What Was Santa Like as a Kid? (Two Favorite New Christmas Books)

December 4, 2013 § 4 Comments

"An Otis Christmas" by Loren LongWith every holiday season, there is a kind of magic in rediscovering old friends, old traditions, old stories. I have only to see the ecstasy on my children’s faces as we unpack our box of Christmas books each December to remember why I go through the trouble of packing them away in January, as opposed to stuffing them into our already stuffed bookshelves. As a parent, it’s magical for me as well: last night my eldest left us at the dinner table, voluntarily bathed himself, got into his PJs, brushed his teeth, and called downstairs, “I’m ready 20 minutes early so I can get some extra Christmas stories!” No wonder they call it the most wonderful time of the year.

Just because we only read them for one month a year doesn’t mean I can resist the temptation to add to our collection every single year (there are worse addictions, I’ve assured my husband). Last year was Alison Jay’s exquisite Christmastime, where clues of Christmas carols are embedded into a seek-and-find masterpiece. Previous years’ favorites are mentioned here and here. This year’s acquisitions include two new picture books, utterly different in style, but forever entwined in my mind, since my kids and I had the pleasure of meeting both author/illustrators at Hooray for Books (our fabulous independent bookstore) a few weeks ago. « Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Christmas Books

December 7, 2012 § 4 Comments

ChristmastimeI was recently approached by the wonderful local parenting blog Del Ray Baby about doing a guest post on children’s books. After considering a bunch of thematic possibilities, I kept coming back to one: Christmas books!  When I worked at my old store, the boxes and boxes of holiday books that I’d ordered would start arriving as early as October. We had to wait until at least Thanksgiving to put them out, so we’d sit at our desks in the stockroom with towers of Christmas titles all around us. Those were wonderful weeks for me, filled with anticipation at ushering in another holiday season and the chance to get these magic-filled treasures into people’s hands. Yes, I have a weakness for Christmas books. Read all about my favorites here, and I’m betting you’ll love them as much as I do. And a heartfelt thanks to Del Ray Baby for the opportunity to share my musings with a new audience!

The “Perfect” Christmas Tree

December 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

Mr. Willowby's Christmas TreeThis past weekend, we partook in one of our favorite family traditions: chopping down our Christmas tree and driving it home to trim. We started this tradition five years ago, when JP was one year old. I like the idea of my children understanding where their Christmas tree comes from; plus I enjoy supporting the family-owned tree farms in our area; plus, well, we all know that I love any excuse to unleash my urban children on a farm.

By now, the excursion has become fairy predictable. JP (eager to get his hands on a saw) begins by pointing to the first tree he sees and announcing, “This is the perfect one!” I meander deep into the fields, weaving in and out of the rows, sizing up each possibility and muttering oohs and ahhs. And my husband (who has carefully measured our nook at home and tried to set appropriate expectations before we left the house) rushes after me, chastising, “That one is too big! It won’t fit! You promised this year you’d be reasonable!” He has a point, my husband, but I can’t help myself. Something overcomes me out there in the crisp open air, beautifully manicured trees stretching out on all sides of me, and I WANT BIG.

I guess in this way I’m a lot like Mr. Willowby, the mustached tycoon in one of my favorite Christmas stories to read aloud to my kids (or, in the case of last week, to my son’s preschool class). Originally published in 1963, Robert Barry’s Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree (Ages 3-8) was reissued last year with newly colorized pen-and-ink sketches that brim with delight. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas tree comes straight off the hills—“full and fresh and glistening green—/The biggest tree he had ever seen.”

There’s only one problem: the tree is too tall to fit in the parlor. In my house, that means the saw reappears and we shorten the trunk (I’m using the royal “we,” of course). But here, to stop the tree from bending at the ceiling, Willowby’s butler simply hacks off the top. The prophetic Baxter knows you don’t waste any part of a Christmas tree, and so he presents the topper to Miss Adelaide, the upstairs maid, who places it on a table where it too overshoots the ceiling, needs trimming, and becomes a contender for the gardener’s humble abode when the latter comes across it lying in the snow.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree

And so the story goes, the rollicking rhymes taking us on a journey from the gardener to a bear to a fox to a bunny to a family of mice living in the floorboards of Willowby’s parlor. Each family rejoices at the discovery of the perfect Christmas tree; each child-reader rejoices at predicting the problem said person or animal will face in trying to fit their perfect tree in increasingly smaller spaces. Equal parts sweetness and silliness, the tale touches with gestures of generosity (the bear hurrying home with the tree to surprise his wife) and clever humor (the mice making a star for the tree out of cheese). “Perfect” never meant so many things to so many people.

Other Favorites About Finding the Perfect Christmas Tree:
Christmas Farm, by Mary Lyn Ray & Barry Root (Ages 5-8)
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston & Barbara Cooney (Ages 5-10)

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