For Advent and Christmas
by Bridget Green
PHOTOS by Bridget Green
Ah, Christmas. That magical season that starts in late October and ends promptly on December 27th.
Oh, wait. No. That's the secular season that I like to refer to as “Chrissssmas.”
Christmas, the liturgical season of the Catholic Church, begins on December 24th and goes at least until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. Some of the more hard-core folks even celebrate straight up until Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation, February 2.
This doesn't mean that the weeks leading up to Christmas are nothing. Liturgically speaking, they are, in fact, quite important. Advent is a time of preparation and even of reparation. Advent is a time for us to make ready our homes and hearts to receive Jesus in a special way. It's a time for us to sit back from the craziness that is our busy world, take a breath, and renew our commitment to living a Christian life.
And this is why I think it is so important to keep Advent in our homes, especially with our children. At our house, we try our best to stay focused on expectant preparations during the weeks leading up to Christmastide. We stay busy by cleaning our apartment, making treats and presents to put away until the blessed day, and by reading, a lot.
I find the reading is what really helps my own kids remain in Advent rather than allowing their little hearts to skip all the prep work and jump straight into the much-awaited party.
So, here’s my top 10 Christmas children books to share with the children in your life. These books are beautiful and funny, sweet and silly, and most of all, focused on the true meaning of Christmas.
1) The Jesse Tree Kit. By Lynn M. Simms and Betsy Walter. Okay, I know I just said they were in no particular order, but this one is actually at the very top of my list. We will be doing a Jesse Tree for the third time, and I'm honestly not sure who is more excited, me or the kids. I put off doing a Jesse Tree for several years because it just seemed like so much work, not to mention the space it would take up in our apartment. Then, my sister-in-law mailed me a copy of this beauty from Pauline Press and it all became infinitely easier. There are pre-printed “ornaments” to color in, and it even includes a poster sized “tree” to hang up anywhere there's enough wall space. The whole program is laid out for you, including the prayers and Bible verses you'll need for each day's ornament. All you need to add is crayons, tape, and your child's imagination.
RATING: 5/5 Advent Wreaths because, for as easy and engaging as it is, it lays a strong foundation for children to build upon year after year.
2) Who Is Coming to Our House? By Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff. A delightful little board book where each animal shares how he will prepare the barn for the mystery Guest of Honor who will soon be making an appearance. By the end of the book, all of my children are repeating the refrain of the little mouse: Who is coming to our house?
RATING: 4/5Advent Wreaths because it can get a tad bit repetitive.
3) The Little Drummer Boy. Illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. This is less of a story book and more of an illustrated song. Actually, it's exactly an illustrated song, but when the illustrations are done by Ezra Jack Keats, one of the best loved illustrators of the last century, that's more than enough. The pictures are gorgeous and bonus: by the end of it, your kids will probably be singing “Pa rum pum pum pum” at the tops of their lungs, too.
RATING: 3.5/5 Advent Wreaths because those “pa rum pum pum pums” can really get on my nerves sometimes, and the pictures only make up for so much.
4) The Christmas Bird. By Sallie Ketcham. Illustrated by Stacey Schuett. This is the tale of a little bird who takes on a big job, and earns himself (and all his descendants) a beautiful red breast for his trouble. His self-sacrificing love is something even the youngest child can appreciate, plus it gives them a renewed interest in the world around them. The vibrant illustrations also help to hold their interest throughout the tale.
RATING: 4.5/5 Advent Wreaths because it's different from the standard Christmas book fare.
5) The Donkey's Dream. By Barbara Helen Berger. Told as a dream of the humble donkey who carried Our Lady to Bethlehem, this book is actually introducing young children to much of the traditional symbolism surrounding Mary and several of her titles. The illustrations are gorgeous, especially those of the Blessed Mother, making it well-worth the read.
RATING: 3.5/5 Advent Wreaths because it can go a bit above the heads of the young audience for which it is intended.
6) Four Friends at Christmas. By Tomie DePaola. I know, I know. Tomie DePaola. The controversy. The “secularness.” But, this one is, quite simply, adorable. It's a charming tale friendship and giving in the spirit of Christ. It's sweet, and sometimes, that's enough.
RATING: 3.5/5 Advent Wreaths because it is, just a little, too sweet at times.
7) An Angel Came to Nazareth: A Story of the First Christmas. By Anthony Knott. Illustrated by Maggie Kneen. Another book about the humble donkey and his precious cargo, this one highlights the dichotomy between the lowly beast of burden and the King of the Universe he carries, not because he is great but because he is lowly. Plus, the illustrations are not only textured, but gilded, which is pretty close to glitter, and we all know glitter makes everything better.
RATING: 4/5 Advent Wreaths because — sparkle.
8) Mortimer's Christmas Manger. By Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a cute mouse with a quirky name. This sweet story follows little Mortimer's attempt at making a home for himself only to realize that making a place for Jesus is far more important. Nothing earth shattering, but not every story needs to be earth shattering.
RATING: 4/5 Advent Wreaths because this little book keeps all of my kids, even the nine year old, entertained from start to finish.
9) The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale. By Aaron Shepard. Illustrated by Wendy Edelson. As Christmas stories go, it doesn't get much better than this one. It has equal parts enchantment and history, and tells the tale of how a “baker's dozen” came to be counted as 13 out of one baker's realization that generosity of spirit matters more than strict legality. Bonus: There's a killer cookie recipe and a template for a St. Nicholas cookie cutter in the back of the book. A story plus cookies? How could I not have this on my list?
RATING: 4.5/5 Advent Wreaths because — cookies.
10) The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. By Susan Wojciechowski. Illustrated by P. J. Lynch. This book should come with a warning label: Do not read without Kleenex. A beautifully written story of the redemptive quality of love and its ability to heal all wounds, the real miracle may be the uninterrupted silence from start to finish as your children sit still and listen, rapt in the tale.
RATING: 5/5 Advent Wreaths because I love a tearjerker with a happy ending.
Bonus Book: Our Lady of Guadalupe. Retold by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Illustrated by Tonya Engel. While not strictly either a Christmas or an Advent book, Our Lady of Guadalupe is perfect to read on her feast day, December 12th, which just so happens to be right smack dab in the middle of the Advent season. Also, since she is the only known apparition of a pregnant Mary, it makes sense to read about her as we prepare once again for the birth of the Savior. This version has gorgeous images, colorful and touching, and the story is told in a narrative form that is engaging for young children.
RATING: 5/5 Advent Wreaths because Our Lady of Guadalupe is my favorite. So sue me.
There you have it. My top
10 11 books to read to children during the Advent and Christmas Seasons. May they bring you as much joy (and peace and quiet) as they have brought me and my little ones!