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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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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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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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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If you are searching for some Christmas or December reading that isn’t necessarily about the holiday, you might try this one:

Regardless of how much you liked the politics of the former administration, former VP’s wife, Lynne Cheney is a great author of history story books for young children.  When Washington Crossed the Delaware:  A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.  Our drive through a cold Valley Forge Park today reminded me of this story.  It chronicles the battles of Trenton and Princeton in the Revolutionary War.  The noteworthy part about the story is that they made a rather perilous crossing of the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey on Christmas Day.  The troops had a rough winter stationed at Valley Forge.

Cheney definitely succeeded in taking a historical story and making it engaging and interesting for young children.  As far as I can tell the story is accurate, although simplified.  I appreciate the portrayal of General Washington in this story, someone who bore the weight of his decisions to send men into battle in perilous conditions. The illustrations are stunning as well, in part because of the larger size of the book.

Here are some other books by Lynne Cheney.  Although I have read a few of the other ones and at the time thought the quality was somewhat lessened in comparison to this one.

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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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