Monthly Archives: December 2013

Themed Third Thursday: The Naughty List Edition

Ever wonder what might qualify you for the Naughty List? The characters in these books might be able to give you a hint!

No, David!, by David ShannonNo, David!, David Shannon (1998): This Caldecott Honor book is David Shannon’s remake of a book he wrote when he was five that his mother sent to him as an adult. The only two words he could spell at the time were “no” and “David,” and he illustrated it with pictures of himself doing naughty things. As the author says in his note, “‘yes’ is a wonderful word…but it doesn’t keep crayon off the living room wall”! David is naughty in several other books of the series as well, such as David Gets in Trouble and It’s Christmas, David! (Just to help prove that naughtiness doesn’t have to stick with you forever, David Shannon is now a prolific and successful author and illustrator and probably no longer draws in crayon on the walls…)

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak(originally 1963, 2012): Some little boys get into enough mischief to make their parents call them wild things…and win Caldecott Medals. Like many naughty children, Max has a vivid imagination and–after being sent to his room without supper for his wild behavior–goes on a grand adventure but gets lonely for “someone [who] loved him best of all,” someone who keeps his supper hot and waiting for him for when he’s done being wild. (That’s always good for a little mischief-maker to remember, that their parents love them even when they’re in trouble!)

Miss Nelson Is Missing!, by Harry Allard and James MarshallMiss Nelson Is Missing!, by Harry Allard and James Marshall (1977): The classic story of a classroom full of unruly students who come to appreciate their sweet-tempered teacher after a terrible substitute, Miss Viola Swamp, fills in for her one day. (I actually used this book as inspiration one year when I was having a tough time with a hard-to-manage class. I wore black business suits, my hair in a tight bun, and no smiles for a while, and it actually worked! I read them this book when my behavior modification period was over. ūüôā ) Miss Nelson’s class can also be found in Miss Nelson Is Back and Miss Nelson Has a Field Day.

Bad Kitty, by Nick Bruel (2005): Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Bad Kitty (formerly known as “Kitty”)Bad Kitty, by Nick Bruel goes through an entire alphabet of naughtiness to protest the foul menu she’s being offered when the family runs out of food for her. When reparations are made, Kitty does restitution, but then the family brings home a “new friend” for Kitty…a puppy to share her food! “Uh-oh” indeed. Bad Kitty makes an appearance in a number of other titles as well, including Bad Kitty Christmas and Poor Puppy and Bad Kitty.

M Is for Mischief: An A to Z of Naughty Children, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Nancy CarpenterM Is for Mischief: An A to Z of Naughty Children, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (2008): This alphabet book of awfulness tells (in poetic form) the misadventures of misled children, from Blustering Buster (who brags about his skills) to Impolite Irma (who irritates everyone in a variety of ways), and often chronicles the unfortunate results of their incorrigible behavior. (Crime doesn’t pay, folks.)

Horrible Harry in Room 2B, by Suzy Kline, pictures by Frank Remkiewicz (1988): Horrible Harry in Room 2B, by Suzy KlineTold from the point of view of his best friend and classmate, Doug, this introduction to Horrible Harry (whose parents hopefully don’t call him that) tells about some of the things that make him horrible. Written for early elementary age students, his pranks (which sometimes backfire) are usually relatively tame and barely seem to merit the title “horrible,” but that makes it a perfect series for a little vicarious mischief without the potential for truly terrible copycat behaviors. Harry can also be found in Horrible Harry and the Christmas Surprise and Horrible Harry and the Dungeon (among many others).

Horrid Henry, by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony RossHorrid Henry, by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross (2009): Horrid Henry is so outrageously horrid that even his parents call him that. He makes Horrible Harry look like Henry’s younger brother, Perfect Peter (who, I have to say, is dreadfully obnoxious). All the children in these books have alliterative names detailing their usually less-than-charming character traits, and Horrid Henry’s antics are so over-the-top that I doubt anyone would try to emulate him. (I hope.) As I mentioned in my review of the tooth fairy book in this series, it’s not really my cup of tea, but the vocabulary and imagery are major positives for this distressing series (which is apparently wildly popular in the UK)! Horrid Henry also appears in Horrid Henry’s Underpants and Horrid Henry’s Stinkbomb.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara RobinsonThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson (originally 1971, 2005): Known as The Worst Kids in the World in several countries outside the US, this book features the Herdmans, a brood of foul-mouthed, belligerent, neglected children who strike fear in the hearts of their classmates and adults alike. When they show up at church (because they heard they served snacks) and insert themselves into the Christmas pageant, everyone is afraid that they’re going to ruin everything, but their curiosity and wonder about the story so many have begun to take for granted instead open the minds and hearts of the regulars and the Christmas story–as it should all of us–begins to change the Herdmans, too. Kids will probably mostly enjoy the outrageous behavior of the Herdmans, but adults will have a hard time finishing the story without shedding a tear or two. Although it’s impossible to top the original, the Herdmans also star in a few other books, including The Best School Year Ever and The Best Halloween Ever.

