The Children's Book Compass

Books for Christmas

Posted on: December 19, 2011

Cuddle up with your children and make Christmas memories by reading aloud these books. The first four tell about Christmas in past times.

The Money We’ll Save by Brock Cole.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  FSG.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

Cole’s droll, expressive illustrations coupled with his subtle, humorous text make this a book that requires multiple reading to keep savoring the fun of the story.  The setting is a ninetieth century New York City tenement.  The family with four children is stuffed into the three small rooms.  Ma asks Pa to go to the market to purchase two eggs and a half of pound of flour so she can make pancakes for supper.  She instructs him, “Now just buy two eggs and a half pound of flour,  Remember, Christmas is not far off, and we must save every penny.”  Pa also brings home a turkey poult to fatten for Christmas dinner.  Pa tells the family, “It will fatten up into a fine bird, and we can have it for Christmas dinner.  Think of the money we’ll save!”  The children name the turkey Alfred and feed him table scraps.  Alfred quickly out grows out his box by the stove, steals the families’ food and makes messes everywhere.  Pa’s wacky ideas to solve the problem escalate as Alfred grows.  When Alfred is hung from the clothes line with a pulley that runs out over the privies the neighbors protest with umbrellas covering their head to protect them from Alfred’s massive white droppings littering their clothes, their hair and even a dog.  The children object that it would be like eating a friend when Pa is ready to take the bird to the butcher.  The family comes up with a clever solution to save Alfred and restore peace to their home.  They eat oatmeal on Christmas day because all their pennies have been spent.  Pa remarks sadly, that “…it isn’t much of a holiday feast…”  “Ah, but think of the money we saved,” said Ma …”   Allow children plenty of time to relish the fun details in the illustrations.  Some made me laugh out loud.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.  Illus. by Ellen Beier.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

This quiet memoir is about sacrificing, giving and caring.  Virginia and her brother grow up on the Sioux reservation where their father is the Episcopal priest of the village.  Virginia longs for a new coat to replace the threadbare, outgrown one she has and to keep her warm in the frigid South Dakota weather.  She hopes for one from the boxes sent by church congregations in New England.  When the boxes arrive there is a coat that Virginia hopes for, but another girl takes it.  A happy ending provides Virginia with a beautiful, new coat and her brother with cowboy boots.  Small details in the illustrations enrich the story:  in school the children write with pens and inkwells; a Christmas pageant in the church guildhall features children as the wise men in feathered headdresses and full regalia; Santa’s pack is filled with dolls, balls and toy cars.   This unusual story captures the spirit of Christmas.

The Carpenter’s Gift:  A Christmas Tale About the Rockerfeller Center Tree by David Rubel.  Illus. by Jim LaMarche.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Random House.  Grades 1-4.  Picture book.

This book that takes place in the Depression of 1931 tells a hopeful story that will resonate with children of today.  Henry’s parents are out of work and his family is barely surviving in a shack with no money for coal for the stove or warm blankets for the beds.  Henry’s dad borrows a truck on Christmas Eve and father and son cut spruce trees to sell in New York City that is an hour from their small home.  They find a good spot to sell their trees close to the construction site for Rockefeller Center.  When they have sold most of the trees they give the tallest and best to the construction workers.  Henry helps decorate the tree and makes a star out of newspaper.  As he hangs the star he wishes for a new home for his family.  He takes home and plants a pinecone from one of the trees.  On Christmas morning, the family is thrilled to find the construction workers who have brought extra wood from the construction site to build a home for the family.  Henry gets to help.  Many years later, when Henry returns to his parent’s home and finds that the pine cone has grown into a gorgeous, tall spruce.  He donates it to the Rockefeller Center for their Christmas display.  The gift of a new home continues when the season is over because the wood from the tree is used to build a home for a family in need.  Notes at the end explains about the history of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and how Habitat for Humanity builds home for families like Henry’s that lack adequate shelter.  LaMarche’s lush, expressive paintings glow and show the compassion to the story.

Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World by Douglas Wood.  Illus. by Barry Moser.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Grades 4-8.  Nonfiction.

In December of 1941, Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, came through a terrible Atlantic storm on a battleship to meet at the White House with President Roosevelt.  Churchill had already led his country in two years of war against Nazi Germany.  “… he and the president would plan how they might save the world.”  Wood describes the important meetings of the two leaders and their aides as well as the events of the Christmas holidays.  At the end of the book the two leaders had forged a relationship that would sustain them over the terrible years of the war.  The book ends with “The two friends did trust each other, through every hardship and difficulty, victory and defeat, over the next years of World War II.  Millions of others trusted them as well, all around the world.  It was a world they helped to save with their courage and their friendship, on that important Christmas of 1941.”  Wood shows the human side of the two leaders.  Churchill insisted on two hot baths a day.  “One day Franklin barged into Winston’s room just as he was getting out of the tub.  “Think nothing of it,” said Winston.  “The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to conceal from the president of the United States!”  Moser’s painting shows Churchill a cigar clutched in his mouth with a towel draped over his lower body.  The choices of paper, typeface, design elements, and paintings combine to make this a beautifully crafted book.  A note at the end explains that the paintings “were based, in part, on historical photographs, which were freely cropped, modified, and merged into totally new images …”  This excellent book will introduce young readers to a vital part of our history.

A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Philomel.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

I have read this book aloud several times to appreciative audiences.  Pyn and her father, Oother, live alone on a mountain.  “Oother loved his daughter very much.  But he was a bearlike mountain man who did not soften for anyone.  Not even Pyn.”  Pym is industrious in taking care of their home and providing meals while Oother works in the woods.  Pyn ask for a Christmas tree to help them celebrate Christmas.  Taciturn Oother doesn’t seem interested.  Pyn takes matters into her own hands and decides to surprise Oother with a perfect tree she cuts down herself.  Finding the perfect tree turns out to be hard work as Pyn struggles through the deep snow.   When she becomes buried in the snow Oother finds her and together they discover the perfect tree.  Pyn decorates the tree with a collection of things she has found in the woods and saved.  Oother surprises her with a precious ornament for the top of the tree he made for her mother and saved.  Dunrea’s quiet illustrations in gouache and pencil shows daughter and father in profile and thus captures the contrast in their sizes and natures.  This story is about how steadfast love and the beauty of Christmas can soften a heart.

 

 

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2 Responses to "Books for Christmas"

Thanks Marilyn – as usual I love your commentary and will check out a few of the books – Have a very Merry Christmas with your family – I think you have been traveling if I remember right – we’ll catch up after the new year! Paige

“The Carpenter’s Gift” sounds so beautiful. You said it was a “hopeful story” is it also a true story? It seems so lovely.

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Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

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