Tag Archives: Christmas

Goodnight, Manger by Laura Sassi (Book Review)

We have an extensive collection of Christmas picture books, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped searching for treasures for my children to enjoy during Advent.  I was pleased to receive a copy of Goodnight, Manger by Laura Sassi to review, and look forward to sharing it with my children when we launch our annual picture book countdown to Christmas in a few weeks.

I was delightfully surprised by this winsome book.  We have a new baby in the house, and with four other children who find it difficult to contain their youthful exuberance, I can relate all too well to the story of trying to quiet down the excited crowd so the little one can get some sleep.  In Goodnight, Manger, Laura Sassi uses simple rhymes to tell about the wiggly baby Jesus trying to go to sleep amidst a noisy audience of animals, angels, shepherds, and kings.  Mary finally convinces everyone to join in a quiet lullaby and at last the baby drifts off.

Award winning artist Jane Chapman’s beautiful illustrations enhance the already charming story.  Each picture catches the eye its warm, vibrant colors.  The Holy Family is refreshingly portrayed with authentic ethnic coloring.  And the characters exude a joy that pulls the reader into the jubilant stable and makes them want to join the festivities.

If you’re looking for a serious, straight forward telling of the story of Jesus’ birth, this is not the book for you.  However, if you’re looking for a sweet bedtime story to share with your children, this book is sure to delight your entire family, not just at Christmas, but all year long!

 

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If He Had Not Come (Book Review)

If He Had Not Come

If I had not come…” John 15:22

What would the world be like today in Jesus had not come?  That’s the question posed by David Nicholson in the book If He Had Not Come, based on a classic Christmas story by Nan F. Weeks originally published in an anthology back in 1938.  Nicholson first heard the story almost 30 years ago and enjoyed sharing it with his family year after year.  Now he has brought it back into print so a new generation of children and their families can reflect on all that Jesus brought to the world as they celebrate his birth at Christmas time.

coverIf He Had Not Come is the story of a boy named Bobby who falls asleep on Christmas Eve whispering the words of John 15:22, which he read with his dad before bedtime: “If I had not come…” Before he knows it he hears a voice calling him to wake up, and as he heads downstairs in anticipation of celebrating Christmas morning, he finds that his world has changed.  There are no decorations and no presents to be seen.  He runs outside to look around, and as he walks though town he notices that no stores are closed for the holiday and many things are missing: his church, the Children’s Home, the hospital, the homeless shelter… even the New Testament in his Bible.  As he searches, all he find are signs with the words “If I had not come.”

Bobby sat down, stunned at the thought of a world without Jesus.  “No Christmas, no churches,” he whispered, “no places to help people who are sick, homeless, or in need…”

Then he hears the sound of church bells and wakes up rejoicing as he recognizes “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”  The story ends with his prayer of thanks as he acknowledges, “You are the very best Christmas present anyone can have.”  The final pages of the book contain suggestions for family (or Sunday School class) discussions to help children think more deeply about the story.

If He Had Not Come is recommended for ages 6 and up, so I found a time when I could read it just with Ian.  Even at 6, I’m not sure he was fully ready for it.  He wasn’t very responsive to the story, and my attempts to engage him in any sort of discussion fell flat.  Still, I think it’s an important addition to our Christmas library, and I expect in a few years we’ll be able to go a lot deeper, once the story has really settled with him.  I have no doubt that fruit will eventually grow from the seeds planted by reading the book each year.

As a parent, I appreciate the final pages by Josh Mulvihill (a children’s pastor), who goes into more depth about all the ways Christ’s life has impacted our world.  Not only would we be lacking many universities, hospitals, and charitable organizations, we would be spiritually lost.  A page on “The Gospel Message” spells out the A-B-C (Admit-Believe-Confess) model of repenting and receiving God’s great gift of salvation.

If He Had Not Come reminds us what Christmas is really about, and I think families will benefit from pondering its important message in the midst of celebrating the birth of Christ.

