Monday, December 27, 2010

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

We had a white Christmas!  I know that doesn't mean much to a lot of you, but for me, it was my first white Christmas, and for my little town, it's been the first white Christmas in 47 years!  So you can imagine, it was pretty special.  That and we've all had precious moments with extended family!

So the perfect book for such an occasion is Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (c. 1978).  Once again, Susan Jeffers gives us a breathtakingly beautiful book.  You must check out her interpretation of  Robert Frost's poem.

Jeffers lends an enchanting quality to Frost's quietly enthralling poem.  Frost's poem conveys the magical silence and deceleration to life's pace that a newly falling snow brings about.  Jeffers faithfully compliments the peaceful solitude captured by Frost's poem.  The text and illustrations in this book transports the reader into the allure of a snowstorm, bestowing a serene and spellbinding experience.

Readers, comment on which page or spread is your favorite.  It's a tough choice, isn't it!

Friday, December 24, 2010

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

 "Christmas Bells" or
"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(The original poem, complete with all seven stanzas)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow experienced great devastation in 1861, but out of that overwhelming grief, he began to pen the words that would lead him to write this unforgettable poem, which he completed in 1864. To read the heart-wrenching story behind the poem -- now Christmas carol -- check out: 

or check out this beautiful book by Lloyd Newell and Karmel Newell that contains Longfellow's poem and story.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Orange for Frankie

I raided Mom's Christmas collection and found yet another moving story from the master storyteller Patricia PolaccoAn Orange for Frankie left me spellbound.  I actually couldn't stop thinking about it throughout the rest of the day.

I don't know how many of you have seen the Waltons' Christmas movie entitled The Homecoming: A Christmas Story; it's one of those movies that's a staple around my house this time of year (again, another tradition passed down from my parents).  But for those of you who have seen the movie: you know that fuzzy feeling you get at the end when John Walton finally makes it home late Christmas Eve and everyone says good night to each other, ending with "Goodnight, John-Boy."  Well, this book conjurs up that same heart-warmness!  In fact, the story line is quite similar -- only in An Orange for Frankie all nine Stowell children eagerly await their father's return for Christmas.  However, he's delayed by a blinding snowstorm.  And the whole while we're following this story, we're also following a gripping sub-story of selfless giving.  Polacco weaves together two beautiful story lines of joy and tradition based on her own grandmother's childhood experience and enhanced by her brilliant watercolor and pencil illustrations.

So gather your family, and enjoy a touching story together.  You may even discover a new tradition for yourselves within its pages.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mrs. Santa Claus . . .

 Mom, this one is dedicated to you!

A woman named Mrs. S. Claus
Deserves to be heard from because
    She sits in her den
    Baking gingerbread men
While her husband gets all the applause.

~ J. Patrick Lewis

For my readers: Mom always joked that Santa Claus should be a woman since that's who does all the cleaning, decorating, shopping, sewing, making, searching, baking, fetching, wrapping, mailing, cooking, hosting . . .

So, moms, now that it's only a few days until Christmas, how do you feel about it?!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I know, you've seen the original animated movie and you've seen the Jim Carrey movie, so why take the time to read the book?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (c. 1957) is such that no televised production can fully encapsulate the beauty of language or the quality of rhyme as Dr. Seuss does.  Let's just say a little dose of this book can help cure the gimmies.  Dr. Seuss says it best and says it complete: 

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing!  Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
"It came without ribbons!  It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This Is the Stable

This Is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten tells the miracle of Jesus' birth in the rhythm of This is the House that Jack Built, making it catchy for children to remember the detailsArtist Delana Bettoli "used sepia ink outline, watercolor underpainting, gouache, and acrylic paint to create" her illustrations.

This is such a departure from the nativities we've seen in the past.  Finally, Bettoli presents us with a Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and shepherds that look like they're from Israel.  And how about these wise men who could actually be from the Eastern Hemisphere.

