Updated: Dec 3, 2021
Maybe it’s because I have grown children, or maybe it’s because I’ve grown up celebrating Christmas, but for some reason I cringe every time I see a commercial Christmas book...you know the type? Insert “‘cartoon character name’ ‘s Christmas Miracle/ Party/ Surprise” or other such typical titles.
For me, it is important for my children/students to know the reasons behind not just Christmas but all festivals and the reasons why they are celebrated.
Our festivals have been so overshadowed by commercialism, sales, ‘must-do’s’ that the spirit of the festival and the reason why it’s celebrated to begin with, is often lost.
Often I question whether I should tell religious stories in school. The reasons behind most of our festivals are religious, yet in a world that has become hyper sensitive, especially with regard to religion, should we tell these stories?
At a recent discussion about whether I should tell stories about a ‘miracle’, someone I look to for advice and for her sound knowledge and understanding of children's books asked me, don’t we encourage children to read Charlotte’s Web, isn’t that a miracle really? Why are you telling these stories? What is your aim?
My aim has always been to offer children windows through which they peek and learn about those different from them. In the case of festival stories...people of other faiths and why they may celebrate their festivals. It is this awareness that is the little spark that lights up awareness and acceptance.
Christmas in particular is a global festival.
A jolly Santa, dancing snowmen, bedecked trees, tastebud popping treats, foot-tapping music and jingling bells drown out and blind the true spirit of the festival.
There is so much about Christmas, the season of giving and reaching out, of opening our hearts and homes, of stories and family, laughter and goodwill, kindness, warmth and cheer.
In addition to books about the Nativity story, I love to tell stories that highlight the Christmas spirit and oddly these may often be highlighted by those very faces of Christmas commercialism... Santa Claus, Rudolph, the tree and other Christmas distractions that ding dong loud and proud.
So here is a list I've curated of books either me, mine or my students have been moved by and have enjoyed reading.
Let’s start with those Christmas characters everyone knows…
Rudolph and Santa.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May, when paired with the true story of how the author came to write the story and the Christmas song by the same name...it makes for one warm, fuzzy and fun session.
If you sing the full version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, you will be familiar with all of the reindeer’s names and one of them will be Dasher.
Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe changed Christmas Forever by Matt Tavares is an imaginative back story of one of Santa’s reindeers. It has all the Christmas feels...bravery, kindness, generosity and family love.
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore is a forever classic, while Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco is a heartwarming blend of fantasy and reality with a delightful surprise ending.
Santa’s Favourite Story by Hisako Aoki Ivan Gantschev. When the woodland animals’s worry about Santa napping and how there can be Christmas without him, Santa wakes up to share with them his favourite story and the reason behind Christmas.
The Polar Express is a Christmas classics that no Christmas book list would be complete, without. An imaginative tale about believing in Santa Claus...a book to read at any age, and I hope you keep hearing that Christmas bell jingle especially when cynicism creeps into our grownup minds and heart.
Moving on to the original Christmas story, each year I try to share through a different read or story, weaving in Christmas traditions from across the world. I love how these books weave in the true Christmas story, along with tradition and humour.
Two of my favourites that take us to Mexico through Tomie De Paola’s colourful illustrations, emphasising the miracle of Christmas are
The Legend of the Poinsettia...a Mexican legend about how the poinsettia came to be, thanks to one little girls gift from her heart.
The Night of Las Posadas
When the enacted procession of Las Posadas, which goes from door to door seeking shelter on Christmas Eve, goes wrong: Sister Angie, who is in charge of the celebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm, a man and a woman arrive in time to take their place in the procession, disappearing at the end before they can be thanked. This is a magical story of a Christmas miracle, complemented by Tomie de Paola’s luminous illustrations.
The Cobweb Christmas - The tradition of Tinsel by Shirley Climo tells of the story behind the tradition of tinsel on the Christmas tree...an enchanting, magical story.
Babouska - A traditional Russian folktale takes us to Russia and The Legend of old Befana share stories of the traditional ‘gift givers’ in Russia and Italy who give gifts on the feast of the Epiphany or the 6th of January.
The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie de Paola is a story of the 3 wise men’s search for the ‘King’ who is born... told with reverence and wonder.
While The Not-So-Wise Man by Alan MacDonald, is also the traditional Christmas story, it dwells on Ashtar the wisest man in all the land who refused to believe that a ‘King’ could be born in a stable and ends up going home ‘none the wiser’.
Star Bright- A Christmas Story by Alison McGhee is my newest find and what an absolutely precious read it is. Peter Reynolds illustrations are magical as they bring alive the sparse text. When one very special baby is being born, what can one very small angel gift him?
Another one of my finds this year is Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo...her first picture book. Luminous illustrations and a story that is filled with the compassion and warmth of the season, will tug at your heart strings and moisten your eyes.
The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats is a singalong book of one of my favourite carols. The illustrations so evocatively portray this story.
Give Him my Heart by Debi Gilori is yet another evocative portrayal of a Christina Rosetti Poem, ‘In the Bleak Winter’....a wonderful reminder that Christmas is all about giving from the heart.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss is right up there on my list of books that share about the meaning of Christmas, beyond the gifts, the decorations, the food.
Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco is a perfect example of how ‘everything happens for a reason’, filled with Christmas miracles...a touching, magical Christmas read.
The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco, has a special place in my Christmas book shelf...an story of interfaith friendship, kindness, caring and generosity. What are those dancing goats? Read Polacco to find out...she is simply the best storyteller...my absolute favourite.
The books I have shared above are all picture books, some longer than others. These books lend themselves for the perfect, meaningful reads by the Christmas tree...not too long, not too short...filled with not just the the spirit of the season but also the reason.
For children who want longer reads, here are a few suggestions of chapter books and longer reads…
Lucky, it’s not just a Christmas story by Nalini Sorensen oozes the warmth of familial love and friendships, laced with humour as is the author’s trademark. The cherry on the top is Lucky, the family’s cocker spaniel, the narrator of the story.
When Santa went Missing by Parinita Shetty is a laugh out loud funny read. What happens when Sata goes AWOL and his eleven year old daughter Noel has to step in to save Christmas and keep the elves under control.
I've counted Matt Haig’s Christmas Series as one but it's really 3 books... A Boy Called Christmas, Father Christmas and Me and The Girl who Saved Christmas are beautifully written and make for a perfect reading this whole christmas month.
If done with that series, move on to The Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling which I reviewed here https://www.mythaunty.com/post/the-christmas-pig-by-j-k-rowling
To end my Christmas list, this is one I found most precious… Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkein. Every year letters would arrive at the Tolkein home, letters from Father Christmas!! Tolkien himself, really. Filled with stories, and illustrations, this is a very personal sharing of Tolkien's replies to his children’s letters to Father Christmas.
Happy reading every one!
Wishing you a Happy Christmas season, filled with family, friends, laughter, food and lots of books!!
I will be on a short break from posting and social media to spend time with my family.
Will be back in 2022!!