Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

March 17th, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Patrick, patron of Ireland.  As of last year, I only knew of one children’s book to celebrate this saint and the feast day.  This year, we’ve found three more at our library.

The first, and by far my favorite is Tomie dePaola’s Patrick:  Patron Saint of Ireland. I will always fall in love with dePaola’s storytelling abilities and the way his artwork can capture adults and children.

This story starts with Patrick as a young boy being sold into slavery, then tells about the highlights in his life.  It ends with his death and his lasting influence on the country of Ireland, then briefly tells some of the traditional legends told about Saint Patrick.

I like this book because it focuses on the spiritual aspects of Patrick’s work and his travels.  The author doesn’t shy away from telling us that Patrick’s mission was to bring God to every person he encountered.  His mission was to baptize, teach and bring the good news.

He must return to Ireland and take the people the good news of God.

It’s my opinion that you can never go wrong with a saint book by Tomie dePaola!

The second Patrick book is by Ann Tompert, who I only recently discovered and have been impressed by her books.  You can find my review about her other book here.

Saint Patrick is a beautiful, captivating book.  I read this to my 7 and 4 year old boys over snack time, and most of the time I noticed that they weren’t actually eating, because they were so engaged in the story.  Ann Tompert explains in the author’s note that she used Patrick’s own writings in his letter “Confessions” for the basis and inspiration for the story.  She doesn’t include some of the popularly told legends about Patrick, such as the banishing of the snakes or the teaching moment of the shamrock.  But she tells about his life, giving more details about his childhood and life as a slave.  Throughout the story she insert’s quotes from Patrick.

He often went hungry, eating only roots and berries.  Although he suffered many hardships, Patrick never lost hope.  “God kept directing my path,” he said.  “I feared nothing.”

Michael Garland’s illustrations are bold and very crisp and colorful.  Very detailed and beautiful.  This is another well done saint book by Tompert.

The next book we read, is one by Margaret Hodges. You can click on the tag of this post to find other books by her that I’ve have reviewed.   She has a great gift for storytelling and legends.  Saint Patrick and the Peddler is no exception.  However, I caution that by the author’s own admission, she was not so much after getting to the truth of the legend.  Rather, she blended several legends in different areas of Ireland and came up with this story.  Nonetheless, if you’re not after the cold hard facts, which likely wouldn’t be your purpose in reading a St. Patrick book to your kids anyway, this makes for a great story.

Hodges tells of a poor but generous peddler who lived around the time of the potato famine.  He is visited by St. Patrick through his dreams who tells him to go all the way to a bridge in Dublin for some good news.  When he gets there, it’s still not clear to him why he’s there, but he finds out when he returns home.  It’s a lovely story to illustrate how God’s directions sometimes don’t make sense to us but become perfectly clear and utterly perfect if we allow ourselves to follow them.  Hodges has some great lines in here that just make you feel like someone is sitting with you telling the story.

On and on he went, mile after mile, farther than he had ever gone in his life, and then farther.  Don not ask me how he did it, but at long last he came to Dublin and saw the River Liffey, its dark shining water flowing over golden sand.

The other gem of this book is the illustrations, which are paintings by Paul Brett Johnson.  There are two page spreads that are captivating.  From the river scene with the stone bridge, to the town scene with the cobblestone road and carriages, he’s very talented.

This one will definitely be on our list of books to buy for our own home library.

The last book we read is definitely my least favorite, but an ok story overall.  Sheila MacGill-Callahan has written a Patrick book which is based on the legend of Patrick banishing all the snakes from Ireland.  The Last Snake in Ireland:  A Story about St. Patrick is a lighthearted story, obviously not meant to be an inspiring story.

It portrays Patrick as more of a revengeful, prideful bafoon than a spiritual bishop who just wanted to spread God’s love.

The Patrick in this story is irritated by the one last snake that refuses to leave, so he comes up with an idea that is sure to trick the snake.  But the idea backfires many times over.  Finally Patrick thinks he has been successful, he waits many years and checks to see how the snake is getting along in the Loch Ness.  He finds that the snake has grown to an enormous size and is now called the Loch Ness Monster.  It’s an interesting melding of legends but not a particularly effective way to learn more about or be inspired by the faith of a saint.

I hope from these books, you can find something to read to observe St. Patrick’s day this week.  If you have a favorite Patrick book not mentioned here, I’d love to hear about it!

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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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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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I’ve had this book on our Christmas reading list for quite a while, but it wasn’t until this year when we moved to a new library system that I was able to check it out.  The Legend of the Candy Cane:  The Inspirational Story of Our Favorite Christmas Candy had the potential of being a great story, but I think it has missed the mark a bit.  Perhaps I am spoiled by Tomie dePaola‘s style of retelling legends.  dePaola has a gifted way of taking many different versions of legends and weaving them together to create a smooth, sensible story.  In the Candy Cane book, the title leads you to think you’re going to hear about the legend of the candy cane, how it came to be and the meaning behind it.  In fact, the story is about a man who sets up a new candy shop and passes out candy canes to the townsfolk with the message of the symbolism behind it.

