Sunday, December 14, 2014

Eight Christmas Books

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. Robert E. Barry. 1963. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Mr. Willowby's Christmas tree came by special delivery. Full and fresh and glistening green--the biggest tree he had ever seen. He dashed downstairs to open the door--This was the moment he'd waited for.

I loved, loved, loved Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. It celebrates giving in a fun and playful way. Mr. Willowby starts off a long chain of giving when he chops off the top of his too-tall Christmas tree. A tree that is splendid in every other way. He gives the tree-top to the upstairs maid. She's delighted. Very delighted. How thoughtful! How cheery! But the tree is too-tall for her small room. The top must go! Chances are you can predict at this point how the story will go. But that doesn't mean it is in any way less delightful. This little tree-top gets passed down and re-trimmed again and again and again and again and again. And it's just WONDERFUL to see how much happiness and cheer it brings to others.

I loved the premise. I loved the writing. The rhyming was delightful. It worked very well for me! I think this one would make a great read-aloud. I also loved how uplifting it is. (After reading Baboushka and the Three Kings, I needed a cheery story!)

Why didn't someone tell me about this wonderful and charming picture book?! Why?! Well, I am glad to have discovered it now!

Which Christmas books would you consider classic? Which would you recommend?

Uncle Vova's Tree. Patricia Polacco. 1989. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Uncle Vova's Tree is rich in detail and tradition. The author, Patricia Polacco, is drawing from her past and recalling some of her childhood Christmases. She writes, "As a child I celebrated Christmas as most American children did, but at Epiphany in January, my brother, my two cousins, my grandparents and I would go to the farm of my Great Uncle Vladimir and Aunt Svetlana to celebrate in the Russian tradition." The book recalls two family gatherings specifically. The first is Uncle Vova's last Christmas. Though of course, most everyone did not *know* it would be his last Christmas. The second is that first Christmas without him. The book definitely has tones of sadness, but, it is ultimately hopeful. Memories, good, strong happy memories, remain.

The book is rich in detail and tradition. It is informative in many ways. Did you know about the tradition of putting hay underneath the tablecloth to remember and honor the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born? But in addition to honoring tradition--in this case, Russian tradition--it also celebrates families. Readers meet a family that is close and loving and supportive. Little details make this one work well.

Too Many Tamales. Gary Soto. Illustrated by Ed Martinez. 1993. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Snow drifted through the streets and now that it was dusk, Christmas trees glittered in the windows.

Too Many Tamales is a great family-oriented Christmas story. Maria, our heroine, is helping her mom make tamales. She loves helping her mom, loves being grown-up in the kitchen. But things don't go smoothly with this first batch of tamales. And it is her fault. Mostly. Maria really, really, really wanted to try on her mom's ring. Unfortunately, this-too-big ring falls right into the masa mixture. Hours later, she realizes that she never took the ring off. She doesn't know for sure where the ring is. But she has a strong suspicion that it may very well be in one of the twenty-four tamales. With a little help from her cousins, Maria is in a race to find the ring before her mom--and all the other relatives--realize what has happened. Will she find the ring? Will her mom find out? Will her cousins ever want to eat another tamale?!

I liked this one very much.

Angelina's Christmas. Katharine Holabird. Illustrated by Helen Craig. 1986. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Christmas was coming, and everyone at Angelina's school was working hard to prepare for the Christmas show.

I enjoyed reading Angelina's Christmas. I enjoyed meeting Angelina and her family. I loved how thoughtful and empathetic Angelina was. She realizes that there is one house in the village that is not decorated. She notices that there is one "old man huddled by a tiny fire." She learns from her parents that this old man is Mr. Bell, a retired postman. She decides that she will do something special for him so he won't be all alone at Christmas time. (And Angelina isn't the only one joining in to help make this Christmas memorable for Mr. Bell.) She makes him cookies, her mom sends along mince pies and fruit, her dad cuts him a Christmas tree. They visit him, Henry, Angelina's brother comes along too. But perhaps even more importantly than showing him kindness through things, they take the time to listen to him, to include him. This one is a lovely book.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats. Patricia Polacco. 2000. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

At our farm just outside Union City, Michigan, we didn't celebrate the same holidays as most of our neighbors...but we shared their delight and anticipation of them just the same.

I enjoyed reading The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. She is sharing yet another holiday memory with young readers in this picture book.

The story focuses on one holiday season when the town is hit by an epidemic, scarlet fever, I believe. The heroine's family is not sick, but, most of their neighbors are. As they are preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, they realize that most of their neighbors are too sick to prepare for and celebrate Christmas. They love their neighbors. They want to do something for them. Working together as a family, they decide to bring Christmas to their neighbors: food, a tree, decorations. Since they don't own any Christmas ornaments, they use animals carved out of wood. One of the animals, as you might have guessed, is a goat. When hung on the tree, it appears to be a dancing goat. Can one family bring Christmas cheer to a community?

I liked this one. I liked the family scenes very much. It is a thoughtful book. I'm glad I finally discovered it!

Morris' Disappearing Bag. Rosemary Wells. 1975. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

It was Christmas morning. "Wow!" said Morris.

Morris' Disappearing Bag probably isn't my favorite Rosemary Wells, but, this one is enjoyable enough that it's worth reading at least once or twice. Morris stars in this one. He has three older siblings: one big brother, Victor, and two older sisters, Rose and Betty. It is a Christmas book, of course. After all the presents are opened, the three older siblings play with their presents and play with each others presents. Victor got hockey stuff. Betty got a chemistry set. Rose got a beauty kit. They take turns sharing. Much fun is had. But not by all. For Morris has only his present (a teddy bear) to play with. He doesn't get a turn with his siblings' presents. But that changes when Morris discovers a fantastic present under the tree. A bag. A disappearing bag. Whatever is in the bag disappears. His siblings all want a turn, and, he lets them in the bag. While his siblings have disappeared for the day, Morris plays with their stuff before settling into bed with his bear.

Max's Christmas. Rosemary Wells. 1986. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I love watching Max and Ruby. I've seen the adaptation of Max's Christmas plenty of times before I read the book. If you like the show, chances are you'll enjoy reading this book. It is very similar. For those new to these lovable siblings, Ruby is the older sibling. She seems to be raising Max all on her own. (Ruby and Max don't have parents. They have a Grandma, but, she does not live with Max and Ruby.) Max is the younger sibling. He is many things: cute, clever, curious. Yes, he can be mischievous, but, he is also super-observant. I love, love, love them both. I might like Max a tiny bit better than Ruby. But still. I love them both.

In this book, readers join Ruby and Max on Christmas Eve night. Ruby is trying her best to get Max to get ready for bed, to go to sleep. Max is excited, of course. Once he knows that Santa is coming to his house tonight, he wants to see it for himself. So he goes downstairs to wait for Santa....

I liked this one very much.

Wombat Divine. Mem Fox. Illustrated by Kerry Argent. 1995/1999. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Mem Fox's Wombat Divine to be charming. I loved Wombat. He loves, loves, loves Christmas. More than anything, he wants a part in the nativity play. At the auditions, he tries his best. But there are so many parts that he's just not right for. I love the refrain, "Don't lose heart. Why not try for a different part?" which is used throughout the whole auditioning process. He auditions for Archangel Gabriel, Mary, a wise king, Joseph, an innkeeper, and a shepherd. But there's one role that he'd be just perfect playing. Can you guess it?

I liked this one. I thought it was cute and sweet. I liked the writing. I found it unique and oh-so-right.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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