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The Beasts and Children, Day 4: The Christmas Pageant

The Christmas Pageant

The Christmas Pageant, by Jacqueline Rogers (1989)

I didn’t realize when I picked this book up that the author/illustrator is the woman who provides the cover art for the new Ramona reprints and for Calvin Coconut (a series I discovered in the school library recently). The style is very different from those books–much more realistic–but it’s clear that she has varied talent!

This book shows the story of the dress rehearsal and performance of a rural Christmas pageant (performed in a barn surrounded by snowy hills and not much else!), and the text represents the contents of the pageant (matching up with the scene the pictures illustrate), including songs with sheet music! The picture story begins with final preparations of costumes and set pieces. From there, we see the angel Gabriel making his announcements to Mary and then Joseph (while set work continues in the background). Then Joseph pulls a wagon (with a donkey cut-out taped to the front and Mary perched on a box inside) across the stage, and we see the toddler (a little girl, according to the cast list on the title pages) who is playing Baby Jesus pestering an innkeeper behind the inn set while another child leads some real animals into the barn for the performance. Mary and Joseph have some trouble keeping the “baby” in the manger once she sees the cow and sheep on stage, and one of the sheep chews on a shepherd’s head covering while the angel appears to proclaim the birth. Then an angel choir (with appropriately mixed behavior) sings as the shepherds make their way to the stable (where Jesus sucks on a pacifier and tries to pull off the head covering of another shepherd). The real program begins at this point of the illustrations as the costumed wise men (one carrying the camel cut-out) trek through the snow on the country road leading to the barn where cars fill the plowed out area that is serving as a parking lot. They track snow across the stage while the audience looks on with pride. The faux Jesus has actually fallen asleep for this evening performance, and Mary and Joseph smile as they place her in the stage manger. Then all the cast gathers around the sleeping child for the final song (“Joy to the World”) and curtain call. As the performers and their families file out of the barn after the performance, snow is falling, delighting the children.

With as much charm as a real performance of a Christmas pageant, the text of the book could actually be used as the basis for a production (with directors reminded by the illustrations of what pitfalls exist with child performers!). It is not verbatim text from the Bible, but it summarizes and condenses much like any Christmas pageant would (and, like most pageants and nativity sets, features the wise men–inaccurately–at the birth for the purpose of seamlessly including their part of the account.) The characters in the illustrations are actually based on real people, credited by the author/illustrator on the page facing the title page. While the director’s hairstyle, outfit, and glasses might give away the 1989 publication date, it’s not jarring (or prevalent) enough to distract from the art, and the kids look like any kids from any time in the late 20th to early 21st century. (The biggest hint of the publication date might actually be that none of the audience is holding up a cell phone to record the performance!) This book would make a great read-aloud for preschoolers, and readers in middle elementary grades could probably handle it independently.

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 7–Where Did They Hide My Presents?: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs

Where Did They Hide My Presents?

Where Did They Hide My Presents?, by Alan Katz and David Catrow (2005)

It took a little cajoling on GirlChild’s part for BoyChild to choose this book in the first place, but once they had a listen, they both loved it!

The whole book is full of silly songs meant to be sung to the tune of popular Christmas songs. They range from “The Sugarplum Fairy” (to the tune of “The Little Drummer Boy”), a song about a child with pre-performance jitters who really starts to enjoy the applause and looks forward to more performances, to the titular “Where Did They Hide My Presents?” (to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) about a child who searches “high and low and low” for the gifts his parents have hidden and can’t find them anywhere.  The pictures help add to the fun of the songs; for instance, you can see several packages tucked into a hollow in a tree (with an owl sleeping next to them) on the pages where the child is seeking out his parents’ hiding places, and the dad is depicted with an open and empty battery compartment for the song “Batteries.” They are silly and over-the-top, and my kids got a good laugh out of them!

GirlChild’s favorite song was “Where Did They Hide My Presents?” and BoyChild liked the song “Batteries” “because footballs and bones don’t need batteries!” (He’s into the absurd right now…) I had to have my husband hum a few bars of the beginning of a couple of the songs because I couldn’t recall how they started, just the chorus, and there were one or two where I never quite got the rhythm quite right to fit with the new lyrics, but it was overall pretty easy to sing the new words to the old tunes! That might be because impromptu parody songs are all the rage in our house; I tend to belt out a rousing rendition of “Everything is Awful” when BoyChild is dramatically protesting something ridiculous, and GirlChild has gotten so good at making up her own that her daddy sometimes mistakes them for real songs! Be warned that the word “dumb” showed up in a couple of the songs, and there is a song about a baby brother who has dirtied his pants, but most of the songs are good, clean fun! Other song parody picture books by the authors include On Top of the Potty and Take Me Out of the Bathtub, but there are several more to share with your little goofballs!

