Like to see all your gifts piled up beneath the tree? Here’s the complete list of The Twelve Reviews of Christmas for 2013! (Here are links to my lists for 2011 and 2012, too!)
12. The Night Before Christmas: A Sampling
11. A Baby Born in Bethlehem, by Martha Whitmore Hickman, illustrations by Guiliano Ferri
10. Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, by Kathryn Lasky
9. One Wintry Night, by Ruth Bell Graham, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson
8. Can You See What I See? The Night Before Christmas: Picture Puzzles to Search and Solve, by Walter Wick
7. Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas: A Safety Guide for Scaredies, by Mélanie Watt
6. Grace at Christmas, by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu
5. Christmas Around the World, by Mary D. Lankford, illustrated by Karen Dugan
4. A Child Is Born, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Floyd Cooper
3. Bear Stays Up for Christmas, by Karma Wilson, illustrations by Jane Chapman
2. Counting to Christmas, by Nancy Tafuri
1. Christmas Tree, by David Martin, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
May you honor Christmas in your heart and try to keep it all the year! God bless!
A Baby Born in Bethlehem, by Martha Whitmore Hickman, illustrations by Giuliano Ferri (1999)
This retelling of the nativity story combines information from Matthew and Luke to make one seamless narrative.
From the angel’s announcement to Mary to the visit of the wise men, this story tells a selective, embellished version of the birth of Jesus. The author often uses recognizable paraphrases of dialogue from what seems to be the King James Version of the Bible as well as some pretty direct quotations from Luke 2. She also follows the chronological progression of the narrative accurately (including the arrival of the wise men much later), while leaving out portions less directly related to the birth story (like Mary’s trip to visit Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist) to make the retelling more streamlined. (She also leaves out the visit of the wise men to Herod–a story for another time, perhaps.) There is a good amount of imagination applied to the characterization of Mary and the dialogue between characters to move the action along, so there’s quite a bit of this book that isn’t strictly Biblical, but it isn’t contrary to the text either; as always with retellings of Biblical passages, it’s a good idea to read and be familiar with the original. The art is somewhat atypical of children’s books, as well. I wasn’t surprised to find that the illustrator is actually from Italy as the art has what I consider a Mediterranean flair. This is one of the few nativity books I’ve seen where other travelers are depicted on the road to Bethlehem or where Jesus has aged between his birth and the arrival of the wise men (as he should have).
I like this retelling because it addresses all the parts of the Christmas story that everyone seems to recognize and compiles them into a cohesive, more accurate whole than I think other retellings have done. (None of the animals talk, and I kind of consider that a bonus for this particular topic.) There is a relatively sizable amount of text on each page (along with large, colorful illustrations), but I think that even preschoolers could enjoy listening to this retelling with the right reader and circumstances (probably not in a large group, but an animated reader could make that a possibility, too). Readers in elementary school–possibly as young as kindergarten, although the amount of text on a page and some of the vocabulary might be intimidating–can enjoy this independently because the storyline is both familiar and reasonably simple. A good addition to a home library that needs more religious Christmas books that are accessible to children.
(by the author)
(by the illustrator)
Filed under review, theme
Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932 (Dear America), by Kathryn Lasky (2001)
Minnie Swift and her family are dealing with the effects of the Great Depression. Set between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1932, this book tells how Minnie’s father seems to be withdrawing from family life, spending more and more time in his room with his typewriter. After losing his job at Greenhandle Scrap Metal, he disappears while the family is out, leaving a note that only her mother has read. Minnie’s cousin Willie Faye has come from Texas to live with them after her own parents die, and her lively personality and ingenuity help Minnie and her family cope through a time that is difficult for everyone.
The Great Depression is a topic that is hard to broach in children’s literature; this book is no exception. Job loss, homelessness, suicide…these are tough topics for any age, and it is particularly difficult to address them in a children’s book and still maintain a positive overall message. Part of this book’s success in doing so is that the story is written as the diary of an eleven-year-old child, so the discussion of these topics is dealt with on a level that a child might understand and with some of the vagueness of a young girl not wanting to think about the horrors around her. I think that the context of the book and the reading level make it (like many of the Dear America series) best for upper elementary and middle school aged readers. In addition to the heavy topics related to the Great Depression, there is some crassness and other potentially touchy material (potty humor from the younger brother, the uninhibited comments of an eleven-year-old in a diary she doesn’t expect anyone else to read) that might be inappropriate for less mature and discriminating readers. Tidbits about life in that time period–from gathering as a family to listen to radio dramas or the news to the expressions and daily experiences of the day–help to set the scene and can get attentive readers interested in the history behind the story but could be distracting and confusing to younger readers. (The American Girls series is probably a gentler way to get younger readers into historical fiction, and each doll has a Christmas story!) Despite the many harsh realities depicted in this book, the story ends well for Minnie’s family–her father returns just in time for Christmas with a steady job as a writer for a radio show, she and her family make do and have enough to help others, and they learn during their times of trouble what family really means.
(by the author)
(American Girl story set at Christmas during the Great Depression)
Filed under review, theme
Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas: A Safety Guide for Scaredies, by Mélanie Watt (2012)
Does the hustle and bustle of Christmas send your stress sky-high? Maybe Scaredy Squirrel’s tips can help!
Scaredy Squirrel is a squirrel with a lot of worries. From papercuts while wrapping gifts to the Abominable Snowman, Christmas is full of hazards to be mitigated. This step-by-step guide to preparing for Christmas, from initial prep work to throwing the safest, most hazard-free Christmas party on the block, gives tips from the world’s most cautious squirrel for a holiday celebration that is least likely to have you needing to play dead before the night is over. (Note: Not all hazards, like the Abominable Snowman, can be completely avoided.) Divided into eight chapters of wacky tips, this text reads less like a story book and more like a manual, with labels, tips, and illustrations to help all scaredies have the safest holiday ever. The longest and most detailed of the series, Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas is sure to make the middle elementary crowd laugh with its wacky hints, silly pictures, and over-the-top narrator. While some in the series have a plot simple enough to be read aloud (although some of the vocabulary is by no means simple) and are therefore well-suited for younger readers, this book is more likely to be enjoyed through independent reading, so an older reader (probably at least second grade to understand more of the humor) is most likely to be able to thoroughly explore and enjoy the text. The best audience is probably children who have previously enjoyed reading or having the other books in the series read to them so they are more familiar with the character and his quirks.
Filed under review, theme