And Then Comes Christmas, by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jana Christy (2014)
This book takes the anticipation children feel when something big is coming up and turns it into a sort of guidebook to watching for signs that Christmas is soon to arrive!
The first page shows a scene of late fall, bare trees, a few remaining leaves, and people starting to bundle against the cold. It references shorter days, “red berries [that] blaze against green bushes,” and the bare trees, and the following page suggests that hanging a wreath “welcoming winter” is the next step. Each page says “WHEN” followed by nature’s cues and things children might observe happening in their home and school environments (boxes arriving and being hidden at home, decorations going up in stores, winter programs and gift-making at school) and then gives a suggestion of what to do “THEN” (like hanging lights, choosing a tree, and wrapping up handmade gifts). The final scene says that when all the hubbub of the morning is over, families should gather to “bask in the magic of Christmas.”
The illustrations are done digitally, but they give the impression of collage and watercolors and colored pencil drawings all in one. There are many details in each picture, giving children plenty to pore over and new discoveries to make as they spend time with the illustrations. There is movement and action on some pages, restrained eagerness on others, and peaceful contentment on others still. While there is a lot to look at in each image, there still doesn’t seem to be a sense of chaos or confusion, just bustling activity and vibrant life. I wish I could watch this illustrator create one of these pictures so I could see how it’s accomplished with a computer as the tool!
One thing I really like about this book is that it gives the sense of a kind of natural progression for children to observe and participate in, and predictability and order are helpful things for children when anticipation threatens to overwhelm them! Even though there is anticipation, the ending of the story doesn’t allow for the letdown that people sometimes feel after something they’ve been waiting for arrives; the instruction that basking is the next logical activity gives closure that isn’t abrupt or disappointing. The other thing that I really like about the book is the beautiful, rich vocabulary! Words like blaze, romp, treasures, dwindles…they are part of the pervasive descriptive language that makes the read-aloud experience perfect for creating mental imagery, but they also supply a sizable diversity of words to assist in the literacy and language development of blossoming young readers. (I had to explain “romp” to BoyChild a couple times; he seemed to like how it sounded and wanted to try it out himself!) Exposure to a complex vocabulary is a huge predictor of future reading success, and who doesn’t love to hear a little one who still can’t say his R sounds repeat a lovely, precise word in everyday conversation?