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas 2015, Day 1–I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, by John Rox, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (2005)

I had BoyChild choose a few Christmas books to preview, and this was the first one he wanted me to read. Really, what could be a bigger draw to a little boy than a huge hippo on the cover of a Christmas book? I think it probably also helps that the song that forms the text of this book is his daddy’s self-professed favorite Christmas song and is played frequently in this house! (There is no accounting for taste…) BoyChild’s favorite animal was the hippo for a while (he has a stuffed one he calls Fippo), and although he has moved on to the more tangible dog, he apparently still has a special place in his heart for the hippopotamus!

The words in this book are the words of the song, written in 1950 by John Rox. It includes two verses of the song, but the entire song (with sheet music included!) can be found at the end of the book. The song, of course, is absolutely silly, and the illustrations just help flesh out the silliness! They are semi-realistic and have a variety of perspectives to keep things interesting. The very first illustration is a close-up of an excited little girl (who looks a lot like I would have at that age, but without the gap between her teeth that I had!) holding up her Christmas list which reads simply, “Dear Santa” with a large crayon drawing of a hippo. Her parents enjoy a little chuckle as they look at it, and the book continues to show the little girl offering a carrot to a hippo constructed from a table, chair, and some boxes, but the pictures immediately change to a slightly more cartoonish style (the hippo and other fantasy elements are rendered this way while the little girl and her family remain semi-realistic) to show Santa attempting to get the flummoxed hippo through the door into her house. My son and I both like the next illustration the best (but for different reasons): It shows the pink-footie-pajama-clad little girl standing in front of a large, happy, lavender hippopotamus (sitting on an accordion-squashed gift box) while her parents sit behind her on the stairs, her father shocked, her mother in disbelief. For me, it’s the trip into fantasy where we see what would happen if a hippo suddenly appeared under the tree; for him, it’s a big hippo squishing a box! We are then treated to images of the little girl (dwarfed by the size of her enormous gift) and the hippo facing off with the other gift alternatives (rhinoceroses, crocodiles, and the like), the hippo eagerly awaiting his vegetarian treat, and him receiving his wash and massage in the garage. Another of my favorite series of images comes when the chorus of “what joy and what surprise” is repeated, and you can see a happy hippopotamus reflected in the girl’s wide eyes and then her face reflected in his equally joyous gaze. The little girl is then treated to a hippo-drawn trip on Santa’s sleigh to end the book (with a dancing hippo on the lyrics page and a snow hippo on the very last page).

As I’ve said before, we don’t really do the Santa thing, but we don’t avoid mentions of him either, and discussing different genres of stories is a typical part of our reading experiences together with both him and GirlChild. At age four, he has a great imagination, so BoyChild still has a limited idea of what is actually outside the scope of possibility. For that reason, it’s kind of confusing to try to explain to him what’s “real” in a book and what’s really real (and he wants to know!), and books where fantasy elements are included but are potentially just in a character’s imagination (like the hippo and all the events surrounding his arrival and exploits) just make it even more confusing! Maybe we should reread the illustrated nonfiction book Hippos Are Huge! and ask him if that’s the sort of hippo in this book and if it could be real… 😉 (Just a note: There is a hippo poop fight in that book. BoyChild loved it.)

(If you have Amazon Prime, you can actually add the song to your playlist for free, but it’s less than a dollar to purchase it if you really find that you like it!)

Other hippo-themed (but non-Christmas) books:

Hippos Go Berserk!, by Sandra Boynton

The Bellybutton Book, by Sandra Boynton

But Not the Hippopotamus, by Sandra Boynton (hippos are a favorite of hers, I think)

Hippos Can’t Swim and Other Fun Facts, by Laura Lyn DiSiena and Hannah Eliot

Hippos Are Huge!, by Jonathan London (BoyChild’s favorite from above)

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A Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas, by Philip Yates, illustrated by SebastiĂ  Serra

A Pirate's Twelve Days of Christmas

A Pirate’s Twelve Days of Christmas, by Philip Yates, illustrated by SebastiĂ  Serra (2012)

For this fifth review of Christmas, I decided to go to the silly side…and there is very little sillier than a bunch of grinning pirates surprising the cabin boy with a variety of pirate-y gifts!

