The Christmas Book
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2011
hbk, RRP $19.95
This re-issue of the 1964 original by Dick Bruna (of Miffy fame) tells the story of the Nativity in a simple, uncomplicated way that ensures children learn about the events that underpin this important celebration and help them understand that there is more to it than a fat man in a red suit and bulging stockings.
This is my all-time favourite Christmas book sparking one of the most enduring activities that I did with the re-telling of the Christmas story. Inspired by Bruna’s signature illustrations of simple lines and colour blocks, students would cut out silhouette shapes of the characters, paste them onto bright sheets of paper and as a class we would reconstruct and retell the story of the story behind the celebrations.
There were few children in my teaching career who were not exposed to this book and it’s great to know that it is on the market again. If it is not in your collection, it should be.
What does Santa do when it’s not Christmas?
When it’s finally Christmas all the North Pole fills with festive cheer
Santa has parked his reindeer and sleigh as the hard work is done for the year.
So surely you’d think there’s be time to rest and enjoy a slow pace
But with two billion children all over the world, I’m afraid that’s not the case.
It may seem like a dream job – working one night a year, even if it is a really busy night, and then having the rest of the year off. But is that what really happens for Santa? In this charming sneak peek, Heath McKenzie takes us behind the scenes at the North Pole for the other 364 days of the year.
Already the elves are hard at work preparing for next year,; the sleigh needs checking and tuning; the snowmen want a holiday; and Mrs Claus has such a long Christmas card list. Even the gingerbread men and the nutcrackers are busy. But where is Santa? What does he do?
This story-in-rhyme is a fun story to end the Christmas festivities – a timely reminder that Santa is watching ALL the time, ALL the year and you know he’s wanting to put you on his nice list so being good is confined to December!.
Margaret Wise Brown
Parragon Publishing, 2014
It’s Christmas Eve and the house is silent and still. Everything is laid out ready for Santa when a tiny mouse nibbles on one of the treats and squeaks in delight. That wakes Cat who leaps off the bed and races through the house looking for that mouse. But Mouse is fast and sneaky and manages to elude Cat. But sudden’y, there is a noise far louder than a mouse and down the chimney tumbles a dog and four guinea pigs! It’s Jingle Paws and his helpers. He’s the pet’s Santa Claus and has gifts for them all. After gobbling up the treats, he’s gone as fast as he came in a sleigh pulled by the guinea pigs – but he’s left something special in his wake.
Written in rhyme, this is a delightful festive tale that is original and enchanting. Young children will love the idea of their pets having their very own Santa and no doubt will be wanting to put a stocking out for their pets too. I wonder what Jingle Paws would give three chooks and a goldfish.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer
High up in the snowy Arctic Santa has asked little Teeka to train the reindeer for his all-important once-a-year ride. Teeka is excited but also a little apprehensive because it is such an important role, so she decided she needed to show them who was boss. Heading out onto the tundra where the reindeer have been roaming free since the last all-night trip, she finds Bramble and Heather, Windswept and Lichen, Snowball, Crag, Twilight and Tundra. She shouts at them to move and while they are startled by her loud voice, nevertheless they allow her to herd them back to the stable at Winterfarm.
But Teeka does not know or understand reindeer behaviour and her methods make them upset and restless. While they let her groom them, she has little success getting them ready for the sleigh and eventually disaster strikes when Lichen literally locks horns with Crag. Clearly a new approach is needed..
This story repeatedly appears in “favourite Christmas stories” lists and the fact that it has been available in a variety of formats continuously since 1990 is testament to this. The well-told tale that has a gentle but relevant message about how we can get the best from animals and people is perfect for sharing with all ages as we start to think about the preparations being made so our children can have a special day.
Jan Brett is a master illustrator and typically there is another story being told in the side panels of each page that is just as enchanting. Starting on December 1, there is a countdown of what’s happening in THE workshop in the Christmas countdown right through to that magical night.
The Finest Christmas Tree
John & Ann Hassett
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005
Farmer Tuttle grows Christmas trees and every year he takes them into town to sell. With the money he earns, he buys Mrs Tuttle a new Christmas hat. But one year he loads up the trees and goes to the spot he always sells from but no one wants to buy his trees. All they want are plastic trees that make no mess and can be stored and brought out each year. Sadly there is no Christmas hat for Mrs Tuttle this year.
During the year a man offers to buy the farm and turn the trees into toothpicks and clothespins. He gives Farmer Tuttle till Christmas to decide. Just as he has to make his decision, a letter arrives. Will it save the Christmas tree farm from destruction?
This is a charming story that will appeal to young readers, possibly sparking a discussion about the pros and cons of real and plastic trees. Or perhaps it could kickstart an investigation into the origins of the Christmas tree as a symbol of the season. Worth reading.
Snow Bunny’s Christmas Gift
Nosy Crow, 2015
24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99
One snowy morning just before Christmas, Snow Bunny is playing with her friends in the forest. But each time they decided on a new thing to do, one by one the friends head for home as the cold creeps in and they would rather be indoors. Soon Snow Bunny is left with on her own and as she ponders what she will do she spies a shiny coin in the snow. That giver an idea and she hurries off to Mr Badger’s shop to buy something special. And that night in her cosy cottage she works on something that will be just perfect for her friends.