 As you can see, Bettoli's brilliant artwork makes this book stand out from other nativity editions.  I have to catch my breath each time I come to this page.  Isn't the rich color she gives to the angels just spectacular?  Bettoli's interpretation of the brilliancy of light and color of the angels encompassing the sky lends us understanding as to why the shepherds were fearful.

But what I love about this book most of all are dove-like wings enveloping the sky and stable, which for me signifies God's presence.  In fact, look for the dove throughout the story -- a Biblical symbol of God's Spirit.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Gingerbread Boy

We're busy baking around here . . . making memories.  One tradition that I carried over from my childhood is making large gingerbread boys to gift and to eat.  Oh, they're delicious!  I know, I know . . . everyone thinks their own baking is the best.  But you'll appreciate this: last month, my sister-in-law said my brother still has a gingerbread cookie in the freezer from last Christmas that he's saving for the first of December; she ended by saying, "And he won't let me have it!"  So, I'm asking you, how many of you save your Christmas baked goods until the following November?  It's that good!

And it should be -- because boy is it labor intensive!  I feel like I've been rolling, cutting-out, baking and cleaning, decorating and cleaning with the kids all day.  Wait . . . that is what I've been doing all day!  Meanwhile, what I'm baffled by is that when I was growing up, my Mom did this for all three of our classes.  How did she do that?  But boy have the kids enjoyed it!  And when we were all done, I thought I'd never recover from the pleading of them wanting to do more.  What a fun and memorable experience!

The traditional reading a tale of The Gingerbread Boy accompanies the baking of gingerbread boys around our house.   You know the tale: a charming elderly couple bakes a gingerbread boy who in turn runs away as soon as the oven door opens.  Then everyone and their brother salivatingly chases that little rascal gingerbread boy as he mockingly and boastfully sings:
Run, run -- as fast as you can!
You can't catch me!  I'm the gingerbread man!
I ran away from the little old lady and the little old man.
And I can run away from you too, I can, I can!

I grew up with the Little Golden Book edition pictured above (c. 1965, reprinted 1978) entitled The Gingerbread Man, which has quite an unsentimental ending: And that was the end of the gingerbread man.  But then, nobody felt bad about that.  After all, everybody knew that gingerbread men are baked to be eaten.

However, I have to say that as endeared to the Golden Book edition as I am, I also love Paul Galdone's edition (c.  1975) entitled The Gingerbread Boy.  I find it interesting that in Galdone's story the charming elderly couple is childless, hence their rationale to fashion a gingerbread boy, which, of course, makes the ending a bit more pitiful.  If you haven't checked out a Galdone book yet, now is the time!

Either way, I'm telling you, those gingerbread boys are as sought after as square footage in Manhattan!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Nutcracker

I'm giving my mom all the credit for finding my favorite edition of The Nutcracker story, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (c. 2007).  Accordingly, she sat in Barnes & Noble for hours flipping through and reading various editions of The Nutcracker until she settled on this one.  Jeffers edits the original text (which is quite lengthy) to make it child friendly, and she intentionally illustrates it to reflect Tchaikovsky's ballet, making this a beautiful, age-appropriate gift for children.

Nana gave this copy to my daughter last Christmas to commemorate a momentous occasion: enjoying her first performance of the Nutcracker ballet with her momma.

What I like best about this book is how well Jeffers incorporates the ballet into the story, as you can see here.  Said daughter was quite delighted to find that the book mirrored what she had seen on stage.  Thank you Mom for such a delightful book; it's a real treasure!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dream Snow

Oh, sigh, Eric Carle!  Who doesn't adore Eric Carle?  What home have his books not found a way to nestle themselves into?  I don't even need to explain how wonderful Eric Carle is.  We all know him to be a brilliant storyteller and a brilliant illustrator by his trademark tissue-paper collage illustrations.  Here's a current author / illustrator who has already become a classic.  One day our children's children will wax nostalgically about their memories of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

I have quite an admiration for Eric Carle, so just imagine how that escalated when I saw him on a Mr. Roger's Neighborhood re-run back in September -- to see two extraordinary talented individuals Fred Rogers and Eric Carle on the TV screen at the same time and then to share that experience with my children -- pretty amazing!  I searched You Tube to share that episode with you, especially Carle's fascinating description of his artistic process, but alas it's not to be.  However, I did find his explanation of that creative process here.