After a few rhyming couplets to introduce the story (the crew of a pirate ship leaves the cabin boy behind during “Christmastide” so they can go plunder and he can swab the decks), the song begins. The cabin boy wakes on the first morning to find a parrot in a palm tree (and the pirate responsible for the gift is grinning and hiding behind a barrel) and is inspired to sing! The second day, two cutlasses are added to his stash and his song (and that pirate is peeking up over the side of the ship). On the third day, three black cats arrive (and you can see their footprints coming from behind a tree where another pirate is hiding to watch her gift be received). Each day, another gift is added, another pirate (and you can identify them all from the small boats leaving the pirate ship at the beginning of the story) is watching gleefully as the cabin boy enjoys his surprise, and the scene gets crazier and crazier! Finally, on the twelfth day, the twelve absentee pirates themselves show up and wish the cabin boy a merry Christmas. They weigh anchor and head to bed so that “jolly ol’ Sir Peggedy” and his sleigh can visit. (There’s also a glossary in the back to help define any unfamiliar pirate terms!)

The illustrations for this book were drawn in “pencil and ink on parchment paper and then digitally colored.” The characters have almost a wooden doll look to them, and the progressive craziness fits the mood and contents of the book very well. There is so much to see in each picture that a simple read-through will not be enough for most young readers, and they will certainly want to spend time with the book on their own looking through all the pages.

GirlChild and BoyChild’s Reactions: Both GirlChild and BoyChild enjoyed this book. Thankfully, they have heard enough of me singing silly songs not to find my choral presentation off-putting, and GirlChild even joined in since she’s familiar with the tune (and can read along with the words). They both loved looking for the gifting pirate hiding somewhere in the picture before we moved on to the next round of gifts. We started by counting the items as they were added, but the pictures soon got so wild that we just went on singing instead. I’m sure that they will continue to find new silly parts in each picture as they reread the book on their own. Be prepared to burst into song with a pirate-y gusto when you share this read-aloud with kids from preschool to elementary age!

(The author and illustrator also teamed up on A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas, and it looks just as silly!)

 

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Fun Fourth Friday: Halloween Book Blog Round-up

Well, wow. I promised an Andrew Clements themed post, and then we took a weekend trip, BoyChild got a cold, then BoyChild’s sinus issue changed into his asthmatic cough, and none of us have gotten any decent sleep for several days. Between necessary errands, a trip to the doctor, and helping with preparations for the festival at GirlChild’s school this evening, I just haven’t had the chance to give the books the attention they deserve. Therefore, I’m serving up leftovers, so to speak–I’m linking you to other blogs that have reviewed Halloween-themed books for kids so you can at least get something useful from my blog this month! (All blogs were found via Pinterest.)

Scary and Scary-ish Halloween Books on Imagination Soup: This list of books about Halloween is for ages two to twelve. It includes not-scary picture books, a Halloween craft and recipe book, and scarier chapter books.

Halloween Books That Won’t Give Your Child Nightmares on No Time for Flash Cards: I’ve linked this blog before, and here’s another goodie–a list of easy-on-the-spooky picture books about Halloween. Includes contributions by many favorite children’s authors, like Jane Yolen, Laura Numeroff, and Karen Katz.

Halloween Books and Crafts to Match on No Time for Flashcards: Not reviews on this No Time for Flashcards entry, but each book and its link is paired with a craft (image shown so you know what you’re considering) and its link. Perfect for family or small-group activities at the library or in the classroom!

Halloween Book Countdown on Simply Kierste: While it’s a little late this year for the whole one-book-a-day countdown to Halloween that this family does, there are a number of Halloween and pumpkin-themed books here from which to choose–thirty-one, to be exact! The books aren’t reviewed (the post is mostly a description of the tradition), but there are links to the Amazon pages for each of the books she uses so you can check them out and decide for yourself (and maybe give it a go next year!).

Best Kids’ Halloween Books {a children’s librarian’s list} on Modern Parents Messy Kids: Just seven books long, this selective list suggests a good mixture of old and new, artsy and simple, funny and spooky.

Halloween Books for Preschoolers on Little Us: Most of the books on this list are unique (although there are a few repeats from other blogs), and I really like the looks of Are You My Mummy? (GirlChild always called the mummy rubber duck we had the “mommy duck” because the only use of the word “mummy” she knew at that time was from Topsy and Tim…) The summaries are apparently taken from the front flap or back cover of the books, so you get a good idea about each of the titles from which to choose.

