Lara's Christmas Book Review

Monday, December 12, 2011

I apologize for posting something completely unrelated to food here, but after spending the time compiling this Christmas book review (something near and dear to my heart), I realized that I wanted to share this list with more people than the handful that read my family blog.  I promise I won't make a habit of this kind of post and I hope you'll forgive this one-time indulgence on my part.  

Most of you here on the Recipe Shoebox don't know much more about me other than I have five kids and I love to cook.  Today you will discover that I also love books.  I've been a frustrated bookworm for as long as I can remember, loving to read, but never quite having the time to do as much of it as I'd like.   Luckily kids' books are much more bite-size and I find myself satisfying some of my bookish tendencies by searching for, buying, and read great books out-loud to my children.

  Usually I let them choose what book we read, often reading the same few books over an over again. At Christmastime, though, I put away their old, favorite picture books and read a different Christmas story to my children each night in December.  We don't have quite enough books to fill in every night yet, so we double up and read some of their favorites more than once.  Mostly I'm reading to the youngest two, sometimes three kids, but there are a couple of the books I make a point to read to the whole family each Christmas season (Legend of the Candy Cane, I Believe in Santa Claus, Christmas Oranges, Christmas Day in the Morning).

When someone recently asked me about which children's Christmas books were my favorites, I thought that in addition to just spotlighting a few of our favorites, that it would be fun to compile a list and review of all of our books.    During the process of compiling it, though, I discovered two things....

#1 that I definitely have a weakness for children's picture books....especially ones with beautiful artwork and/or meaningful messages.  I hope my kids will never outgrow me reading to them. 

#2 that a couple of my very favorite books are now out-of-print.  :( 

This collection has been accumulated over a number of years and we almost have enough to get us through each night of December through Christmas (maybe then I'll have to make an advent calendar with books), but for now it's 19 books....

In no meaningful order at all, here is the list of our Christmas books with our favorites starred.

Rocking Horse Christmas
--a sweet story, reminiscent of the Velveteen Rabbit about a rocking horse that was loved and forgotten, then one day the original owner's son discovers him and the magic/love is rekindled. 


Legend of the Candy Cane
*--this one is a favorite of ours (can you tell from the well worn cover?) It goes through the story of a candy store owner introducing a town to candy canes, then teaching them the symbolic meaning in the shape and color and how they are meant to help people remember Christ's atonement.    We love to give this book, with some candy canes, as a gift to friends.



The Tale of Three Trees--the touching tale of three trees' dreams to grow up to greatness--one to be a mighty ship, another to hold great treasure, and the other to stay tall and strong and point towards God.  Over time, the one that wanted to hold great treasure was disappointed to be made into a feedbox for animals, but then one day a baby is laid there and it knows that it has held the greatest treasure in the world.  The tree that was to be a mighty ship was made into a humble fishing boat who witnessed Jesus calming the stormy sea and he knows that he has carried the mightiest king of all.   Lastly, the tree that wanted to stay tall and strong is made into a cross and it knows that it will always point to God. 


The First Night--a very short book recapping the first Christmas night.  Artwork and text are simple, but lovely.  (Note:  The book on Amazon looks different from my version, but I confirmed that it's the same author and illustrator)


The Gift of the Magi
--this classic tale of a husband and wife who sell their most beloved possessions for the other's Christmas present is beautifully retold in this picture book version.  The language is a little lofty (I had to look up a few words) and it's a little on the long side for reading in one sitting, but still it's one of my kids' favorite Christmas books. 


Christmas Day in the Morning*--this very sweet tale is of a teenage boy that for Christmas, despite their meager circumstances,  desperately wanted to give something meaningful to his father.  Though he didn't love getting up early in the morning to help on the farm, on Christmas morning he awakened before his father, so he could surprise him by milking the cows.  His father was touched and it ended up being a memorable experience for both of them.  It's very beautifully retold and I'm not doing it justice with my review. 



Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect
--This story is about Small Pine who, while still a young tree, promised to be one of the most beautiful trees in the forest.  Then one cold night, a frightened animal comes to seek shelter in her branches.  At first she hesitates, not wanting to mar her perfectly spaced branches and needles, then finally her heart is touched and she lowers her branches and gives shelter to the animal.  Time after time, she provides shelter, rest,  and food for the winter weary animals.  This year when the Queen comes to choose her Christmas tree (the greatest honor for a tree of the forest),  she passes by all of the perfect trees who have closed their proud branches to the animals of the forest and she chooses droopy, uneven Small Pine, for the good queen had recognized the love of Christ expressed in her imperfect branches. 


Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
--This story is about a grumpy woodcarver who is commissioned by a widow and her young son to carve a nativity set. Through the story, the widow and son learn of the tragedies that have hardened the woodcarver's heart, but through patience, love, and innocent conversations with the child about how the nativity set should be, his heart is finally healed.  The story is a little long for one sitting, but it is a sweet love story interwoven with beautiful references to the gentleness and love of Jesus Christ.


Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle
--This is a sweet story about a young girl who recognizes the loneliness of an elderly neighbor at Christmas time and finds a way to add some joy and love (and the family's Christmas Jar) into his life.


A Magical Christmas
--a  cute story about what Christmas means to a mouse family.  Ultimately they decide that the magic of Christmas is love. 


Legend of the Christmas Stocking
--This story is of a young boy who works hard to help earn money for his family while his father is away, but with the small percentage he keeps for himself he saves up for a coveted model ship.  Just before Christmas and his father still hasn't returned, he sadly realizes that his family will not have much for Christmas unless he contributes the money he has been saving for the ship.  Still he is stubborn about keeping it for himself, until at church he learns of the legend of the Christmas stocking, which touches his heart and he decides to share the money with his family.  On Christmas morning his father returns and brings the model ship as a gift. 


Polar Express--a cute story about a boy who takes a trip to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus


Silent Night, Holy Night.
--a moving story about soldiers in World War 2 who stopped fighting on Christmas night and even enjoyed in some Christmas camaraderie with their enemies, which culminated in them singing, "Silent Night" together in their own languages.  Someone read this aloud at our ward Christmas party and had a cellist join in with playing, "Silent Night" during the ending of the book. It was very cool. 


Room for a Little One
--a very simple, short tale of an assortment of humble animals who are drawn to a stable for warmth, then get to welcome the Savior into the world.  Sweet story, lovely artwork. 


A Wish to be a Christmas Tree--This is a story of a kind-hearted pine tree who has grown too large to be someone's Christmas tree.  The numerous animal friends that have found shelter in his branches try to cheer him up by decorating him with berries and acorns.  He is touched by their kindness and knows that the love of friends is more important to him than being someone's Christmas tree. 


The Christmas Sweater
--A young boy is so excited to receive a bike for Christmas, then his mischievous grandpa scouts out all the presents and informs him  that there is no bike, but instead he is receiving a Christmas sweater as his gift.  At first his disappointment is great and he's set to be embarrassed when he returns to school, but after his grandpa plants the idea in his mind that the sweater his mother has made is something that will make Christmas magic, he then has a dream that teaches him about the love and warmth that the sweater represents.  On Christmas morning he does have a bike waiting for him, but he's so excited for the magic of the Christmas sweater, that

An Angel Came to Nazareth
*--this book is a pretty simple recounting of the first Christmas night in rhyming style, but I am in love with the gorgeous artwork in here.  Look at that detail. (Just noticed that it's out-of-print as well, but used copies are available at a reasonable price)

I Believe in Santa Claus
*--The words are simple, the artwork beautiful, but the way this book ties the secular with the religious is moving and powerful.  The first part of the book goes through listing (with beautiful pictures) simple facts about Santa Claus, then later in the book relates the characteristics of Santa Claus with characteristics of our Savior, Jesus Christ.   We love this book, but I'm sad to say that it's out of print.  I highly recommend searching for a used copy. 


Berenstain Bears and The Joy of Giving
*--I bought this book to help remind my kids about being unselfish and thinking of others during Christmas, but it caught me off-guard when I discovered a much deeper religious element as well.  They use the familiar Berenstain Bear characters, Brother and Sister Bear, who learn through their participation in a Nativity reenactment what Christmas is really all about. 

 Christmas Oranges*--Little orphan children who have nothing band together to share their beloved Christmas oranges with a fellow orphan who has had theirs taken away as punishment.  The artwork is beautiful and the message profound and my kids love it.  It's a classic among Christmas stories and we love to give it as a gift at Christmas time, along with some oranges (or chocolate oranges).


A Christmas Dress For Ellen--Written by Thomas S. Monson, this book is about a very poor family who has recently moved to an isolated farm in Canada.  Their crops have failed them and they face a destitute Christmas lacking in the very basics in life, yet alone anything exciting for the children.  The oldest child, Ellen, is cynical and discouraged.   In a moment of desperation, the mother writes a note to her sister telling of their dire circumstances.  The sister rallies her community together and they tie quilts, sew clothes, and collect money to send to the family.  It arrives to the post office late on Christmas Eve and though the postmaster wants to go home and spend the holiday with his family, he drives the boxes through a raging snowstorm to their isolated home.    The joy that it brings to the destitute family, and Ellen in particular is heartwarming and the way the community rallied together to help someone they didn't even know, reminded me of the countless of selfless people who have rushed to the aid of those affected by Hurricane Sandy. 