Available in hardcover ($18.99) or e-book ($3.99).

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25 CHRISTmas Picture Books for Older Children

As I shared in my previous post, 25 CHRISTmas Books for Preschoolers, I’ve split our Christmas library into two parts to have age appropriate books for all the children in our family to (re)discover each day in December.  Choosing books for older children is a little trickier than for the little ones.  Some of my favorite stories are chapter books that are too long to read in one day, so our Advent tradition of wrapping up a book to open each day doesn’t work quite so well with those.  So here’s a list of 25 great picture books we’ll be using for our Advent gifts, not in order, but grouped by theme.  (Yes, we open the same ones each year, with usually a few new ones mixed in.)  The chapter books will have to wait until my children get a little older.

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I’ve tried to build a collection of beautiful books that will reach my children’s hearts and cause them to think more deeply about Christmas.  Not all these books are specifically about Christ or even mention him (though many do), but are more focused on things like love, self-sacrifice, and the joy of giving as we celebrate God’s gift of our Savior.

Books Set in the Time of Christ

1.

Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado (a young carpenter’s apprentice gives the manger he has worked on to be Christ’s first bed)

2.

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado (a lamb who is sad about not being able to go out into the fields gets to be present when Christ is born)

3. Light of Christmas

The Light of Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall (rhyming story about Jesus, the Light of the World, not just at his birth, but for all time)

4.

Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti (a young crippled boy meets the 3 kings on their journey and his healed after deciding to give his crutch to the baby Jesus, based on the opera by the same name)

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Mary’s Treasure Box by Carolyn Walz Kramlich (Mary shows her grandaughter Sarah the treasures from when he uncle Jesus was born.)
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Mary’s First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr. (Mary recounts to a young Jesus her memories of his birth)

Books about Christmas Traditions

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The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne (teaches about the symbolism of Christmas trees)

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Silent Night: The Song and Its Story by Margaret Hodges (beautiful book about when the song was written and how it spread)
9.

The Candy Maker’s Gift: The Inspirational Legend of the Candy Cane by David and Helen Haidle (the symbolism behind the candy cane)

10.

The 12 Days of Christmas: the story behind a favorite Christmas song by Helen Haidle (with explanations of the items in the song)

11.

The Last Straw by Paula Palangi McDonald (a family creates a bed for Jesus as they perform kind deeds for one another)

Books about the Gift of Christ

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If He Had Not Come by Nan F. Weeks (retold by David Nicholson) (a boy dreams of a world with Christ and realizes the Jesus is the best gift ever given)

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Josie’s Gift by Kathleen Long Bostrom (the story of a girl who learns that Christmas is not about what we want, but what we have)

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Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo (a little girl shares the joy of Christ’s birth with a lonely organ-grinder)

Books about the Joy of Giving

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Christmas Oranges retold by Linda Bethers (the story of an orphan girl whose friends show her great love through their gift to her)

16.

The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans (about a man who discovers joy in giving to the poor)

17.

The Legend of Saint Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Daley Mackall (a boy learns about the story of St. Nicholas and gains a new outlook on giving)

18.

Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle by Jason F. Wright (a wonderful story about love and the joy of doing something for others)

19.

The Princess and the Kiss: Three Gifts of Christmas by Jennie Bishop (After her parents decide a princess should only receive three gifts rather than her usual bounty, she learns that true joy comes from giving.)

20.

The Candle in the Window by Grace Johnson (the story of an unhappy cobbler who discovers joy in giving “unto the least of these”)

Other Charming Stories Our Family Has Enjoyed

21.

The Light of Christmas by Richard Paul Evans (a boy sacrifices his own desires to help someone in need and is rewarded in the end)

22.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston (the story of a family’s love and sacrifice during hard times)

23.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski (a story of hope about a man transformed by love)

24.

Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt (a little girl takes the figure of baby Jesus home from church because he seems cold)

25.
The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul (not a “Christmas book” at first glance, but still probably my favorite book about the point of Christmas, an allegory about God sending His Son as a light to a dark, fallen world.)