There are many, MANY more lists from which to choose, and I’ll let you peruse them on your own. Here’s a link to my Pinterest search that you can use to discover the perfect Halloween books for your family!

(Don’t forget to visit your local IHOP to let your kids try out their Scary Face pancakes this year–free on Halloween at participating restaurants! My kids love them!)

GirlChild's scary face pancake (2013, age 5)

GirlChild’s scary face pancake (2013, age 5)

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Mother Goose Storytime at the Library

This morning I was awakened by the sound of GirlChild crying out in her sleep, “Oh, no! I dropped all my books on the floor!” A good library day if there ever was one! 😉

Today I took BoyChild to his first infant storytime at a nearby library (since he slept until 9ish so he could delay his morning nap until after the session)…and I think I made a mommy playdate for next Monday’s storytime!

I haven’t been to an infant storytime since GirlChild was a baby, so here’s a recap of what happened there:

Seating—A large, colorful parachute was spread out on the floor of the storytime room, and we all spread out around it. I chose a seat close enough to the librarian’s spot to see her without being right next to her. BoyChild is beyond distractible, so I figured this was my best bet.

Greeting—The librarian (we’ll call her Mother Goose) had all the adults introduce themselves and their babies and give the babies’ ages. There were babies as young as three and a half months and one going on two who was transitioning up to the next storytime. The majority of the babies were between eight and ten months old.

Meeting—As is typical with infant storytimes, there was a decent bit of instruction and explanation for parents as everything transpired; tips to modify the activities for different babies, reasons why we do certain things, etc. Mother Goose didn’t really address the children at all, but I guess that makes sense when they likely wouldn’t give her the time of day anyway! 🙂

  • Finger plays—I can’t remember what it was called, but we did something involving a bunny going ‘round and ‘round (in the palm of the hand) and a puppy chasing it “under there” (and ending with an underarm tickle).
  • “Baby Exercises”—BoyChild did NOT like this part of storytime. I should never have put him on his back, but it was hard to do the movements (basically baby stretches) with him sitting or standing (as he preferred). This seemed a lot better with the younger, less mobile babies.
  • Books—Just two: All of Baby Nose to Toes and Pat-a-Cake. Mother Goose would read a sentence from the first one and have us repeat it while poking our babies in the body part mentioned (or, you know, just pointing at or patting it). Since Mother Goose was using a doll to demonstrate all the songs and whatnot, she wasn’t able to actually *read* Pat-a-Cake while she was doing the motions, so she just showed us a few of the illustrations when she was done as part of showing us how to read to our babies.


  • Songs—I knew most of the tune to “All the Pretty Little Horses,” but my memory of the lyrics was all from the Susan Jeffers book (apparently just called All the Pretty Horses and out of print) that I had when I was a kid. Although BoyChild didn’t care for being reclined in my arms while we sang it and had to have belly-nibbles to keep him curled up and giggling softly while the song went on, I actually used this song to put him down to bed tonight. We also did “The Noble Duke of York” (which we call “The Grand Old Duke of York”) and another bouncing/lifting song that I can’t recall. There may have been more as well.
  • Parachute—GirlChild loved this part because she actually got to participate instead of sitting and watching quietly! We sat with our children in our laps and raised and lowered the parachute slowly while we sang basic songs (“The Wheels on the Bus”) and recited nursery rhymes. The oldest child crawled underneath it to play, but everyone else tried to keep their kids with them. (I would have set BoyChild free, but Mother Goose never said it was okay, and I didn’t want to be a disruption!) Mother Goose said that the babies like to see each other from underneath it, but I was too busy trying to keep BoyChild from escaping to pay attention to whether it was just a desire to be free or a desire to interact with the babies on the other side.
  • Sign Language—Mother Goose said they had learned “daddy” (among others) last week, so this week she introduced these: mommy, thank you, ball, and happy. GirlChild loved this, of course, but BoyChild was too squirmy at this point to let me manipulate his hands at all.
  • Free Play—After the closing song (which I don’t remember), Mother Goose told us that her part was done but that she would pass out books and balls and we were free to stay until noon. GirlChild took two books (“One for me, and one for my baby brother!”), but she spent most of her time kicking around the little, soft soccer ball that Mother Goose handed out. Probably half of the families stayed. There was a little boy (dressed almost exactly like BoyChild) and his mom sitting directly across from us during storytime, and she came to talk to me during the free play
turns out her little one is just one day older than BoyChild! We had a nice chat while GirlChild played and read and BoyChild tried to steal other babies’ slobbery soccer balls.