I'm recommending Dream Snow today.  It's one of the kids' favorites!  Carle holds them captivated by the simple, yet magical, tale of a farmer routinely caring for his five animals  One wintry evening, he slips into slumber where "soon he dreamed of falling snowflakes."  Carle transports the allure of falling snow into a dreamlike holiday tale.  If you end up purchasing copy of Dream Snow, please be advised that it will become love-worn!

If you'd like to discover more about Eric Carle, check out his website here.  It's a great resource.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Christmas Story

Let me start off by saying that Eloise Wilkin is one of my all-time favorite illustrators for young children.  I grew up reading and re-reading her books.  I remember studying her illustrations for hours upon hours.  I find my children doing the same. You absolutely cannot go wrong when you pick up one of her books.  If you see a Wilkin book, get it!  And if you don't want it, by all means, send - it - to - me!!  (I could easily become a hoarder in this arena.)  I mean just look at those precious faces she captures.  I could blog for months and months about specific Wilkin titles, every one of them so dear. 

However, this evening, I'm going to feature Jane Werner's narrative of The Christmas Story (c. 1952) that Wilkin illustrates.  Oh, the joy of flipping through this book.  The Nativity steps off its display and into a picture book well suited for young children.  Werner stays true to the original Biblical text, using specific quotations from scripture, in her retelling of the Jesus' immaculate birth.  Eloise Wilkin's characteristic illustrations help modern day children envision that ancient miracle.

Unfortunately, our local library doesn't have this particular edition.  However, I've yet to come across a bookstore who doesn't carry it.  I've also seen it in some random places like Hobby Lobby and the Dollar Store.

Friday, December 10, 2010

'Twas the Night before Christmas

Hello, readers!  You know my affinity for collecting particular books, and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas is yet another title that I just love rediscovering in varying illustrators' interpretations!  And let me let you in on a little secret: I have yet to explain any particulars about Santa Claus to the children.  This poem has done all the work for me! Isn't the language perfectly beautiful?!

Oh, this dear copy by Holly Hobbie (c. 1970) brings back so many memories.  It was the first Holly Hobbie book I ever saw and the only copy of The Night before Christmas that I remember.  To say that I'm quite attached to Holly Hobbie's interpretation is putting it mildly.  She alone has recreated the Santa of my childhood imagination.  I mean, honestly, can you find a better rendition of The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads?  No one can compete with Holly Hobbie's illustration of this stanza!

And then, in a twinkling I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

My husband discovered Niroot Puttapipat's (c. 2007) interpretation a few years ago.  This book boldly declares itself: "a magical cut-paper edition."  Well, it's quite right -- it provides quite a magical experience.  I love the effect Puttapipat's silhouettes and cutouts contribute, leaving room for the imagination to envision it's own particulars.  Look for Puttapipat's intricate details: hidden Nutcracker soldiers and mice and a tree decorated to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Truly this is a beautiful edition!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky . . .

I also love this dear little 2 X 3 copy illustrated by Tasha Tudor and printed by Joh. Enshede en Zonen, Haarlem, Holland, given to me by my Aunt Teresa.  Tudor presents an enchanting, elfin Santa in this edition.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; 

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!'

Yep, it's another book that every parent should own!  The best edition of this beloved poem is the one with which you most identify.  So readers, tell us, what's your favorite edition of The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore?