(NOTE: As I’ve discovered new books, I’ve replaced some of the titles in the original post.  I’m keeping them around for when I want to wrap up books for more kids each day, but these are currently my 25 favorites for elementary-age children.)

25 CHRISTmas Books for Preschoolers

A few years ago we started a tradition of wrapping up a book each day of Advent leading up to Christmas, and I shared a list of books we used to go along with Truth in the Tinsel.  Every year I’ve added a few new Christmas books to our collection (with more kids to open them), and this year we’ll be opening 2 books each day: one geared toward my preschoolers, and 1 for my older kids.  So I thought it was about time I organized the books into two lists and shared them.  (In other words, there are several repeats from the old list this time around, but the books with longer stories have been replaced with more preschool-friendly choices.)

Preschool Christmas Books
Everywhere we go at Christmas our kids tend to be bombarded with messages about Santa and elves, so we try really hard to counter those with Christ-focused stories, songs, and decorations.  These books are a reflection of our family’s choice to keep Jesus at the forefront of all our Christmas activities.

I’ve listed them in subject groups rather than the order I pass them out.  I do tend to give most of the books about symbols early on so that the kids will recognize them and make the connection to Christ as we go through the season, but as a general rule I try to mix them up a bit so we don’t end up with all the stable/animal stories in a big clump.  I just thought these groups would be more helpful for anyone not familiar with the books.

Books about Christmas Symbols

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Jesus, Me and My Christmas Tree by Crystal Bowman (A little girl goes through various ornaments on her tree that relate to the Christmas story.)

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J is for Jesus by Crystal Bowman (rhyme about the symbolism of the candy cane)

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Christmas Angels by Crystal Bowman (rhyming story about angels in the Christmas story so children think of the Bible when they see angel decorations)

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A Star for Jesus by Crystal Bowman (rhyming story about the Christmas star)

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The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs (a story about a farmer and his wife who make a sacrifice that brings great joy.  Bible verses throughout.)

Books Based on Songs

6.

Mary, Did You Know? by Mark Lowry, illustrated by Phil Boatwright (beautiful illustrations and accompanying Scripture verses)

7. We Three Kings

We Three Kings traditional carol illustrated by Gennady Spirin (The pictures are probably more pleasing to adults, but I like the chance to expose my children to beautiful art.)

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The Animals’ Christmas Carol illustrated by Helen Ward (beautiful pictures to go along with the medieval carol “The Friendly Beasts”)

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The Little Drummer Boy
illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats (a favorite song of ours, with pictures by the author of The Snowy Day)

10.

12 Days of Christmas beautifully illustrated by Laurel Long (in the right order, which is surprisingly hard to find!)

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Away in a Manger illustrated by Thomas Kinkade (all three verses, with paintings of both the manger scene and an old-fashioned village)

Books About the First Christmas

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This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotton (full of repetition and rhyme, similar to “This is the House That Jack Built”)

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Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck (simple rhymes about those present at Jesus’ birth)

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The Christmas Star by Marcus Pfister (beautiful watercolor and glitter illustrations by the author/illustrator of The Rainbow Fish)

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Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones (full of excitement about the arrival of Jesus–I like to save this one for Christmas morning because it captures the joy when the wait is over)

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Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer (about a self-absorbed donkey who goes with the three kings to find Christ and realizes that he alone is worthy of praise)

17.

Baby Jesus is Born by Juliet David (Very simple retelling of the whole Christmas story, starting with the angel visiting Mary and ending with the family returning to Nazareth.)

18.

The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids by Brendan Powell Smith (I am not a fan of the Brick Bible in general, and I hesitated even to buy this because I didn’t want to support the anti-Christian author, but several trusted friends recommended it and I knew my boys especially would love it, so I decided to find a used copy for our family.  If your kids are sensitive, be warned that it does include the part of the story where Herod orders the baby boys of Bethlehem killed.)

