Monday, January 02, 2006

Christmas: It Ain't Over Yet ... Here Are Some Books to Tide You Over

(published in The Catholic Miscellany, January 12, 2006)

So, is Christmas over? If you look at the stores with their deeply discounted wares, you’d think so. The street decorations and lawn ornaments have vanished. Dying, tinsel laden trees sit on curbs. But, is Christmas really over?

According to the Catholic Church – not yet! The Christmas season is Christmas Eve till the Presentation (February 2) and we take full advantage of this. Here are some great books to continue your family’s Christmas celebrations.

The Thirteen Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton is a book that most libraries carry. It weaves the song throughout its pages – explaining that a suitor brings these gifts to woo a young woman each day during the 12 days between Christmas and Little Christmas. The gifts are encouraged by the girl’s family who don’t want the suitor to know “she can’t cook”; the siblings are also encouraging the suitor so the sister thinks he's "romantic". This is a charming, old-fashioned chapter book – with lots of details of traditional “merrie olde England” Christmas traditions.

Epiphany, or “Little Christmas”, is celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas or on the original day, January 6. This is the day the Three Wise Men find Jesus in the stable. Tomie de Paola’s The Legend of Old Befana and the Caldecott-award winning Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins are both picture books detailing Baboushka’s (or Befana’s) mistake of not going with the Kings to find Jesus and her eternal regret.

Though we don’t get much snow here in the Palmetto State, it’s always fun to dream for snow during January. Snowflake Bentley is an award-winning, fascinating book by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, gorgeously illustrated by Mary Azarian’s woodcuts. This picture book tells the story of Wilson Bentley who spent his life photographing snowflakes and sharing these photographs with his fellow Vermont folks. My Brother Loved Snowflakes: The Story of Wilson A. Bentley, the Snowflake Man by Mary Bahr Fritts is another re-telling of the life of this 19th-century farm boy who taught himself how to photograph the elusive snowflakes.

To finish up the cold, January days, you can’t go wrong with any of Jan Brett’s beautifully illustrated books. The Mitten tells the story of a little boy who wants his grandma to knit mittens “as white as the snow” and the hilarious adventures of the lost mittens. Another similar story is Ms. Brett’s The Hat, where a little girl’s winter hat becomes a problem for a nosey hedgehog. All of Ms. Brett’s books are great read-alouds – but have the kids in your lap so they can pore over the amazing illustrations. Ms. Brett uses every inch of space – words and pictures – to tell her stories and to surprise the watchful reader.

Enjoy the final month of the Christmas season with some wonderful read-alouds for your whole family – don’t forget the hot chocolate, the lit Christmas tree and the cozy blankets!

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