it is a cozy book to keep out this December.

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