19.

Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell (about the animals in the stable when Jesus was born)

20.

The Animals’ Christmas Eve by Gale Wiersum (a counting book about the animals in the stable)

21.

Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate (about the animals getting ready to welcome baby Jesus to their stable)

22.

Bethlehem Night by Julie Stiegemeyer (story of the night Christ was born, told in rhyme–good fit for Christmas Eve)

Other Family Favorites

23.

Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins (An old Russian story about a woman who meets the wise men on their way to visit the Christ child.)

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Mouskin’s Christmas Eve by Edna Miller (classic story about a mouse who finds his way into a house at Christmastime and finds peace in the shelter of a manger scene)

25. 

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson (also about a little mouse exploring a manger scene, but a more detailed story)

If you have kids in school check out 25 CHRISTmas Picture Books for Older Children.  I hope your family finds some new favorites to enjoy this Christmas!

(NOTE: As I’ve discovered new books, I’ve replaced some of the titles in the original post.  I’m keeping them around for when I want to wrap up books for more kids each day, but these are currently my 25 favorites for preschool-age children.)

The Legend of St. Nicholas by Dandi Daley Mackall (Book Review)

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I recently was given chance to review The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Daley Mackall, and since our youngest son shares his name, I jumped at the chance to teach my children a little about the Nicholas of many years ago.  I was pleasantly surprised at this sweet, simple story about the man whose legacy has become so entwined with modern celebrations of Christmas.

The book begins with a boy named Nick who is reluctantly taken shopping to find gifts for his brothers (though he’s hoping to have enough money to buy something for himself as well).  While he’s shopping, he overhears the store Santa telling some children the story of St. Nicholas, who found great joy in using his wealth to give gifts to others.  Before Nick goes home, he not only buys presents for his brothers but also uses the remainder of his money to buy toys for poor children.

It’s a sweet story, and there were many things I liked about it.  Most of the details about St. Nicholas are based on traditional stories passed down about him (like his travels, the wealth he inherited from his parents, and his gift of dowries for three sisters who could not afford to get married).  I loved the way Nicholas turned to God for guidance in a way that was very natural and not at all contrived.

That night, Nicholas talked things over with God.  “Father, could this be the work you have for me?”  As if in answer, the church bells rang.  Nicholas remembered what his mother had said about the wise kings bringing gifts to baby Jesus.  He thought of what his father said about Jesus being the greatest gift.  What better time to give gifts than on Jesus’ birthday!

The illustrations by Richard Cowdrey are beautiful, but I was a little puzzled by the choice to make the pictures from St. Nicholas’ life look like they were set in the 1800’s.  The scene with a fancy horse-drawn carriage and his father in a top hat looked like it belonged in a story set in the time of Charles Dickens rather than St. Nicholas, who lived about 300 years after Christ.  Aside from this anachronism, however, I thought the illustrations added to the charm of the book.  I especially liked the pages at the end when the story transitions back the the present, and you flip from a picture of Nicholas to one of Nick with an identical expression, capturing how the vision of giving had been passed on.

Nicholas and Nick

He could imagine how good it must have felt to secretly give his friends what they had wanted most.  Nick had almost forgotten why people gave presents at Christmas.  He wanted to feel that same joy of giving.

I thought this book did a great job of teaching an important lesson without sounding preachy.  My children mostly enjoyed it because it was about two boys who shared a name with their little brother, but I am glad to have it as a part of our Christmas library to remind them of the joy that comes from focusing on giving gifts rather than receiving them.

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Battling “the Wants” by Focusing on Advent

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Growing up I always felt like Christmas was a magical time, and as an adult I strove to recreate that feeling to no avail.  What I finally realized this year was that the feeling I felt as a child was almost entirely about the Christmas morning gift orgy.  Our one Christ-related tradition was attending Mass at my father’s church on Christmas Eve (the one time of year we ever went), and for me even that was about presents, since I was allowed to open one gift that night if I behaved well in church.  I saw that hour as a trial I had to endure to reach my goal of presents.  My childhood mindset was:

 Christmas = Present Day.

