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Archive for the ‘december’ Category

One of my favorite stories to read when I was a child was The Mitten. It’s a Ukrainian folktale and most often, the version I come across is by Jan Brett.

But the version that I’m more familiar with and if only for sentimental reasons, the one I enjoy more is by Alvin Tresselt and illustrated by Yaroslova.

The story is slightly different in each version, but the basic story line is that animals crowd into a lost mitten in the snow one by one for warmth, until the mitten can hold no more. I prefer the illustrations in the Yaroslova version because you can see the mitten expanding at the seams and eventually becoming threadbare. In Brett’s version the mitten remains very much intact, although it is quite a bit larger by the end. Also, the animals are the ones doing the talking in the Tresselt version, instead of the narrator as in Brett’s.

Whichever version you get your hands on, I’m sure your children will love it. It is most appropriate for 3-5 year olds, but my 2 yr old and 7 yr old were happy to snuggle up in front of the Christmas Tree and listen as well.

If you’re looking for ways to make a lesson out of the book, there are many online resources to supplement. Homeschool Share has a Mitten Lapbook for preschoolers and kindergartners and Jan Brett’s website has coloring pages of the animals as well as a mitten you can color and cut out.

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Tomorrow is the feast of St. Nicholas. You can read all about him and find ideas of how to celebrate his feast day here, at the St. Nicholas Center. But I wanted to highlight two books that we read each year to celebrate this important saint.

The first is by Ann Tompert, simply called Saint Nicholas. I previously reviewed other books by Ann Tompert (here and here), and I consider her with as much respect as Tomie de Paola with regards to her skill in re-telling legends beautifully for children. Her Saint Nicholas book does not disappoint. She draws on the important stories passed down from Nicholas’ life, giving the gold to 3 poor women for their dowries, saving a ship from a terrible storm, among others. She ends with his incarceration during Diocletian’s Rome and his death as the Bishop of Myra.
I should caution though, that there is one part of the story you may want to skip depending on how sensitive your children are. One story goes that there was an innkeeper who had taken some school boys and held them for ransom. Nicholas was called upon to help find the boys. Here’s the part that gets gruesome

…the innkeeper admitted he had butchered the boys and put their remains into pickling barrels…

The story continues that Nicholas waved his crosier and the boys stepped out alive. But anyway, there it is, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Michael Garland is the illustrator for this book and it done in such a way to look like mosaic tiles placed together to form the images. Very stunning and unique. I’m not so sure that the kids appreciated it, or even noticed, but I think it makes for stunning scenery throughout.


The second book is not so much about Saint Nicholas, but loosely related to his feast day so we read it anyway. It is a story that recounts the origins of the phrase “a baker’s dozen.” The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale tells about a baker in colonial America who learns an important lesson in generosity while making his Nicholas cookies for the feast of St. Nicholas. It’s a fun story. You won’t learn anything about St. Nicholas, but might inspire your children in generosity!

So go practice a random act of generosity and happy feast of St. Nicholas!

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This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. In our home, that means it’s time to get out the manger scene. We put everything out, minus the baby Jesus (he’s added after Mass on Christmas Eve). At a local used book sale this year, I picked up book that I hoped would be a nice addition to our Advent and Christmas collection.

Joanna Cole has written a beautiful story explaining how St. Francis started the first creche. His was a live one and done in a time when Christmas wasn’t a big celebration as it is now.

By Christmas Eve, word had spread that something wonderful was going to happen on a wooded hill outside the town, and people came from all around. The light from their torches flickered through the trees as they climbed the hillside paths. Their excited voices echoed through the woods.
When they arrived at the spot Francis had chosen, a shout of joy went up from the crowd. Never had the poor farmers of Greccio imagined that they would look upon the holy scene they had heard about since childhood. There was the infant Jesus, lying in a manger, with Mary and Joseph watching over him, and a donkey and an ox standing near.

