Saturday, December 13, 2014

An Advent Calendar Made of Picture Books

For the past two weeks, my boys have been choosing a book every day from a wrapped stack of Christmas picture books. The boy whose turn it is unwraps the "gift," and we read it aloud at our poetry tea-time.

All of these books come from our local library. I am blessed to be able to reserve books online, and I begin to reserve the books about half-way through November. In order to not tie up a huge number of their Christmas resources at once, I stagger my reservations. I also try to return the books soon after we are done with them so others can borrow them. I think our librarian actually appreciates this, as the books may come from other libraries across the PEI library system, and I return them to my local library. In this way, we help create a flow of Christmas books through our own little library.

I'm not going to list all of the books we use, but I would like to introduce you to some of our very favourites. We use a real variety... books about Jesus' birth are a given, but we also mix in some good picture books that may simply be set at Christmas, or even fantastical tales. I try to make sure the books we use are beautifully written and illustrated.

(I'm going to mention right now: I am not an Amazon associate. I just include these links for your reference. If you have a favourite blogger you like to support in this way, by all means, please buy through their links! One of my favourite Amazon associate blogs is Brandy Vencel's Afterthoughts Blog.)

For Ages Two and Up:

Martin Waddell is a wonderful children's author in general, and his Room for a Little One is very sweet. It is a gentle, imaginative tale about the animals of the stable in which Jesus was born. Beginning with "Kind Ox," each animal welcomes another animal in need to the stable. Finally they welcome a tired donkey along with Joseph and Mary, and ultimately the baby Jesus. The illustrations by Jason Cockcroft are very beautiful as well. I recommend this book for ages two and up.

Two similar choices suitable for the same age group are Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate and Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown.

The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats is another example of a Christmas book by a beloved children's author. While not Christmas-related, I have also used his classic The Snowy Day in our picture book line-up leading up to Christmas.

For Ages Five and Up:

We have a whole list of favourites illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Not only is she an excellent illustrator, but she seems to choose the most wonderful books to illustrate. I have found that any book illustrated by her is almost guaranteed to be well-written as well.

We read and enjoyed The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston and The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler's Sons by Ruth Sawyer last year. This year, we added The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, and I'm sure the boys are going to love it just as much as the others.

Another beautiful story for this age group is The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown. The boys also love The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot (as they love all his stories).

This is the Star by Joyce Dunbar is new to us this year, and I'm not entirely sure what I think of it yet. In the first place, I love the idea of it. It is the story of Jesus' birth structured in the same way as "The House that Jack Built". It is beautifully written, building and building until you come to "This is the child that was born." However, there are a couple of inaccuracies: it mentions that the shepherds saw the star as well as the wise men, and the (three) wise men visit Jesus while he is still in the stable. And I know this is a matter of taste, but I don't love the illustrations by Gary Blythe. Only you can decide if these are deal-breakers for you (and you might love the illustrations, anyway...). I'm on the fence.

Finally, just for fun, we like to include How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. Who doesn't love its rhythm?

For Ages 8 and Up:

It's true, I don't have any children ages 8 and up. But these are my favourites that my boys haven't quite grown into yet.

This may very possibly be my very favourite book on this page. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck is a story of family love so beautifully told that it almost makes me cry every time. That's all I'll say. Check it out.

I also can't wait until my boys have the attention span to really enjoy The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey with me. The illustrations of P.J. Lynch are incredibly beautiful.

(I just noticed! P.J. Lynch also illustrated an edition of O'Henry's classic story The Gift of the Magi. That's another story I am just waiting for my boys to enjoy with me. I can't wait to check it out!)

I hope this gives you some inspiration to share some beautiful picture books with your children. I would love to hear about your favourites, too! Please share them in the comments.