I like to try and include some new to us titles in our Christmas book basket every year. It’s fun to re-read the old ones, but also fun to find some new treasures. As an aside, my kids are cracking me up this year. Their main goal with the book basket is to have the book that always makes me cry (Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant) be the last book so that I am forced to read it and bawl like a baby on Christmas Eve. So far, they are in luck. It’s still unopened.
David Lucas’s A Letter for Bear is a sweet, beautifully illustrated Christmas story. Bear is a shy, lonely postman who delivers letters every day to all the other woodland animals but who never gets one himself. Every night he goes home to make soup and sit alone his cave. In the end he discovers that the best way to make friends is to reach out and be a friend. The story is gentle and simple (perhaps a little too simple for any but the very youngest kids). However, the woodcut illustrations are really lovely. I also liked that all the animals are identified on end pages and are Arctic animals instead of being just generic animals.
Peter Reynold’s The Smallest Gift of Christmas also has a simple message at it’s heart but the story is much sillier. Roland comes downstairs on Christmas morning and is disappointed to find that his present is much, much smaller than he hoped for. He wishes for it to be bigger, and magically it is. He wishes again and it is. And again. And again. My kids found this very funny, especially when he wasn’t satisfied with skyscraper sized packages. In the end of course, Roland realizes that the thing he really wants is right back where he started: home and family. I’m not a huge lover of books with a MESSAGE, but the silliness and bright cartoon like illustrations are the spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. Serendipitously, David has been reading fables about greed in his writing curriculum this week so this was a good book for us to open.
I’m not sure if there is a version of Santa Is Coming to Virginia by Steve Smallman for every state but there is one for a lot of them. The thrill for these books is recognizing the state landmarks on the cover and sprinkled through the illustrations and on hearing familiar places mentioned in the text. I didn’t realize that the story was exactly the same in each book other than the geographical places mentioned when I got this one and the Washington DC one out of the library. The story is a bit thin and the book reads more like a travel brochure than a story. Our kids don’t believe in Santa Claus and never have. Santa books might not be as appreciated here as they would be in a house where a kid is thrilled to read about Santa coming to their very own state.
Maryann MacDonald’s The Christmas Cat is my favorite new title so far this year. Inspired by a Leonardo Da Vinci drawing of La Madonna del Gatto, which showed Mary with an infant Jesus and a cat, MacDonald emphasizes the humanity of Jesus in this book. Like all babies, Jesus cried, MacDonald tells us. The only thing that calms him as a newborn is a kitten that becomes his pet and friend. The book goes on to show the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt (with cat). In emphasizing Jesus’ humanity MacDonald gives a slightly different perspective to the Christmas story than the one we usually hear.