Michele Lemieux’s illustrations complete the story and some of the pages remind me of Celtic Illuminations. The story is definitely for ages 4 and up, as there are a couple paragraphs on each page. It would also be appropriate to read around St. Francis’ feast day in October.

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I previously reviewed a book about the legend of the candy cane. The gist of it is that book had a good idea but the storytelling was lacking.  Well, I found a better option for those wanting to learn about the legend of the candy cane.  This one is creative, weaves a story around one candymaker who developed the candy as a way to teach his granddaughter and other children about the true meaning of Christmas.

David and Helen Haidle have a beautiful story called The Candymaker’s Gift. 

The book tells about the candymaker’s desire to teach the children in his life about Jesus, the real reason for celebrating Christmas.  He creates a new candy, and each step of the process reminds him of some characteristic of Jesus.  Then his granddaughter, Katie, has the idea to add the red stripes to make it pretty, but the candymaker says it reminds him of Jesus’ suffering.

In my opinion, the book goes on too long, with the two characters talking about how they helped each other, something about the flow of the story was off.  But overall, it was a great story and lovely illustrations.

The book also includes ideas of how to incorporate the candy cane theme into Christmas celebrations and a summary of the meaning of the candy cane with relevant scriptures to read.

My kids enjoyed listening to this one with a cup of hot chocolate and candy canes!

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I’m not even sure how this book showed up on my library search for Christmas books, but I’m glad it did, anyway.

Angela Elwell Hunt has retold a traditional folktale called The Tale of Three Trees. It’s a wonderful, little story about 3 trees who had wishes to be great things and ended up each serving Jesus in different ways.

One little tree wished to hold treasure, but instead was made into a feed trough for animals.

The second tree wanted to be the strongest ship to carry kings but instead was made into a small dinghy.

The third tree just wanted people to see itself and think of God, but instead was made into rough logs.

As you can probably guess, each one was disappointed with its lot in life and wondered what had gone wrong.  But each one was used for important parts of Jesus life. The feed trough was used to cradle the baby Jesus.  The dinghy carried the king Jesus and his disciples when he calmed the storm.  The third tree, as a log, held Jesus on the cross and helped people to think of God.

This was a great story to spark some discussion about vocation, and how God transforms us to do great things.

This legend is told simply and beautifully.  The illustrations (by Tim Jonke) are definitely unique.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen trees drawn like that in books.

What I like about it is when each tree is given it’s job, it’s not explicitly said, this is Jesus.  The kids have to figure that part out.  For instance, it simply says:

…a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box….and suddently the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

Highly recommend this story.  It’s short enough for younger children, and meaningful enough for olders.  Appropriate for Christmas time, Easter, or really throughout the year.

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We watched the season’s obligatory It’s a Wonderful Life on tv the other night.  At the friends’ every mention of “hee-haw” I was reminded that I had gotten a Christmas book out of the library and hadn’t yet read it to the kids.  We remedied that yesterday and even made a school lesson out of it.

St. Francis and the Christmas Donkey is by Robert Byrd. The story tells of St. Francis walking in the woods when he started a conversation with a very grumpy donkey who was tired of being pushed around by the other animals.  St. Francis then tells donkey the story of how he became a beast of burden and ultimately how that prepared him for his most special job of carrying Mary and her unborn baby Jesus.

Overall we all enjoyed this story.  It reads wonderfully, smoothly and tells the story simply yet dramatically.  It reminds me a little bit of a gentler, better version of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, because it talks about how the donkey got his long floppy ears and scraggly tail.  It’s a longer story, better for 4 and up, most likely.  The illustrations are lovely and vibrant.

The story talks about the story of Creation, but takes great liberty in recounting the events, so that may be a concern to some people.  But it is in typical legend form and reads as such, not meant to be taken as a literal account of the creation of the world.

We used this book as our daily advent reading, then transitioned to a science lesson about donkeys and their characteristics, and how they have been used in different cultures.  This could also be a great book to read for St. Francis’ feast day.