Background info.
 ~ Clement Clarke Moore penned this renowned Christmas poem in 1825. 
 ~ It was originally published as an "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" in the newspaper Troy Sentinel.  
 ~ Tradition holds that Moore wrote the poem for his children on Christmas Eve in 1822.  
 ~ Our modern image of Santa Claus as "pump . . . jolly" figure traces back to Moore's detailed depiction.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Christmas in the Country

    My friends have been telling me that it's Christmas and where are the Christmas recommendations?!  Well . . . I've been decorating!  Thank goodness Take Joy! was in the piano bench from last season's playing, so you could get a taste of an artist whose spirit reflects the delight of Christmastime.  Now, I've pulled out our Christmas books from the attic, which is such a wonderful event because the kids act like they're in euphoria -- it's even better than receiving a new book because it's that feeling of familiarity put on hold.  Yep, for 10 - 11 months, I've starved them of their little treasures, and oh the sweetness that follows reuniting!

    Actually, I get downright giddy with all these wonderful Christmas books, and then, THEN I get completely overwhelmed.  When and where to begin?!  So sit tight folks, I'll try to post a new book each day.  If not, you can just hope that I'm baking or sewing or delving into some other seasonal preparation.  Oh, and I must send a SHOUT OUT to my friend Tracy.  In looking for a place to put her Christmas books, she shelved them into her son's red Radio Flyer Walker Wagon --  Beautifully brilliant idea!  Maybe she'll take a picture for me to post sometime during the next few weeks.

    Grab a quilt and a few little ones and slow down the bustle of your season with this cozy read!   Another classic by the duo Cynthia Rylant (In November) and Diane Goode (Thanksgiving is Here!), Christmas in the Country chronicles one girl's joyful experience during the Christmas season at her shared home with grandmother and grandfather.  Rylant details homemade decorations, the "commotion" of Christmas Day, and quaint country customs.  Both Rylant and Goode paint a warm, familial picture inspired by Southern Appalachia that summons the Christmas spirit.

    A Merry Literary Christmas

    "A Merry Literary Christmas"
    by Alice Low

    When Christmas shopping time draws nigh,
    And I am faced with gifts to buy,
    I think about one relative
    Who always had one gift to give.
    Year after year her present came,
    And every year it was the same.
    While other gifts were round and fat,
    (Their secrets hidden) hers was flat,
    Rectangular, the corners square,
    I knew exactly what was there.
    I'd pass it by without a look--
    My aunt had sent another book!
    I'd only open it to write
    A "thank-you" that was too polite,
    But every year when Christmas went
    I'd read the book my aunt had sent,
    And looking back, I realize
    Each gift was treasure in disguise.
    So now it's time to write her here
    A thank-you note that is sincere.

    So---thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe,
    For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,
    For Little Nell and William Tell
    And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell.

    Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck,
    For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab the duck,
    For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow
    And Papa Geppetto's Pinocchio.

    For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad,
    King Arthur and Dorothy's Yellow Brick Road,
    For Kimplin's Kim and tales from Grimm,
    And Ferdinand, Barbar, and Tiny Tim.

    I loved them all, I'm glad I met them.
    They're with me still, I won't forget them.
    So I'll give books on Christmas Day
    Though I know what all my nieces say--
    I know it from the way they write
    A "thank-you" that is too polite.

    Oh, dear!  I believe I'm this said aunt that Low describes.  Actually,  I'm more likely this aunt, sister, daughter, mom, wife, in-law, friend . . . and the reputation has caught up with me even becoming the family joke.  It's just that I think books are so wonderful that I want to spread the love and joy!  Perhaps I should stick to gift cards.  :)

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    The Trees of the Dancing Goats

    As Hanukkah draws to a close, I'd like to share with you a heartwarming tale of friendship called The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco.  When I first picked up this book, I wondered what-in-the-world dancing goats meant.  Not only does Polacco captivate her audience with her rich storytelling, she captivates readers with her title!

    Just as Hanukkah marks a time of celebrating miracles, Polacco draws from her memory when her own family created a miracle for their neighbors.  Read how Trisha and Richard, Babushka, Grandpa, and Momma excitedly and sacrificially bless their neighbors in time of sickness, bringing together two faith celebrations: Hanukkah and Christmas.  And discover the secret behind the trees of the dancing goats!

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Take Joy!