Very young children will love this gentle story, illustrated in the softest colours and tinged with sparkly silver to really bring it to life. With its strong message about the value of friendship and giving rather than receiving, it’s a lovely way to reflect on the true spirit of the Christmas season.
Puffin Books, 1999
It’s hard enough being a foster child bounced from home to home and school to school but when you add being overweight and having the name Welcome Comfort to the mix then that’s a surefire mix for teasing and bullying. And that was what was happening when Quinton Hamp, janitor of Union City Elementary School came across Welcome Comfort for the first time. Stepping in and offering the first hand of friendship that Welcome had had in a long time, Quinton looks out for him and through his friendship and guidance Welcome begins to blossom a little.
But all too soon the holiday season is upon them and Welcome knows no joy from it, even moreso when he finds Mr Hamp and his wife always go north for that one special day of the year.
“What’s so great about Christmas?” Welcome said.
“Why, boy, Christmas is the most wondrous time of the year!”
“It has never been wondrous for me.”
“What about family? What about presents and what about Santa?”
“I don’t have any family and Santa! He’s not even real!”
“He’s real all right,” Mr Hamp said.
“Seein’ is believin’” Welcome looked sadly at the floor.
No child, believin’ is seein’,” Mr Hamp said with a warm smile.
So Welcome practiced believing and that Christmas something magical happened… something that sustained Welcome for many years and provides an unusual twist in the end of the story that will give children hope and encourage them to dare to dream.
Welcome Comfort was another of the highly recommended Christmas books listed when I asked my US colleagues for their must-reads. Patricia Polacco is the author and illustrator of many children’s books and this is the most heart-warming story that will bring a little magic into the lives of listeners and readers. The child who is lonely will empathise with Welcome and perhaps start to build their own dream while others might think about their own fortunate circumstances and perhaps be a little more generous all year round, not just for a few weeks of the year.
A must-have in your Christmas collection.
Shooting at the Stars: the Christmas Truce of 1914
Abrams Books, 2014
Amongst all the stories of horrors that have emerged from World War 1 and which have been at the forefront of much of what our students have learned this year, comes a beautiful, true story of hope and heroes.
By November 1914, it was clear that the war was not going to be over by Christmas which was a common belief of those who marched off to serve in those very early days. And so as seasons turn to winter and snow and sleet and rain bring more mud and disease to the exhausted troops in the trenches often only separated by a few yards from the enemy, unofficial truces began to happen – part of the “etiquette of war” of the professional soldier of the time. The wounded were recovered, the dead were buried, trenches were shored up and there was even banter and barter between the opposing sides. According to the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zxsfyrd on Christmas Eve the Germans lines were dotted with Christmas trees and candles and eventually the two sides started singing carols. The next day there were spontaneous football games and while there was much anger from the High Command because they feared mutiny, the stories have endured.
Based on primary sources, Shooting at the Stars is the story of Charlie, a young British soldier of the time written in a letter to his mother and accompanied by the most evocative illustrations. Rain has turned the trenches to thick, heavy mud and rats fight the soldiers for the meagre food rations. However while thick frost stabilises things on Christmas Eve it is also very cold so the troops chance a fire to keep warm. As they step outside they hear singing – from the German trenches which are festooned with tiny Christmas trees lit with candles. And so begins the retelling of this remarkable night when the true spirit of Christmas was celebrated. War had taken a holiday. The dead were buried, photographs taken, mementos exchanged, even an impromptu football game with an old biscuit tin. And even though the high-ups are furious and order the soldiers to load their rifles ready to fire on those they had spent the day with, quite possibly they would shoot at the stars.
Beautifully designed, this emotional story is accompanied by historical notes, a glossary, an index and a bibliography making it more for the older reader but also very accessible for those a little younger. It shows a human side to a horrible conflict, one that brings the soldiers of both sides into focus rather than just being faceless, unknown and almost invisible. Some of the images are available at the publishers’ website and combined with the subject, the text and the layout, the package is a most powerful story.
Christmas at Grandma’s Beach House
Christmas at Grandad’s Farm
Five Mile Press, 2015
24pp., hbk., RRP $A16.99
A double dose of fun with these two titles that bring back memories of fabulous family get-togethers at Christmas. No one does Christmas quite like grandparents and in Christmas at Grandad’s Farm the family arrives at the farm all ready for the iconic Australian bush holiday complete with dust and flies and the fun of the favourite swimming hole in the creek. Set to the tune of Jingle Bells, it rollicks along through the day and into the night where it’s hard to go to sleep because of all the excitement.
In the sequel Christmas at Grandma’s Beach House more fun and memories abound as the whole family gathers at the beach to the tune of Twelve Days of Christmas. Uniquely Australian, it celebrates all the wonderful things that a beach holiday brings and instantly connects to so many in its audience.
The bright cartoon-style illustrations are just perfect, evoking a sense of freedom and fun and friendship, and while the theme of both books is iconic images of a Down-Under Christmas, nevertheless the colours and little details give a nod to the more traditional elements that set this time of the year apart from other holiday times.
There are many Australianised versions of Christmas, often set to the tune of those traditional songs, but these two with their connections to activities and memories that so many are familiar with will really be enjoyed again and again as part of the festive season.