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This nativity story focuses on a legend about the gift of a particular spider.  The Cobweb Curtain:  A Christmas Story by Jenny Koralek, is not the typical nativity story.  It begins with the birth of the baby Jesus, and tells how the holy family fled out of the city to escape Herod’s wickedness.  A shepherd helps them leave and finds a cave for them to hide in for the night.  During the cold night, a spider spins large web that spans the opening of the cave.  As a result, the next morning, Herod’s guards don’t bother to look in the cave.  They assume that no one had been there recently if a spider had time to make such a large web.

The story goes that later the shepherd takes the web home to his family to put on their tree.  Every year after his children find a frosty web to hang on the little tree to remind them of the Christ Child’s birthday.  The connection at the end is drawn to modern day garland and tinsel on our trees.

My kids enjoyed this story.  It was fairly short, and took a familiar story and made it interesting.  The illustrations are unique.   Overall the quality of the story and illustrations make up for the possible inaccuracies of the story itself.

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Today is the feast of Our Lady of GuadalupeTomie DePaola has written a beautiful children’s book to educate them about the events that this feast commemorates.  The Lady of Guadalupe is quite a detailed re-telling of Juan Diego and how Mary visited him to increase his faith.  The illustrations are very Tomie-like, but he does a stunning job with Our Lady’s image.

This is a great book to have in your own home library, but you can likely find it at your local library.  It’s a nice one to have on hand for any study about Mary and her apparitions, or names.

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When I saw this book show up on a library search for “Advent books” I was truly excited.  Frankly there aren’t many books that even talk about the season of Advent.  It’s usually just lumped in with Christmas as the same thing.  But our family truly tries to observe Advent and Christmas as different seasons with different traditions.

Anyway, I was excited to read Waiting for Noel:  An Advent Story, by Ann Dixon.

Overall I think it’s an interesting book.  It wasn’t a huge hit with my children, but I think there are kids who would get more from it.  The story is about a family who is preparing for the birth of Jesus, and tells how they light one more candle on the Advent wreath each week.  At the same time, they are waiting for the birth of a new sibling.  The baby, name “Noel” arrives on Christmas day.  The story is written very poetically and is more of a reflection comparing the family’s waiting and preparations to the waiting for the birth of Jesus.

Today, when the sun skims the rim of a smooth blue sky and night rises soft with monlight, four Advent candles are lit, a promise we know won’t be broken.  With faith in the power of light, we welcome the Christmas babe.

The illustrations are unique, I think oil paints.  Personnally I’m not a fan of the style, kind of a blurry look to everything.  But the colors are beautiful and I can’t say anything wrong with it, just not my style.

The story idea is unique and this would be a great gift to a family who is expecting a sibling during the Christmas season, or for a child born around Christmas.

It is nice to see the Advent wreath in a regular book.  It is one of those traditions that our family celebrates but  is not commonly seen in regular society.

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Last night we read another of Margaret Hodges great legend books.  Silent Night:  The Song and its Story is about how the much-loved Christmas carol was written and how its popularity spread.

We read about a little church in Austria whose organ bellows breaks just before Christmas Eve Mass.  The priest sets about writing a homily and instead comes up with the words to the carol.  The church musician sets them to music and before the Mass starts they sing it together with a simple guitar accompaniment.

The story goes on to tell how the song was popularized by a family of singers later on, but no one knew the source, until a connection with the musician was later discovered and the mystery solved.  The song was eventually taken to America and translated into English.

Then Hodges goes on to give a few examples of how the song was used amidst war time to give snippets of peace to soldiers.

I have no proof for the authenticity of this story or the events Hodges tells about in war time.  But this isn’t the only source I’ve heard some of those stories, so there is probably some basis of truth in them.  The Classical Kids Christmas cd also recalls similar events.

Silent Night is not a short story as far as children’s books go.  It’s fairly long and some pages are only text.  It is definitely a good read aloud for older children.  My 6 yo was interested in it but it was a bit drawn out for the 4 yo.

Overall it’s another top notch book done by Hodges.

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