Artemis Fowl, by Eoin ColferArtemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer (2001): Artemis Fowl is a 12-year-old boy who is so naughty it’s criminal. No, literally: he’s a juvenile criminal mastermind who has taken over his father’s illegal empire in his absence. In this first book of the series, he makes plans to kidnap a fairy and demand the ransom to help rebuild the family fortune, but Holly may be more than even he bargained for. Like most naughty children, even the smart ones, he’s got a lot of growing to do, and he begins to question the way he does business and interacts with those around him. The story continues through a number of books, a true combination of sci-fi and fantasy (falling squarely into the speculative fiction genre), including Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident and Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code.

Now that I’ve shared some examples of true naughtiness, here’s a quote from the movie Fred Claus to get you thinking: “That Naughty-Nice List that you got? There’s no naughty kids, Nick. They’re all good kids. But some of them are scared. And some of them don’t feel listened to. Some of them had some pretty tough breaks too. But every kid deserves a present on Christmas.” No matter how naughty, every kid deserves love and a chance to put their energy to good use, so give it to them! You’ll be surprised at how not-naughty so many of them will become!


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The Twelve Reviews of Christmas for 2013: That’s a Wrap

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!

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The Night Before Christmas: A Sampling (Day 12)

There are too many versions of¬†The Night Before Christmas to choose just one, so I thought–for the last of our Twelve Reviews of Christmas for 2013–I’d do mini reviews of several so you can have your pick!

The Night Before Christmas, a poem by Clement Moore, illustrated by Jan Brett

The Night Before Christmas, a poem by Clement Moore, illustrated by Jan Brett (1998): Illustrated in Brett’s signature style–bright colors, extreme detail, frames, and miniature side scenes–this book can’t be just read aloud. Each page offers a huge variety of images to study, and each one reveals a little more about the main image. In this one, a pug and a tabby cat can be found on most of the pages, and a child could spend forever looking for his friends’ names among the gift tags or finding images of the reindeer and elves doing silly things. (Uses “Merry Christmas to all” at the end and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, with words by Clement Clarke Moore,The Night Before Christmas, words by Clement Clarke Moore, with pictures by Raquel Jaramillo with pictures by Raquel Jaramillo (2001): Framed as a family photo album found hidden in the floorboards of an old home, this book features sepia-tone photographs (on pages made to look aged with antique borders and weathered edges on the photos) of a family of five experiencing a visit from St. Nick. Their visitor is small (perhaps the height of a child–“a right jolly old elf”), can float in the air, and interacts with the whole family as he fills their stockings. (Uses “Happy Christmas to all” at the end and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, written by Clement C. Moore, paintings by Eric PuybaretThe Night Before Christmas, performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, written by Clement C. Moore, paintings by Eric Puybaret (2010): If you play the accompanying CD, you can have Mary dramatically read you the story (her voice is a little peculiar) while one (or both) of the others hums and strums in the background. The second track is one of the males (Peter, I think) singing the words to the poem. (I prefer this track!) There’s a third track of a song called “A’Soalin” as well. The art looks almost like it is a 3-D collage piece but the illustrator apparently acrylic on linen. I’m not sure how I feel about some of the little details (like the faces in the smoke from the chimneys and the odd little hats on the reindeer), but I do love the rooftops and swirls of snow in many of the pictures, and the outdoor scenes are serene and lovely. (Uses “Merry Christmas to all” at the end and Donner for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora (2009):The Night Before Christmas, retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora Set in an African village, I wasn’t able to find what exactly made this “retold,” but the art is definitely unique for this title! (Santa has dreads and is wearing some funky orange giraffe-print pants!) While it looks pretty much like it’s all collage, tell-tale brushstrokes and swirls give away the oil paints that were used in addition to printed paper and palette paper. My favorite image is the last page where a pudgy little girl, surrounded by her family, is pointing up at Santa’s sleigh as it passes in front of the moon. (Uses “Happy Christmas to all” and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement  Moore, illustrated by Tomie de PaolaThe Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore, illustrated by Tomie de Paola (1980): Tomie de Paola’s trademark style is clearly evident throughout this version. It is set in (according to the book flap) New England in the mid-nineteenth century, so the setting is relatively austere and the decorations simple. The illustrations are set on the page with the text within borders that give each page the appearance of being made of quilt squares. (Uses “Happy Christmas to all” and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Cheryl Harness (1989):The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Cheryl Harness If the home in the de Paola version is simple, this one is opulant! The setting is Victorian, and there is a vast difference between this and the New England home. Shelves of books, striped wallpaper, vast drapery, ornate carvings, lacy doilies…it’s nearly overwhelming! Despite all that, it kind of seems to fit the mental image I have of that poem’s setting, and it is Christmas-card gorgeous, so it’s worth a look as well! (Uses “Happy Christmas to all” at the end and Donder for the second-to-last reindeer.)

