Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review: Children's Books - Christmas 2008

Edited to add: This post originally published December 20, 2007. Because of the baby and my other surgery I haven't made it to the library for new books this year. I ordered several books from CBD this weekend but they won't arrive for a few more days. I hope this post gives you some ideas in your own hunt for children's Christmas books. For more ideas check out 5 Minutes for Books Children's Classics Carnival.
Children's Classics


This year I've been on the look-out for quality Christmas books. After four years of collecting children's books we've managed to add ZERO Christmas ones to our collection. I'm not sure how that's happened. I totally intend to remedy the situation during the after-Christmas bargain sales.

In the meantime, I stumbled across the holiday section in our children's library. Who knew they had pulled ALL the books about the various holidays from the picture book section and placed them on shelves behind the juvenile fiction area?! I certainly didn't! Not having children old enough to read "chapter books" I seldom go in that area. But now I know.

I spent a good deal of time sorting through and reading the books to make sure I approved of their message before bringing them home. Here are three books I checked out and have enjoyed reading to the boys this month.

Good King Wenceslas verses by J.M. Neale, illustrated by Jamichael Henterly. Published by E.P. Dutton, 1988. If you are familiar with the Christmas song then you already know the words of this book. The complete verses and simple score (am I using that correctly?) are included on the final page.

The vocabulary used in the song is a bit advanced for my guys but I don't think that is a bad thing. The illustrations are telling the story of the song so the reader can easily explain new words by pointing to the pictures. The illustrations are also realistic rather than cartoon-ish and are set in the time period of King Wenceslas. Furnishings, food, and clothing give the reader a feel for the historic time period.

My only words of caution is the reference to "Saint Agnes" and illustration of a statue of the saint. I caution for that because we are Baptist and don't "do Saints." But we live in a part of the country where a Catholic church is on every corner and statues of Saints sit in lots of yards. If you have older children this could be a good jumping off point to research Saint Agnes. My other caution is the reference to wine and illustrated wine barrels. We have chosen not to drink alcoholic beverages so if your children, like mine, are unaccustomed to such references it could raise questions.

I think this book is worth owning. The rich colorful illustrations bring a classic song to life. As usual, I think my children will "grow into" this book.

I found another illustrated Christmas song during my library search. The Little Drummer Boy, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, published by Macmillan, 1968. Once again lyrics and simple music score are included in the back of the book.
The illustrations have a definite middle eastern feel to them, which I enjoy given the Caucasian leanings of most children's picture books. I have no idea what to call the technique Mr. Keats used. Rich colors and varied patterns are chosen over intricate details. The pictures are not realistic but I wouldn't say they are abstract either.

My favorite page has the words "Baby Jesus, (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum)" and shows part of a cradle with just the arm and hand of Jesus reaching up. I've seen my own children reach out exactly like that countless times. The illustration reminds me of the Messiah's ordinary infancy.

I think this is a quality book for bringing another classic song to life.

Not all the books I chose are songs. You may have seen The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg around for awhile. I even saw a DVD of the book in a CBD catalog. I have mixed feelings about this book. I like the telling of the story of the candy cane. Every time my guys see a candy cane they say "J is for Jesus." I also appreciate how the Crucifixion isn't "candy coated." (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

What makes me uncertain is that, to me, it feels like two different stories that have been put into one book: the story of Mr. Sonneman setting up his candy shop and the legend of the candy cane. The combination of the two stories doesn't completely work for me but my husband and sons really like the book. So I plan on searching for this book to own, though, of the three books, I am least enthusiastic about this one.

What children's Christmas books do you recommend I add to my collection?


Carrie said...

Awesome post and recommendations! I DO recommend the St. Nicholas book that I talked about at 5 Minutes for Books. Esp. after reading your description of the Good King Wenceslas. In the St. Nick book he is referenced as being a "pastor" over the area (who "wore long robes"). But I don't think the book focuses too heavily on saints at all. They kept refering to him as "Pastor" throughout the whole book.

Anyway, thanks for the tips!

Alyce said...

We don't own any Christmas books either. It wasn't a concious decision, just kind of happened.

Alicia said...

I just discovered that "all the holiday books in one section" section, too! When I was looking for T-giving books. Handy! Great idea to re-post from last year!

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

It can be hard!

I'm not sure how long it's been up, but I love your new look!

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