GirlChild was the only older sibling to attend, so I don’t know if that is frowned upon (nobody complained to me, at least!) or if none of these kids have older siblings not already in school.  I prepped her before we went that this was for BoyChild and other babies and that she wasn’t allowed to answer questions or respond to Mother Goose when she talked to the little ones. She was a perfect little lady and only did the things families were expected to do; singing songs, reciting rhymes, and interacting with BoyChild. She seemed glad to know most of the songs and perfectly happy to listen to baby books. (It probably helped that the mom sitting next to us couldn’t stop smiling at GirlChild and engaging her attention!)

We had a good enough experience that we plan on going back next week if we can arrange the nap schedule to accommodate it! If you have an infant (most infant storytimes start no later than 6 months (often from birth) and can go up to either ages 1 or 2, depending on the size of the library system and the number of different storytimes offered), I would most definitely recommend trying to find an infant storytime near you!

I found this blog by a storytime librarian that talks about infant (and preschool) storytimes in general and the specifics of her program as well. She mentioned handouts of the songs/rhymes/etc., and that was one thing I missed at this one that we had when GirlChild was a baby. I certainly could have used a reminder of some of the words during the session, and it would have been nice to have the information for when we got home to rehearse again. Check out Library Noise for weekly posts about what songs, books, and rhymes she’s doing with her little ones!

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Christmas Wrap-Up

(Ha! I see what I did there!)

In case you missed a day or just want to see all the Twelve Reviews of Christmas together to pick and choose, here’s the list!

12.  A Christmas Carol
11.  The Crippled Lamb
10.  The Christmas Story
9.  Merry Christmas, Mouse!
8.  The Secret Keeper
7.  Mousekin’s Christmas Eve
6.  Pippin the Christmas Pig
5.  A Houseful of Christmas
4.  My Merry Christmas: And the real reason for Christmas joy
3.  Countdown to Christmas
2.  Fisher-Price Little People: Christmastime Is Here!
1.  The Twelve Days of Christmas

There were some other great and/or interesting books that I didn’t get to share in the Twelve Reviews of Christmas–we spent a lot of time quarantined from the library in the last couple weeks because of sick children–but I wanted to toss out a few more ideas in case none of these hit the spot!

A Classic (and a classroom use guide):
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
(For elementary readers and good listeners!)The Best Christmas Pageant Ever


A (Really) Unique Take:
We Were There: A Nativity Story, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Wendell Minor
(I couldn’t check this out to review because I shuddered violently just touching the illustrations when I was trying to turn the pages to preview it! Perfect for your little entomologist!)

In Case You Didn’t Realize:
An Early American Christmas
, by Tomie DePaola
(Did you realize that in early America, Christians celebrating Christmas was a bit out-of-the-ordinary?)

Funny Animal Christmas Stories:
Olivia Helps with Christmas, by Ian Falconer
(It’s Olivia. Some kids just need Olivia for every season!)


Santa Cows, by Cooper Edens, illustrated by Daniel Lane
(This book is–yes, I’m going to do it, for my dad!–udderly ridiculous. In the spirit of Twas the Night Before Christmas, but with cows. And kitsch.)


Hark! The Aardvark Angels Sing: A Story of Christmas Mail
, by Teri Sloat
(Aardvark angels help deliver mail to all the corners of the earth. Really.
Set to music.)


A Little Alphabetical Latin Flavor:

N is for Navidad, by Susan Middleton Elya and Merry Banks, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
(The Spanish alphabet–including those “extra” letters ch, ll, ñ, and rr–is used to tell a story of the celebration of Christmastime in a Latino family. A pronunciation guide included for those who don’t speak Spanish!)


A Ballet in Book Form:

The Nutcracker, by Susan Jeffers
(A simple retelling of the traditional ballet with beautiful art by the illustrator of one of my favorite childhood books, All the Pretty Horses.)


A Favorite Christmas Villain:
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
(Did you realize that there’s no mention of the Grinch being green in the book? Nor that he’s not any color at all in the illustrations? No? Time to break out the original instead of the movies, then!)

Hope you have a chance to make it to the library before Christmas (and that you find a few of these books on the shelf!). Have a very merry Christmas!
(Do you have any suggestions for great Christmas books I might not have included? Tell us in the comments!)

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