Saturday, November 23, 2013

Our Favorite Christmas Books

This is a repost from last November.  I can't wait to dig out our books and get them set up under the tree!

Every year, I wrap up Christmas picture books and put them under the tree to countdown to Christmas.
The past several years I have used holiday nesting boxes, which saves a lot of wrapping time. The children love to pick a box and delight in the familiar and loved story we will be reading together. We snuggled up at night, and the child of the day (Oldest is Monday, youngest is Friday, Mom and Dad get the weekends. The child of the day sits in the front seat if there is a skirmish, says all of the prayers, and usually gets a little bit extra tuck in time at the end of the day).  The Christmas Book Countdown is my very favorite Christmas tradition as a family. I love that my older children will snuggle on the couch to read, and I love the excitement in their eyes as they open the package and see what wonderful, familiar but surprising treat is in store for them.

Here is last year's post:

"What are your favorite Christmas picture books that we read every year?"
The girls didn't miss a beat. Cupcake called out, "A Wish for Wings that Work, I'll Be Home for Christmas, The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher, Auntie Claus, An Orange for Frankie . . ."
Dancegirl said, "The Red Ranger, The Last Straw, Auntie Claus, The Littlest Angel, The Nutcracker."

But, there were some other books that they couldn't quite remember the titles . . . "What's the name of the one with the reindeer and the troll girl?" Dancegirl asked. The girls asked The Boy to run down and get the Christmas book box out of storage. Then the fun truly began. I asked them to choose their top three to five books. It was hilarious and very gratifying as they pulled out books and squealed with delight. (My son prefers me to note: The Boy didn't squeal.) I had to make a rule that they couldn't read the books, just look at the titles (so we can keep the anticipation alive for our Christmas Book Countdown).  I thought it was interesting that they didn't keep with many their off-the-top-of-their-head choices.

Here are the books they fought over:
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
The Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed
A Wish for Wings that Work by Berkeley Breathed
The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza by David Shannon
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

This is Cupcake absconding with Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera

So starting with the oldest child,  here are their favorites:

The Boy:

The Other Wise Man  by Henry Van Dyke is the story of a selfless man who sees the Star in the East and begins to follow it, hoping to meet up with his friends, three other wise men from distant lands. Throughout his journey he is met with challenges and opportunities to help others. He strives to do what he believes the new King would want him to do, but in all of the serving, he loses his opportunity to see the Infant King and worship him. This wise and generous man is rewarded at the end of his life when he learns that his generosity and kindness have been seen of the true King. 

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon is based on the true story of soldiers in WWII who put aside their differences and celebrate the birth of the Savior across enemy lines.

Santa Calls by William Joyce is one of my favorites, too. This is an adventure story, a story of Christmas wishes coming true, but most of all the story of a relationship between a brother and his little sister.

I must admit, seeing The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett on more than one child's favorites list was a surprise to me. This is the story of Teeka who is given the job of preparing Santa's reindeer for the big night. I love Jan Brett's intricate illustrations on every page that give a glimpse of the storyline yet to come. This is the story of a young girl learning how to co operate and work hard, and learn to put other's needs above her own in order to accomplish an important work.


Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
(Oh no! It wasn't in the box. Last year I tried to glean and asked around what books the children liked ... I think Cupcake said it wasn't one she thought anybody liked, and I think I might have given it away. Dancegirl might forgive me if it doesn't turn up, but only if I promise to get a replacement! But there aren't any examples that look the same on Amazon. Oh no! I may be in big trouble.)
UPDATE 2013: I had given this book to my book club friend Myra. She read my post and brought the book back to me. Bless you, Myra. Thanks so much!

Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell is a sweet story of the animals in the stable making room for the little King that is sleeping in their stable. The animals contribute their individual means of comforting the new baby.

It was no surprise that Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed was named as a favorite of many. The book has a bit of a surprise ending that never fails to delight. The story seems a little long to me at times, but it is a great story of a child not getting quite what he wants for Christmas, yet learning to be grateful for the giver behind the gift and the joy that giving can bring.

I'm so glad Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard Shneider made Dancegirl's list. The dance world often demands perfection and leaves little room for appreciation for individual shapes and sizes. This book tells of a the desire for perfection, but one little tree showing that the real value of an individual doesn't come from one's outside appearance, but comes from the heart.

Cupcake struggled with ranking her books. The middle three were especially difficult to put in a certain order.

A Christmas Dress for Ellen by Thomas S. Monson is the sweet story of a girl who has lost her belief in Christmas and in her fellow man. She has been hungry and poor for much of her life, but the generous love of her family and neighbors helps restore her faith in the goodness of others.