Can anyone relate?

This was the first in many years that I was again overwhelmed with a sense of wonder.  I think the main difference was that we chose to focus on Advent rather than Christmas.  As a child, the only thing I knew about Advent was that my aunt sent us an “Advent calendar” every year, which for me was essentially a countdown until Present Day.  I opened each door with increasing anticipation, knowing I was one day closer to the bliss of satisfying my rather serious case of ” the wants.”

Very little of our celebration this year was about presents on December 25th.  Instead we used the 4 weeks prior to Christmas to celebrate the turning point of human history.  We immersed our family in the story of Christ’s birth, beginning with the promise God made back in Genesis 3:15 about Eve’s seed bruising the head of the serpent.  We talked about blessing others and showing love, just as God showed us His love by sending Jesus.  Our whole family went caroling in two retirement homes and spent time just chatting with several residents afterward.  We had fun making spice dough ornaments and candy cane reindeer and giving them away to special friends and relatives.  We talked about various Christmas traditions and how they point us toward God and remind us of the Christmas story.

Our nightly family “Bible Time” around the Advent wreath became everyone’s favorite part of each day.  The boys took turns helping light the appropriate candles and blowing them out after we sang together.  Ian’s favorite song this season was “O Come O Come Emmanuel and he requested it every night, even when it wasn’t the song suggested in our devotional book (We Light The Candles by Catharine Brandt).  On Christmas Eve after the candlelight service at church, our extended family joined us for dinner and our final night with the Advent wreath.  The boys were so excited about finally lighting the Christ candle in the middle!  We read Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones, which portrays the excitement of all Creation at the wonder that “the one who made us has come to live with us.”  The angel choir proclaims, “It’s time!  He’s come!  At last!  He’s here!”  It’s a wonderful book that captures the essence of Christmas as the climax of Advent, and it was the perfect way to end our season.

The result of all of this celebration is that we spent very little time talking about gifts.  Last year Ian was constantly poring through the numerous catalogs that kept arriving in the mail, which really captured his heart and caused him to focus on his “wants.”  I was so tired of hearing “I want ___,” “Can we get ___ sometime?” and so on that I finally threw all the catalogs away.  This year when they started arriving months ago I looked through them on my own for gift ideas and then got them out of the house.  I bought most of our gifts months in advance so I too would be able to focus on the wonder of Christ’s Incarnation rather than Present Day.  I know some people like to wrap up everything from toothbrushes to socks to make Christmas morning a little more exciting, but I felt that was counter to what we were trying to accomplish.  So I didn’t stuff stockings with everyday items I would have bought for my kids anyway, because that felt like it would make Christmas morning all about unwrapping presents.  (We did plenty of gift opening, but it almost felt like an addendum to a wonderful season of celebration, rather than being the main event.)  At our cousins’ house we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before having our meal and progressing to gift-opening.  There was just so much more to Christmas than Present Day!

My dad’s birthday is on the 25th, so as we were about to dive into our breakfast someone asked if we were going to sing happy birthday.  My dad pretended to look surprised and said, “Whose birthday is it?  Jesus’?  Well, did you sing happy birthday to Jesus?”  To which Elijah promptly answered very seriously, “Yes, we did,” remembering the “Happy Birthday, Jesus” party with our homeschool group two weeks ago.  It had been just one more part of our month-long celebration, and I loved that Elijah knew it was all connected.

All in all, we had a wonderful Advent and Christmas.  I am so thankful that my children were able to enjoy the true wonder of the season by setting aside their “wants” and marveling in the miracle of Christ’s birth.  I’m already full of ideas for next year, and I hope we can continue to make Advent a meaningful part of our family tradition.

