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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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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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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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