If you’ve not heard the symbolism of the candy cane, here’s the run down…

-It’s in the shape of a J for Jesus, or a shepherd’s hook, for Jesus is the Good Shepherd

-The red stripes are for the whipping that Jesus endured and his blood shed for us

-The white is for the mercy and grace we receive  from Jesus by making us pure

I wouldn’t put this book on my fail list, and my kids enjoyed it well enough, but it isn’t one they have asked for a second time.  It lacks in the true story telling department.

A better version of this would be one that combines the legends of the beginnings of the candy cane, or how it evolved and how the creators shared the message of Christ through the candy…or something like that.  Maybe I’ll see if Tomie dePaola needs another book idea.

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The first book in my reviews of Advent and Christmas reading is one of my personal favorites.

The Last Straw is a story about a grumpy, proud old camel, Hoshmakaka.  He is given the job of carrying the gifts of the three wise kings to the newborn baby Jesus.  But, he’s a grumpy camel and frequently complains about “my joints, my gout, my sciatica.”  On the other hand he has an image of a strong camel to convey to his friends so he continues to accept gift after gift to carry.  In the end, a poor little child wants him to carry a tiny piece of straw to Jesus for his bed.  Reluctantly Hoshmakaka agrees, and finds himself transformed and freed when he finally gets to the manger.

Fredrick H. Thury did a great job capturing the personality of the camel and communicating it for young listeners.  The story is engaging and humorous alike.  Of course it uses the traditions of the Christmas story but doesn’t go into details about the name of the baby.  It is put very simply:

“Then, from the humble manger, a tiny hand reached out and touched Hoshmakaka.  His pain seemed to disappear.  He could no longer feel his burden.  Hoshmakaka whispered to the baby, ‘Hosanna from Hoshmakaka.  Accept these gifts kindly.  They come from far and wide, brought by a beast who once acted blindly.'”

The illustrations are bold watercolors by Vlasta van Kampen.  I love the look of the camel, very realistic, but at the same time something very human about his facial features.  The kids love watching the pile on Hoshmakaka’s back getting higher and higher as the story goes on.

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More suggestions for Thanksgiving reading.


Gail Gibbons’ Thanksgiving Day. This is a short book for the youngers in your family.  Large bright pictures and one simple sentence per page fill this book.  Tells the basics of the first Thanksgiving then some ways that we celebrate now.

If you’re looking for a longer, more detailed account of the events leading up to the first Thanksgiving, try these titles:

Squanto’s Journey:  The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac. This story is told from the point of view of Squanto, who was kidnapped and sent as a slave in England.  He returned to colonial America only to find his tribe virtually vanished.  Tells how he helped foster peace between tribes and the pilgrims.  Great story telling, and great illustrations. Still a shorter picture book, though that even my 4 year old was happy to sit through.

Alice Dalgliesh’s The Thanksgiving Story is a good choice for older children.  It’s more like a chapter book, but has many pictures too.  It starts by following on pilgrim family in England and follows their journey across the sea and the first year in America and the first thanksgiving.

I like the story in this book, and it even has maps and a diagram of the Mayflower ship.  I’m not a fan of the illustrator’s style (apologies to Helen Sewell), but it’s just a personal preference.  This book also has the Caldecott Honor.

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We are just 2 weeks from Thanksgiving.  I’ll be posting some more book suggestions for this holiday in the coming days.  I’ll start with one of my favorites, Eve Bunting’s A Turkey for Thanksgiving.

I can’t recall any Eve Bunting story that I didn’t enjoy.  She has many great ones that I hope to review now and then.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving is one of those books, though, that may have to be explained to the kids.  I’m fairly certain the humor and the irony is lost on younger children. But it’s a short, fun read.

In this story, Mr. and Mrs. Moose are planning Thanksgiving dinner for their other animal friends.  Mrs. Moose says she wished they could have a turkey for Thanksgiving.  Mr. Moose sets out to find turkey, and gathers his friends to help him.  Turkey (who is looking more fat than normal to his friends)  is hiding and thinks his fate is sealed.  Mr. Moose is so happy to march turkey back home and fulfill his wife’s wish.  She shows turkey to his spot of honor at the table…a chair… and tells him she hopes he finds the food to his liking.  All the animals are happy to have a turkey for Thanksgiving!

You can certainly find this book in your library, although it may be hard to get it out this time of year.  But you can find very cheap copies on Amazon as well.

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