Look Alikes Christmas by Joan Steiner is a book that takes hours to enjoy. We love to peer over it looking at the creatively amazing uses of everyday objects turned into surprising art senses.  We have had this book for years and years and still find new things to appreciate every year.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry is the classic Christmas story of a man's unwitting purchase of an overlarge Christmas tree brings joy to those smaller and less fortunate throughout his neighborhood.

Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera may be everyone's most favorite Christmas book. It's the story of a girl (who has quite a close familial relationship with Santa Claus himself) learns that it is better to give than to receive. It also shares the story of a sister's love for her brother and the extent she will go to see that his Christmas wishes can come true. The other two Auntie Claus books are fun, but not quite as appealing as the original. (But if you LOVE the first books, you will appreciate the next two.)

The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher made many a favorite list, but we had to give it to Cupcake because she loves baking (and cookies!) so much. This is a fun story of sharing the joy of Christmas with others and the happiness that sharing can bring to your life.


I think Coconut had the least overlap with one individual, but the most overlap with multiple individuals. The Last Straw is only kind of the favorite book . . .  the best part of the story is listening to my mother read a mimeographed (yes, purple ink and before Xerox) two page folded up paper version of this story. When I saw it in book format, I had to get it for my mother. (And I think three of my five sisters gave her this book the year it came out as well.) It is a great story, but the book leaves out the very best line. " . . . and I hate Kelly!" The story of siblings learning to love each other as they learn to find joy in serving each other and serving Jesus makes this timeless and endearing.

Olive, heard her name on the radio, and just knew that Santa needed her at the North Pole or Christmas would be lost. She responded to the call to Olive, the other Reindeer, and her Christmas adventures begin. A silly, quirky, fun, giggly Christmas book.

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon (who is married to our favorite storyteller, Carmen Deedy) is an amazing story. I described it above in the Boy's favorites, but Coconut insisted that it show up on her list, too.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo tells the story of a girl who is missing her soldier father during the Christmas season. She is going to be in the church's Christmas play, and invites a street performer and his monkey to join her. A beautiful story of acceptance and love through the eyes of a child. My Coconut is good at seeing other's needs, and has a tender heart for the less fortunate, so I can see why she likes this book.

A Wish for Wings that Work was a book many of the children "fought" over, but they let it end up on Coconut's favorites. It's the story of the cartoon character Opus, who wishes for wings to fly. But his unique talents of "flying" underwater are just what is needed to save Christmas . . . and yet he gets his Christmas wish, too.


Elise Primavera is a favorite. (Lala and I especially like her Thumb Love book, a book that helped Lala determine she wanted to try to end her thumbsucking habit.) The Auntie Claus series is great fun, but still captures the Christmas spirit of love, family and giving.  

Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher by Robert Kraus was a "fought over" book. The Snitcher takes all of the Sprinkles for himself, but eventually learns to share. I can't quite figure out why the children like it so very much. (Cute, but not amazing . . . ) This was one of the first "new" Christmas books we bought many years ago when I decided we would wrap Christmas books and unwrap them as a Christmas Countdown. The story is fun but I think the association with the Christmas Advent tradition is what puts this in the favorites category. Everyone cheers when we unwrap and read it every year.

The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza by David Shannon teaches that Christmas shouldn't be about competition or outdoing others, it should be about celebrating family, love and kindness. It's so fun to drive around and see the Christmas light displays around our city, and hear the children say, "Happy Birthday, Jesus!! Look at that amazing Christmas Extravaganza!"

The Christmas Witch by Steven Kellogg is by a favorite, maybe even adored author. We read this at Halloween and at Christmas. The story of a little witch who just can't be mean and brings Christmas joy back to a feuding nation is a delight.

What are your favorites? I'm always looking for new treasures to add to our countdown . . . We have several new ones coming this year all ready, but there is always room for more! We may have to start the countdown earlier . . . Labor Day maybe? But you won't catch me complaining!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What We've Been Reading this Week: October 12, 2013

So many books! So little time! I wish I had time to read an hour a day to each of my children, then read books silently on my own (and have my children do the same) and talk about them together and then a couple of hours to read my own things. I often joke that if I could choose a super-power I would have reading equal sleep, so I could read all night, and feel well rested the next day.

The Boy: We are reading the novel he is currently writing.  It's a new book, so he he is super excited about it. He doesn't have a title about it, but it is a fantasy novel based around Richard, called the King in the North. He has a ton of back story that he has created, and it is becoming a really well developed story. His time to read is after the other children are in bed, so sometimes I can only get through a couple of pages before my eyes are drooping, but we keep plugging away. It helps a ton for him to hear it read aloud, listen to my questions about what is going on, and learn where he needs to clarify or expand.

