Children’s Book of the Week: Christmas Books

December 14, 2009

Every year we get the same Christmas books from the library, and I love that they’ve become such a part of our holiday ritual. We do have some Christmas books of our own that get year-round use (Mary Engelbreit’s The Night Before Christmas, The Polar Express, Mortimer’s Christmas Manger, and The Nativity) though I’m considering putting them away this year and bringing them out with the ornaments next year.

Here are the ones we love from the library:

Christmas in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ilon Wikland

Oh, I love this book so much. It’s from a little Swedish girl’s point of view, telling us how they spend Christmas in Noisy Village, a little group of three farmhouses where there are a bunch of children (and so it’s always noisy). There are all these homey, old-fashioned traditions (the children bringing their sleds out into the woods to gather wood, because everyone has to help out with Christmas work), but everything they do is also completely understood by any kid right now: baking cookies, waiting for Christmas to come, a Christmas feast. I just love that it’s all wrapped up in these old-timey words like “This cooky smell is the kind I like best” and “Christmas Eve is the longest day of the year. Waiting for presents is what turns your hair gray” and “I wish Christmas would come oftener, don’t you?” The kids all love this book as much as I do, and I’m so glad to see it’s still in print.

The Mole Family’s Christmas by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

Russell Hoban, how we worship you! This is such a great book. Delver Mole and his parents do their mole work, digging underground and being very nearsighted. Delver hears about Christmas from a mouse, and starts to dream about asking Santa for a telescope — because he’s heard about these things called “stars” but is too nearsighted to see them. His family knows that, in order to get a present from Santa, you need a chimney, so they go through all the trouble of making a chimney so they can ask Santa for the telescope. There’s some harrowing action with the local owl, but in the end it’s the owl who delivers the moles’ letter to Santa and makes Christmas happen. Like every Hoban book, this one is enormously fun to read, and the illustrations are wonderful.

Peter Spier’s Christmas by Peter Spier

My aunt turned us on to Peter Spier when she gave us People, which is a book that, after two years, is still one that can absorb the kids for hours. Christmas is no different. There are no words, just these lovely detailed illustrations that you get completely lost in. You follow a family as they prepare for Christmas (grocery shopping! decorating!), have Christmas (complete with feasting and church and presents), and then clean up afterwards. Every time you look at it you’ll notice something new, especially in scenes like the shopping mall or the church, where there are loads of people doing all kinds of different things (well, ok, in church they’re all mainly doing the same thing, but that’s what makes finding the fussy child even more fun). There is something incredibly magical about this book that I’m not even sure I can describe. This one is out of print (as is The Mole Family’s Christmas), and prices on amazon.com are ridiculous, but it shows on on eBay at more reasonable prices (and, in fact, I just snagged us an eBay copy because someone else got the library’s copy this year, and I found that I really missed it).

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

Last year my mom said to me, “What’s that Christmas book about the tree that’s too big, and they keep cutting off the top, and more and more animals get the tree bits as it gets smaller and smaller?” Apparently it was one we had read when I was little, but I had no idea what she was talking about. Using my almost-librarian skills, however, we figured out that it was Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree and quickly inter-library loaned us a copy of it.

It’s great. Wonderfully effortless rhymes, and my mom’s synopsis is pretty much what happens. Mr. Willowby, a rich man, orders an enormous tree, one that’s just a trifle too enormous, so he cuts off the top and gives it to his maid. But the top bit is just a bit too big for the space where she puts it, so she cuts off a bit, and everyone else who gets the tree top does too, until finally a mouse family takes the last little tippy top bit and it’s perfect. I actually got us our own copy of this this year too (despite me telling my mom last year not to get it because we don’t need any more books) because it’s so wonderful, and we can fit it in with my new plan of packing away the Christmas books.

There’s another we got this year, but it’s the first time we’ve gotten it, so I can’t really call it one that has worked itself into our Christmas library book tradition. It’s An Early American Christmas by Tomie DePaola. DePaola lives in New Hampshire, and I guess he got curious one year about how Christmas used to be celebrated. Turns out it wasn’t really celebrated at all. So he tells the story of a family that comes from Germany and who does celebrate Christmas, and all the things they do, and how the other people in the town eventually celebrate Christmas more as well. There’s some really neat stuff here that I didn’t know about, like folding paper decorations and coating them in wax to hang outside on the bushes, or all the different kinds of cookies they make (as well as a maddening reference to “the Christmas pyramid” that isn’t explained any further — what could that be?). Henry has really been taken in by this book, making all kinds of paper hearts-in-hands and birds to hang on our windows.

One other that we got this year that I love but the kids are not quite as into is Little Tree by e.e. cummings. But I really love e.e. cummings, so that’s why I love this book. It’s just a lovely little poem about picking out a tree (a little tree) and bringing it home. I will say that the book we got from the library is illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray (the one on amazon.com is illustrated by Chris Raschka), and I really love her pictures. She also illustrated this book we have by Charlotte Zolotow called The White Marble that is such a marvel of children’s bookery — I keep wanting to review it here but it’s such an enigma I’m not sure I can do it justice. At any rate it’s a summer book so I can wait until then. Anyway, seek out Little Tree if you want a nice poem-in-a-book in your Christmas book collection.

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7 Responses to “Children’s Book of the Week: Christmas Books”

  1. sutswana says:

    Quelle smorgasbord of books! Love this post.
    I also recommend Star Mother’s Youngest Child, by Louise Moeri. It’s pretty great.
    Could the “Christmas pyramid” be a reference to the tree? I haven’t read this book so I have no idea…

  2. emily says:

    wow! what a wonderful post!
    I think the christmas pyramid might be this: it’s wooden, and has 3 tiers, and a propeller at the top. you light the 6 or so candles that hook in little holders on the base, and the heat from these turns the propeller, which in turn turns the little 3 tiered carousel in the middle! my friend’s mom, inge, had one from germany (also a christmas tree with CANDLES that we lit for about 5 minutes on christmas eve every year) and now my mom has one. It might be that. I’m jonesing for one myself.

    yes: i googled it! that’s what it is!
    look!
    http://www.nutcrackers.com/holiday-decor/german-pyramids/5087+5092+4294976692.cfm?source=googleaw&kwid=christmas%20pyramids&tid=broad

  3. Julie says:

    Oh, yes, Emily, that’s exactly what it is! The book just hows the grandfather with a few pieces of wood, and talks about him constructing the Christmas pyramid, but with no knowledge of what that might be I was lost (why didn’t I Google it? some librarian I am). From the picture you get the feeling it’s just a few pieces of wood tied together, which made me curious as to WHY.

  4. emily says:

    I’m getting the noisy christmas on amazon right now! I didn’t look at the prices of those pyramids, sheesh! but they really are quite magical. fire and all.

  5. Julie says:

    Yeah, it seems like somehow the price of Christmas accoutrements has really skyrocketed. Our cheesy little rotating musical Christmas tree isn’t working this year, so I casually looked online for others, and they were all $200. Never mind.

  6. Jessica says:

    Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree is the best!! One of our childhood favorites. Thanks for reminding me about it!

  7. Anne says:

    We’ve acquired a copy of Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, and indeed, this has become an instant hit in our house. I don’t even mind reading it aloud several times in a row, as I’m often required to do. Many thanks for the recommendation!

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