Thursday, December 18, 2008

Our Favorite Books: Christmas Shopping Guide

Instead of another Great Toy, I thought I would take the time to write about one of our other favorite gifts for our kids.

We are a family of avid readers, from board books to illustrated stories to fairy tales, classics, and chapter books. We love them all. Anytime friends ask me what to get the children for Christmas, I always suggest books.

We have several favorites, especially in the wintertime.

For little ones, there are few books as good as The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. When my friends have become Moms, I have often bought The Snowy Day as a first book for them to share with their children. It was one of the first full-color picture books for children and was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963. The Snowy Day is a treat for us to read because we can sit and imagine all the fun we will have exploring in the snow, just like the little boy in the book. My children love it.

Another favorite is a newer title called All You Need for a Snowman, written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee. The artwork in this cumulative story is wonderful, and my children have fun thinking about all the different things they will put on their own snowmen in the yard. I love it when authors and illustrators are able to tap into the fun of the season in such a fanciful way. This is a book we read and re-read.

As a family, we read a lot of Christmas books. I especially like the ones that are based on carols, and we sing the words together as we read. We have so many carol-books; reading them is a great way to teach our favorite Christmas songs and pass something special on to our children. I keep them stored with my holiday decorations and pull them out just for the season.

The most accessible telling of the Nativity I have found was a gift from my brother a few years ago. It is a board book called The Story of Christmas, written by Vivian French and illustrated by Jane Chapman. In it, the story of Christ's birth is told in simple language, from the time Gabriel appeared to Mary through Christmas and the visit of the Wise Men. My favorite part of The Story of Christmas is the depiction of the angels singing to the shepherds. They are rejoicing in gowns made from the stars in the sky. To me, that is a joyful, beautiful image.

Another touching look at the Nativity (with amazing illustrations!) is a book called Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell and Jason Cockcroft. It is a cumulative story of kindness and invitation. Room for a Little One emphasizes the peace of the season while welcoming all to experience the warmth and love present in the stable that first Christmas night. I like books that possess tremendous beauty in both their illustrations and their message. This one fits the bill perfectly.

Poetry books can be tricky to give as gifts. Although you could argue that Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss qualify as great poetry, I actually prefer to broaden my children's minds with a little bit less mad-cap silliness. (What a drag, I know.) Poems don't need to rhyme for me; I just love authors who find unique ways to use language.

My favorite poetry gift is a book called Silver Seeds by Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer with paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Silver Seeds is a collection of acrostic nature poetry that follows a day from morning to night. It is another book with gorgeous illustrations. We enjoy the way the children in the book think about their surroundings in terms of familiar items. Fog becomes spun sugar, the moon becomes a slice of melon, the stars -- silver seeds. After we read this book, I find it easier to be tuned in to my children's own inner poetry.

Since we're such readers, this list could go on forever (honestly!) I won't do that to you. Who has time for that?!? There are a few general hints I will give, though, on purchasing books for kids.
  • First, before you buy it, read it. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but really. Read it. If it can't hold your attention beyond the third page, it won't hold my children's attention past the first page.

  • Second, look for books with layers of experience. I like Graeme Base books (like The Water Hole and Sign of the Seahorse) or Richard Scarry books (our favorite is What Do People Do All Day?) where you can read the text but the pictures are telling their own story. Sometimes my crew will sit around a Richard Scarry book and giggle like crazy at all the funny things Lowly the Worm gets into (I think it's a riot that he wears a shoe.)

  • And lastly, if you are giving a book to a child, it will mean so much more to him or her if you can sit down to read it together. My children really associate books with people. My seven year old reminds us all the time that our beat-up copy of The Big Red Barn was given to him by Grandma on his first Christmas. She inscribes all of her gift books to remind us about the when and why of each gift. (It's genius, come to think of it.)

I hope this list gives you some shopping inspiration for the emerging bookworms on your list. Have fun finding new stories to share, and don't forget to tell me about your favorites in the comments. (I have a trip to the bookstore of my own planned for this weekend!)