Librarian's Night Before Christmas, by David Davis, illustrated by Jim HarrisLibrarian’s Night Before Christmas, by David Davis, illustrated by Jim Harris (2007): I’ll leave you with just one more book–more for grown-ups than the kids (they don’t get references to library funding!)–as a thanks to all the librarians and clerks who had to gather up my vast holds list so I could write these reviews! The book is funny and full of inside jokes and literary references, and it would be a perfect gift for that librarian-in-training on your gift list this year! Make sure you thank your local guardians of information for the great work they do all year!

Merry Christmas to all (unless you want a Happy Christmas instead!), and to all a good night!

(Have a favorite version of this story that I haven’t mentioned? Tell me in the comments!)


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A Baby Born in Bethlehem, by Martha Whitmore Hickman, illustrations by Giuliano Ferri (Day 11)

A Baby Born in Bethlehem, by Martha Whitmore Hickman

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.

Additional titles:

Then I Think of God, by Martha Whitmore Hickman(by the author)

A Star in the Holy Night(by the illustrator)


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Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, by Kathryn Lasky (Day 10)

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.

Additional titles:

Product Details(by the author)

Kit's Surprise(American Girl story set at Christmas during the Great Depression)


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One Wintry Night, by Ruth Bell Graham, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson (Day 9)

One Wintry Night, by Ruth Graham Bell, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson

One Wintry Night, by Ruth Bell Graham, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson (1994)

Starting with the modern day in the Appalachians, this story takes a literary time machine (by way of a storyteller) through the Bible to the beginning of time to the Christmas story and beyond.

Zeb Morris, a boy of about ten, goes out for a hike in the mountains a few days before Christmas despite his grandfather’s warnings about the weather. While he’s out, the weather and a sprain get the better of him, and he finds refuge in an old home his grandfather had helped build. The elderly woman living there takes him in and helps treat his ankle (after calling to let his grandfather know where he is), and she tells him the Christmas story, starting back long before the first Christmas, back to the Garden, to the moment in time when the need for a Savior arose. As any storyteller does, she fleshes out her paraphrase of the Biblical account with imagination to help her listener picture the events she’s retelling, picking milestone events throughout the entire Biblical timeline to summarize the progression from perfection to confusion to hope and finally to redemption.

The story is interrupted on occasion by interactions between the boy and the woman, but those interludes typically serve either to break up the long story or to bring attention to a significant development or idea in the narrative. The illustrations, done in egg tempera, are breathtakingly detailed. One of my favorites illustrates the appearance of the angels to the shepherds, but instead of the the typical pastoral scene, you see a startled shepherd pulling back in awe in one corner of the page with a background of deep blue dotted with stars, but the majority of the page is filled with a representation of “the glory of the Lord [that] shone round about them” (Luke 2:9, NKJV), and it looks like rays of the sun exploding into shattering glass in bright yellows and oranges and subtle geometric patterns…amazing! Without a strong familiarity with the stories being recounted, it might be hard to tell what is artistic license and what is strictly Biblical detail, but I didn’t notice any glaring details that were contrary to the message of the passages being retold, so I don’t believe that is a serious negative in regards to the contents.* The main message is clear: God has been working throughout time to try to bring us, His most loved creation, back into a relationship with Him, and Jesus’ arrival that we celebrate at Christmas was a pivotal and necessary moment in our salvation history.

