Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pretty Books for Christmas

I love when bookstores bring out all the beautiful Christmas books. Of course, now this happens in mid November, but it's still part of the seasonal excitement. This year, I found lots of lovely books that I'd love to bring home.

Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki is one we actually own, and we bring it out after Thanksgiving every year. It's a wonderful way to tie in all the Santa stuff with the real meaning of Christmas, Jesus. The animals are all anxiously awaiting Christmas when they find Santa asleep in the woods. Worried, they ask how the Christmas preparations are going. Oh, it's so much work, and he's so tired...perhaps, says Santa, he just won't deliver gifts this year. But, say the animals, then there won't be Christmas! Santa gently corrects them: even if he doesn't deliver gifts, Christmas will still arrive. And he tells them the story of the birth of Jesus, emphasizing that all the presents and whatnot have nothing to do with that ultimate gift so long ago. It's a lovely little story, beautifully illustrated with watercolor paintings.

RRoom for a Little One by Martin Waddell may end up in my 3 year old's stocking this year. It's got pretty pictures and a sweet story. Animals are coming one by one -- tired, old, lost -- and all are welcomed into the stable. At last, Mary and Joseph arrive and are welcomed, too. When baby Jesus makes his appearance, well, of course there's room for him as well. The paintings positively glow and it comes in a nice boardbook format.The next two are so similar, I think you could probably throw a dart and be equally happy with either. Voices of Christmas by Nikki Grimes and The Twelve Prayers of Christmas by Candi Chand. Their formats are almost identical: a retelling of the Christmas story through a variety of perpectives. In Twelve Prauers the perspectives are rendered as prayers, while Voices tells the story in first-person narrative poems.

Both books have stunning artwork and I loved the ethnic flavor of both -- Gabriel is black, Mary looks hispanic or middle eastern, baby Jesus has dark hair. It makes a nice change. My sense of Voices is that it's more Poetry (with a capital p) and some of the lines seem better suited for older kids. In Joseph's poem, he wonders "How can I marry a girl who is having someone else's baby?" Most of the Voices poems are longer than those in Twelve Prayers, again making them maybe a little better for older kids. Twelve Prayers poems are shorter, rhymed texts, beginning with Mary and ending with Jesus. Both of these are gorgeous books with lush, detailed paintings amply complimenting the writing.

The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman is one that caught my eye because of the illustrations and then I was drawn into the text. The adult narrator is having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, so the Spirit of Christmas appears, offering sights and sounds of the season to help the narrator along. In the end, though, what's missing is what began it all --Love and a Child. Tillman's luminous illustrations are lovely and convey a sweet nostalgia. This doesn't have the most hard-hitting "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" message, but it's sweet and sentimental and points in the right direction.

I like to have a collection of books like this to bring out at Christmas and leave scattered on end and coffee tables. Even my oldest, who is "too old for picture books, Mom!" will pick them up and thumb through them. It's nice to have some new options for the season.

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