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
 It's kind of a romance book, but I really enjoy the writing style. I had to make a deal, because Dancegirl was leaning toward ending our reading tradition. (Sob! She just turned 16, so she is feeling a bit independent.) The deal is: I read books that are fun (in comparison to "good for her") and I get to read on the days she doesn't have early morning seminary, and I will drive her to early morning seminary. She just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I read it again recently for a book club (my pick!) and just LOVED it again. I wanted to read it to her, but she asked if she could read it on her own. She stopped partly through, but I promised her that if she kept at it, she would love it. After that rough spot, she read to the end in a couple of days, and bawled through it, and loved it. I hesitated to have her read it at first, as there are some mature themes, but she was ready and it made for a GREAT discussion. 

Cupcake and I are reading The Lions of Little Rock by Kristen Levine. I read it over the summer and loved it, and just had to share it with my children!

I blogged about it in an earlier post. We are having a great discussions about friendship, about discrimination, about family relationships, and about being human. LOVE IT! 

Coconut and I just finished The Dark Is Rising, a Newbery award winner by Susan Cooper. I got the entire series in one book. I'm hoping (and I think it will work) that she will continue reading the book on her own, now that we have finished and enjoyed the first book.
 We are on the final chapter of The Hero Schilemann by Laura Amy Schlitz. Coco adores this author, and has read many of her other books, including the Newbery winner, Splendors and Glooms, and Coco's personal favorite, A Drowned Maiden's Hair.  We probably wouldn't normally choose a book on archeology, but it's been interesting. Schliemann is not an honest man, and the author is doing a good job of painting a realistic picture of a man with a passion but with flaws as well. There have been lots of opportunities to talk about his choices. 

Lala and I are reading Rufus M. by Eleanor Estes.
 I absolutely ADORE Eleanor Estes, so we have been reading a lot of her books. I love the way the children interact and work together as a family. I love the realistic look into life in earlier times (WWI time period), and I adore the sweetness of the stories. I  love the manners it teaches. I love the way the children work through realistic problems, and I love laughing aloud with Lala and talking about what we would do if we were neighbors with the Moffat family. I think we will likely read Ginger Pye (another of her books) next. We also finished Hank the Cowdog recently. Which was a very fun, quick read, but had a surprising amount of discussion material about friendship and leadership qualities. 
On my own I've been reading: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green to prepare for a book club discussion (5/5 stars), the Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle for another book club (3/5 stars) . . . I like her ideas on honoring your child's individuality and seeing the strengths in their personalities (energy type), and there are several things that I will use from this book, so I am taking away some good "tools" to put in my parenting tool belt, but there are other books that have helped me quite a bit more to understand and relate to my children and improve my parenting. (The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham)  and Arming Your Children With the Gospel by R. Wayne and Leslee Boss. 

I'm also reading How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (and it is ALL that! 5/5 stars) I will probably post a review by itself when I'm finished and have implemented some of the ideas he advocates. I've also been reading The Freedom Factor by Gerald Lund, and so far its only 2/5. I'm trying to read the books for Cupcake's Key of Liberty class, and this is on the list. I'm plugging through, but it is definitely not my favorite book. 

Mr. Book Diva recently finished reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The Boy and I  had been encouraging him for some time to read it. Both of us consider it a favorite book of all time. I think my husband considers it a favorite as well.  I ran into the author twice last month at local bookstores in Utah Valley and in Salt Lake, and told him my husband and son were fans, but didn't mention that it was one of my favorite books. I was a star struck dork!) We are eagerly anticipating the release of the second in the series in early March. I takes quite a bit for me to read the second book in the series, but we are hoping for a midnight release party at BYU (it has happened in the past for other books by this author so maybe . . .) I think I'm going to read it again before March, so I can get ready for the second book.

It's not actually a book, but I am listening to a lecture series available on called Turning Points in American History by Professor Edward T. Odonnell. I enjoy the lectures so much, I'm listening for a second time. (I put them on twice the speed and listen to them on my morning run, so I'm not paying super close attention, but I am still getting something out of them.) Each lecture starts with a interest-grabbing story, then the professor outlines the 3-5 main objectives of the lecture, and specifies WHY the event is being presented as a major turning point in American History. Almost every lecture has at least one primary source that is quoted (albeit briefly). I think this would be an excellent introduction to American History for middle grade and high school children. I keep bringing it up and talking about things I'm learning (or at least remembering from my own days of studying American History). Excellent series. 5/5 stars. I'm also listening to Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights by the Great Courses (when I'm driving or in the shower) and it is fascinating, but the professor isn't as engaging. Great material, though. I feel like I"m learning so much. 

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