Although the book looks like a picture book and definitely features a large number of beautiful illustrations, it is not a book for early readers or very young listeners. I haven’t tried reading it yet to GirlChild, but I know that if I did, I’d have to break it up into several readings (perhaps one chapter at a time) because of the amount of text and the depth of the content. I would recommend this for a read-aloud for children from perhaps second or third grade on (perhaps a part of family devotions during advent), but it could also be enjoyed by independent readers with good Biblical background knowledge; others probably would need the support of an adult to fully understand the story being told. No matter what the reader’s background knowledge, I do recommend that an adult share with the reader the Biblical passages being retold so the child can develop a good understanding of what is just storytelling and what is purely Biblical in the book. This is definitely the most comprehensive retelling of the nativity story that I have ever read due to its massive amount of back-story to explain the why of the nativity instead of just the what…something I think many of us forget at this time of year. Let us do as Mary did and treasure up all these things and ponder them in our hearts (Luke 2:19) so that we can attempt to grasp the magnitude of the sacrifice God made on our behalf at Christmas.

Additional titles:

Psalm 23, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson(by the illustrator)

The Lord's Prayer, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson

*(Perhaps the most notable variation from–rather than addition to/elaboration on–the Bible passages is the author’s use of the term “Testing Tree” instead of “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and that it was placed there specifically to test their obedience;¬† that is not explicitly stated in the Bible, but a test of their obedience is what happened in relation to the tree, so I can see how the author justifies that change. As with all of the passages recounted, I would recommend reading the Biblical version to supplement the story being told in this book so the child knows the difference.)


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Can You See What I See? The Night Before Christmas: Picture Puzzles to Search and Solve, by Walter Wick (Day 8)

Can You See What I See?: The Night Before Christmas: Picture Puzzles to Search and Solve, by Walter Wick

Can You See What I See? The Night Before Christmas: Picture Puzzles to Search and Solve, by Walter Wick (2005)

From the photographer of the I Spy books comes a book full of Christmas confusion and hidden surprises!

When I taught fifth grade, I could pretty much assure you that there was an I Spy book in at least one student’s desk at all times during the year. Sure, some of them would check them out because they were easier to read than your typical chapter book, but these kinds of books have the advantage of requiring some reading (for the rhymed list of different hidden objects) and strategy skills (for seeking out the hidden objects–some require a real quadrant-by-quadrant search to locate!) but having an appealing look and the power of popularity to draw kids in and bring them together–nothing is more fun than poring over one of these with a buddy!

In this book, the author/photographer uses the theme of “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”/”The Night Before Christmas” to craft each scene. The first search, called “Night Before Christmas,” shows a table covered with Christmas cards, ornaments, and treats and lit by a few candles. Others, like “Visions of Sugarplums” have items scattered (strategically, mind you–never just tossed out there) across a plain or multicolor background instead of set in a scene, giving the appearance of floating out in space. I find the second type somewhat easier to search, but that doesn’t mean that some of the items are not still hard to find! Part of the difficulty is knowing whether to scan for a realistic item, a toy, an ornament, a candy or cookie, or an image on another object (that nearly elusive red barn on the “Such a Clatter!” page!), and some of the items are either unusual (because they’re an older/antique item and harder to identify) or very small (like the tiny moon painted on an ornament on the first page). For some kids, half the fun will be finding other random objects or objects that appear in more than one scene. If a child has grown tired of the game or is frustrated because of not being able to find a certain object, you can always issue a challenge to find, for instance, all the buttons on a page or all the red items, to redirect or engage on a different level. (This method also works for sharing these books with younger children with less experience with this kind of book; find something more obvious on the page that you know the child will recognize, and have the child find that item with you instead of doing the full (intended) search and being overwhelmed or put off by the book.) Another idea for using these books, especially with budding photographers, is to have the child construct his or her own scene to photograph and copy the style of the book to give you a list of items to locate in their self-styled picture puzzle. However you choose to use the book, it’s a great opportunity for a laptime snuggle with a younger child or just close mom-and-me or dad-and-me time with an older child, hunched over a book with your heads together. Perfect for downtime during the busyness often surrounding Christmas!

Additional titles:

Can You See What I See?: Toyland Express, by Walter Wick

Can  You See What I See?: Christmas (Level 1 Reader), by Walter Wick(made simpler for independence for younger readers)


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