    Take Joy! (1966) is an anthology of "songs, stories, poems, and things to do for a family Christmas" by acclaimed illustrator Tasha Tudor.  I found this treasure at our county library last Christmas, and I so fell in love with it that I won one for myself off ebay!  Now if that isn't a recommendation, I don't know what is!  Tudor's homespun delight in Christmas evidences itself in her rich, warm illustrations and quality selections.  I could go on and on about this book!  However, Tasha Tudor's art speaks for itself.  So in Tudor's words, "Take Joy!"

    Unfortunately, Tudor's beautiful book is out of print, so depending on where you live, it may be difficult for you to access, which is why I wanted to share some of her wonderful illustrations with you!

    Illustration for an excerpt of Dickens' A Christmas Carol

    Illustration for The Boar's Head carol

    a few of Tudor's children bringing home their tree

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Little House in the Big Woods

    We're reading out of Little House in the Big Woods right now, and I'm telling you, there's nothing like cuddling up with your kids during those cold winter evenings and reading this classic by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I distinctly remember my own mother gathering us together on cold winter nights to read (in the large print text) about the wolves howling underneath the great Minnesota winter moons, Pa's hog butchering to feed his family through the bitterest of months, and the aunts and uncles dancing at Grandpa's.

    You well know this time-worn classic of a pioneer family's life.  It's time to revisit it again from the viewpoint of a parent reading it to the next generation.  And if you do decide to make it your winter tradition to read Little House in the Big Woods aloud to your family, try to check out that special large print edition!

    You know, I've often wondered if the classic Little House on the Prairie series would have the same intense popularity that it does if it wasn't for Garth Williams' beloved illustrations -- the author and illustrator compliment each other so well!  I thought this quotation from the Harper Collins website was well worth repeating: Garth Williams began his work on the pictures for the Little House books by meeting Laura Ingalls Wilder at her home in Missouri, and then he traveled to the sites of all the little houses. His charming art caused Laura to remark that she and her family "live again in these illustrations."

    If you're interested in follow-up projects and books, check out the official website:

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    The Little Drummer Boy

    Ezra Jack Keat's stunning illustrations breathe life into the beloved children's carol The Little Drummer Boy, words and music by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone.  Here's another story that's difficult to read without lapsing into the song or some kind of tapping.  The kids especially love repeating the rhythmic "pa-rum-pum-pum-pum" with an unmistakable enthusiasm!  The provocative song tells the story of a poor boy honoring the baby Jesus with the only gift he has, the heart-gift of song.  Notice how Keats carries the story in the little drummer boy's facial expressions, making these memorable Middle Eastern illustrations a Christmas classic to savor each year.

    For those unfamiliar with the tune, Keats includes the musical score and lyrics in the back.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    The Festival of Lights, Hanukkah

    On this third night of Hanukkah (or Chanukah), the Festival of Lights, we've enjoyed reading In the Month of Kislev: A Story for Hanukkah by Nina Jaffe and illustrated by Louise August with woodcuts painted in full-color oils on paper.

    This beautiful story tells a tale of selfishness contrasted by wisdom.  In a small town in Poland lives a peddler, Mendel, and a merchant, Feivel.  I can't help but think of the characters Ebeneezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit when reading about these two fathers.  Feivel publicly condemns Mendel's children for feasting on the pleasing aroma of his latkes as they cool each night.  Discover with the townspeople a compelling interpretation of justice and mercy simply taught by the sage Rabbi.

    Nina Jaffe says, "This story was told to me by my father, who learned it from a man whose father had lived in a shtetl -- a little Jewish town, in Eastern Europe -- much like the one described in this book.  And so a story was passed on in the true style of oral tradition."

    a winter poem by Christina Rossetti

    Christina Rossetti is one of my favorite poets.  I'm quite fascinated by the art and poetry that came out of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that her brothers, Michael and Dante Gabriel, began.

    Dimmest and brightest month am I;
       My short days end, my lengthening days begin;
    What matters more or less sun in the sky,
       When all is sun within?

    ~ Christina Rossetti