It’s getting close to that time of year again, folks! I’m writing this now because books are things you need to buy a bit in advance — you won’t have them when you need them if you haven’t already collected them! It doesn’t take magic to raise readers. Children who grow up to be readers have parents who read, have books read aloud to them, and have access to good books at home. I’m sure there are other things, but these are big ones!
When it comes to Christmas books, there are a lot of silly ones. There area lot designed to sell you child the latest holiday movie or toy. There are okay ones that are fine, but you really hate reading them aloud over and over and over ad nauseam. And then there are the wonderful ones, the priceless ones — the ones you are so glad you bought and you brag about to your friends. These are the ones you get extra copies of. You give them to your nieces and nephews. You love them, too.
C.S. Lewis once wrote:
A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
Conversely, the very best children’s stories are so good, an adult is willing to sit down and read one, even when there are no children around!
So, as I said, there are many Christmas pictures books. A few rise above the rest, and those are what I’m highlighting today.
1. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston
This book always makes me cry a little. My entire family makes fun of me for this, but at the same time, they beg me to read it aloud again. Houston’s story is set during World War I. We learn about the year the Armistice was signed, when Ruthie’s father had to go to war, and the village almost didn’t have a Christmas tree that year. In the midst of this setting, we see Mother and Ruthie missing Father so much. We see what real sacrifice looks like. And we also come to know joy.
It’s a beautiful tale, well told.
I’m linking hardbacks as much as possible here in this post because, in my opinion, books this well done need to be hardbacks in order to survive many readings over many years.
2. The Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-ween by Ruth Sawyer
This book is out of print and can be difficult to find at a reasonable price. It’s fine to buy a used copy, of course, but make sure you get one in good condition because you’re going to read it a lot. This is a beautiful Christmas fairy tale. This one takes place against the backdrop of the Irish Potato Famine, so again we have a story that is sad and involves self-sacrifice.
An elderly peasant woman has worn herself out in service to others. She has no family and, seemingly, no friends. What will happen to her when she is homeless on Christmas Eve? Is there no reward for those who do good? The story is enchanting and the illustrations by Max Grafe are gorgeous.
3. The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean
This isn’t a book you read in a single sitting. It’s an Advent reader and this means a bit of it should be read every day during the 24 days leading up to Christmas. This is a great way to review the basic Gospel story as presented in the Old Testament up to the Incarnation in the New Testament. I have been reading this to my children every year for many years, and they still haven’t outgrown it.
For who could possibly outgrow the Good News of Great Joy?
We made little ornaments to match each story, and we hang them on a makeshift Jesse Tree — one ornament per day, hung after we’ve read the day’s story. It’s a delightful tradition.
4. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
Have you ever noticed that many good Christmas tales follow the pattern laid out by Charles Dickens in his A Christmas Carol? You know the one: grumpy man encounters Christmas and repents before it’s too late. This book is like that, too. In this case, the man has some good reasons for being grumpy. Thankfully, Christ is bigger than our pains and anguish, and joy comes in the morning, does it not? Joy arrives in the story eventually, just like in real life.
This book is only a couple decades old, but I believe it will prove to be a true classic. As woodcutter Jonathan Toomey has his heart changed, we find ours warming up to Christmas as well.
5. The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler’s Sons by Ruth Sawyer
This one? It is too much fun! Set against the backdrop of a war and ensuing extreme poverty, three little boys are shivering away on Christmas Eve. Their father has gone away to try and earn some money for their dinners. If this book is anything, it is a tale of magic-as-mercy-to-the-poor.
These little boys are able to eat their fill for the holidays, but not before they are toyed with by a remarkable little man, who turns out to be a mischievous goblin king! This one makes us laugh with delight every single year.
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