- Midwest Mom


  1. Great books and great advise, as usual! We are also a family that loves books. My twins are addicted to buying and reading - I often even threaten to take away their books if they don't do something I need them to do - tee hee!

    Take care - Kellan

  2. Julia - here's the real test if your child is paying attention to the books you select - when your son makes the same choices for his own children. Priceless.

  3. Dear Julia,
    We would like to send you a review copy of Planet Of The Dogs or Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, the latest book in our Planet of the Dogs series.
    The series is recommended for children 6-12 and dog lovers of all ages.
    For sample chapters and more information on our books, please visit

    For information on the concepts behind our books and our involvement in therapy dog reading programs, please visit

    Please email us a postal address at and we will be very pleased to send you the book of your choice.

    Happy holidays,
    Robert McCarty
    Barking Planet Productions

  4. As a geek, I give all children books for Christmas--I loved Farmer Duck; Oh, Lewis; and Sam & the Tigers for little kids. Hoot & Flush are my favorite picks for big kids. I noted the poetry book--like you, I prefer to give anything but Shel & the Dr. not because I don't like them but because every kid gets exposed to them.

  5. Oh, I love The Snowy Day! Thanks for that trip down memory lane :o)

  6. Books are my (and my kids) favorite! We absolutely LOVED the Snowy Day book! We had the board book, and even though my kids are way past the board book stage (they're 8 & 11) I saved it for them.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog & introducing yourself! So you're a native from NH? What part? Do you still have family there and go back? I miss it sometimes--mostly I miss my family b/c it's a 15 hour drive, so needless to say, we don't do it very often.) :)

  7. We own the first two and I will have to check the rest out next time we take a trip to the library. Books are always my favorite gift to give and receive during the holidays (or any occasion really).

    May I suggest to you the book Snowmen At Night next time you are browsing for something wintery to read to the kids. . nothing beats The Snowy Day for me but this is a close second.

  8. oooh... i forgot about the snowy day now i know what to ask for! thanks.

  9. Kellan, That is a hilarious form of discipline... I'll have to keep it in mind. (Maybe I'll just threaten to make my oldest lose his page!) :D

    Me-Me, We're a few years away from that one, but I know I have *scoured* my mother's house for books that were my favorites. Among them, Harry the Dirty Dog, The Daddy Book, The Giant Jam Sandwich, are the most recent. When you're raising kids who love reading, it will be no surprise that they pass that along! Have a great holiday with your tribe -- now get digging on that barbeque pit! ;D

    Robert, Thank you for visiting the blog. I hope you didn't just come by for a shameless plug. You can prove you didn't by becoming a faithful reader and contributor to the discussion. (That is, unless you've returned to the Planet of the Dogs.)

    Green Girl, I hope you like Silver Seeds. I'd never read Farmer Duck... so I put it on my list for this weekend's book shopping! Thanks.

    Tamera, Yes it is a favorite! I love the way the boy's pointy-hooded snowsuit leaves its impression in the snow when he's making snow angels.

    Christy, Thanks for coming by. (I talked to my parents on Saturday, and they were digging out from 10 inches of snow!) Looks like NH is having it's own Snowy Day!

    Laurie, Snowmen at Night has made the list! Thanks!

    Court, Have you recovered from the shock that your Dad is reading your blog? Hope so. (Maybe he'll get The Snowy Day for Kaiya!) :D

    Have a great week, everyone! -MM

  10. That's a great list of books. I am just waiting for the right time to introduce books to my son. He likes ruffling books though at this age and sometimes even torn one or two pages of my fav books :)
    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  11. Growing up when and where I did in small town Ontario, I don't think I had any awareness of people of colour until I read "A Snowy Day". It's a wonderful book.

  12. Yeah!! Great selection of books... "The Snowy Day" is my favorite!!

  13. I grab Silver Seeds for my 5 y/o. She wants to be an Author/Illustrator when she grows up and it sounds interesting.
    Thanks for sharing!

  14. Wonderful choice!! Those are prefect Christmas books!! "All You Need for a Snowman" is best for kids!!


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