The Crippled Lamb--Josh, a little lamb with a bad leg, always feels left out.  Abigail is a kind-hearted cow who has befriended Josh and reassures him that God has a special place for those that feel left out.  When the shepherds take the rest of the sheep to a faraway meadow and leave Josh behind, he is especially sad.  Then later that night he was awakened by the sounds of a tiny baby that was there in the stable with him.  It is the baby Jesus and Josh quickly goes to His side to help keep Him warm.   Josh is comforted and knows that this opportunity to welcome the Savior of the world was a special gift to him.


Christmas in the Big Woods (Little House)--my young daughter absolutely loved this series of Little House picture books and even now that she's outgrown them, she'll still read them over and over.  Geared for preschoolers, this particular one tells of a typical Christmas for Laura and her family. 


The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes--simple and beautiful, this pop-up book was one of the first Christmas books we ever owned.  Although some of the pieces don't work anymore, this is still one of the kids' favorite books. 

What are your favorites on this list?  Are there any I should add to our collection?  Do you still read out-loud to your kids?

Thank you for reading...now it's back to regularly scheduled goodie recipes!  :)


10 comments:

Katie December 12, 2011 at 1:52 PM  

Thank you so much for sharing this. I adore childrens books and now that I have two young daughters I have an excuse to buy them. I try to buy a new book each holiday and I am going to search for a few you mentioned.

Tatum December 13, 2011 at 4:14 PM  

This is the next book you need. It's a family favorite.
It shows the true meaning or Christmas and if you google it, it has a little summary of the story somewhere.

http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Dress-Ellen-Thomas-Monson/dp/1590383869

I have never commented on your blog before but thanks for all the recipes I have used quit a few and love them! :)

Mirien December 14, 2011 at 1:48 AM  

Thanks for your list--you have a few that we don't and your descriptions make me want to add a couple more to our list. I also like A Christmas Dress for Ellen and get choked up everytime I read it. Another new favorite of mine is one I just read to my little girls tonight: A Candle in the Window.

http://www.amazon.com/Candle-Window-Michelle-Ashman-Bell/dp/1591565707/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1323844758&sr=1-1

The artwork is beautiful! (I saw the original paintings on display at the HFAC about 5 years ago and loved them so I bought the book.)

A unique favorite at our house is "Cajun Night Before Christmas", but only if Brian reads it in his best Cajan accent (he lived in Louisiana for a couple of years as a boy so this book is a family tradition on his side.)

And after President Monson shared his favorite stories at the Christmas devotional, I've been trying to get a copy of The Mansion to read.

Merry Christmas, Lara! And don't go trying to comment on either of my blogs because I haven't posted anything new in ages! :)

Katie December 14, 2011 at 11:26 PM  

Thank you! I needed this. A few of my friends also use Christmas books as sort of an advent calendar, wrapping them all up at the beginning of December, and letting the kids open one each night to read. I would love to start the tradition myself, but need to build up a collection first, and will for sure be using this as my wish list.

This one was also a favorite from my childhood:

http://www.amazon.com/Claude-Dog-Christmas-Dick-Gackenbach/dp/089919124X

Katie December 14, 2011 at 11:29 PM  

(Yikes! Didn't know the link I just posted was so expensive! Now I know what you meant by discovery #2 at the beginning of this post ;)

Hillcresthome Prims December 15, 2011 at 7:40 AM  

Thank you so much for this post of Cristmas books and the titles and told alittle bit about each one. My Husband is ordering 5 of them for me. I am always on here for your wonderful goodies that I make all the time. I love your BLOG!

Thank you for sharing this and for all the wonderful goodies that I have made for my family, you get ALL the credit!

Christmas Blessings to you and your family from my family,
Warm Hugs,
Tricia

terrah December 15, 2011 at 10:44 AM  

Thanks for the list! I put the ones I haven't read on my hold queue at the library and I'm eager to try them out!

Marlaine December 21, 2011 at 3:17 AM  

I LOVE Christmas children's books, and usually buy 1-2 every year for our family collection. I see several of ours in your list. Thank you for your suggestions!

Here are a few of our favorites you might enjoy:
THE FAVORITE:
Santa Calls by William Joyce

More fun!
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera (and the sequel!)

Hours of fun trying to find things in:
I Spy Christmas by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick
Look Alikes Christmas by Joan Steiner

Very heartwarming:
The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown

HaHa!
The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Emma Kragen

And last, but certainly not least,
Christmas in the Country: a beloved Golden Book from my childhood that is out of print, but can be seen in its entirety here:
http://goldengems.blogspot.com/2008/12/christmas-in-country.html

kamagra March 24, 2012 at 8:31 AM  

Everybody loves Christmas. Thanks for the idea of having books during Christmas time it gives us joy the whole year through.

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My name is Lara and while I'm definitely not a gourmet cook, I do love preparing tasty, healthy meals for my family. Finding new recipes to try and sharing the ones we've already fallen in love with is a passion I've had since college and the reason why I've started this blog! With five kids, I'm usually in a hurry, so you'll find most of these recipes kid friendly and simple to make.

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