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