 

 

 

Christmas Book Countdown

P1020337One of our family traditions (well, we’re only on year two, but we’ll be keeping it up) is to have the kids open up Christmas books each day starting December 1 to count down to Christmas.  (I “wrap” them in bags made from Christmas material, kind of like holiday pillowcases tied with red fabric ribbons, and reuse the same wrappings each day.)  It started as a way to alleviate disappointment on the day when it’s a sibling’s turn to open the door on our Advent calendar, but the real beauty is that it spaces out the children’s exposure to our large collection of Christmas books.  Rather than bringing out a huge box at the beginning of the month and only actually reading a few of them over and over, we get two books a day (since Arianna is now old enough to join in the calendar door-opening) and we read those before adding them to our book basket and going back to other favorites.  After the first couple days this year, Ian recognized one of the books and asked me why I’d bought another copy of a book we already had.  He readily accepted my answer that it was the same book he’d opened last year and this was just a fun way to look through all our books.

P1020334I’m somewhat selective about what books I choose to have in our Christmas collection.  I generally only have one qualification: no Santa-related stories (unless they are talking about the historical St. Nicholas).  There is just so much focus on that aspect of Christmas everywhere you turn that we try to keep things Christ-centered in our home.  Those books that don’t specifically focus on Jesus relate to giving, love, light, or other qualities of Christmas that we want to emphasize.  Last year I only did one book a day (an occasionally two if they were board books or really short stories) since just the older boys were participating in our daily Advent activities, but this year I wanted to give two books so I did purchase a few more (usually used on Amazon).  Consequently some of the books are a bit redundant (lots of stories set in the stable).  Still, there are plenty of treasures that I’d buy again if anything were to happen to our first copies.  I’ve marked those absolute favorites* on the list.

Books about Baby Jesus

Books that illustrate or tell about carols/songs

Books that teach about Christmas traditions

Books with stories about the Spirit of Christmas

Miscellaneous

  • I Love Christmas (This is an anthology.  We don’t read all the stories, but I love “The Christmas Spider by Marguerite de Angeli in which the spider’s web covers Baby Jesus)
  • Christmas Cookies by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

So many good books!  I tried to be really choosey about which ones I starred so it didn’t seem like the non-starred ones were no good.  I enjoy all of them!  If I didn’t, they’d get kicked off the list and passed on to make room for other treasures.  If you know of any other Christmas books you think we should add to our collection, please comment!

Other Crew members will be sharing about what they are reading throughout this season so visit the Schoolhouse Crew blog for the Christmas Books Round-Up for more ideas.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas Books

Our Advent Beginnings

For last two Christmases we were not living in our own home, so our opportunity to start establishing our own family traditions for the Advent season was limited.  Now that we have our own home and the boys are old enough to understand what’s going on, we want to make sure that we try to keep the season as Christ-centered as possible.  There’s at least one Nativity scene in every room of our house, and the schoolroom has the small tree with all the ornaments we made doing Truth in the Tinsel last year.  (The boys were disappointed that we weren’t making all new ones this year, but I promised them that I have other ornament-making plans in the works!)  Each day we read a section in The ADVENTure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel, learning about various Christmas traditions and how they point to Jesus.  The kids take turns opening the doors on our wooden Advent calendar or unwrapping Christmas books (See Christmas Book Countdown).  Ian and I are also reading through the parts of the Christmas story in Luke and Matthew as we start school each day, and carols are frequently playing on the iPod as we go about our day.

P1020218My favorite new tradition, however, is our Advent wreath.  I’d heard about them before, but I had never had one in my home.  I’m not sure what prompted me to buy one this year, but even just a few days into the season I can already tell it’s one of the best Christmas purchases I’ve ever made.  Each night when we do “Bible Time” we light the appropriate candle as Eric leads us in a devotion from We Light The Candles, including a Bible passage, an explanation, a prayer, and (my favorite) a suggested carol to sing.  (I’ve been very intentional about playing these specific carols during the day so they’re familiar enough for everyone to sing along in the evenings.) The boys have been caught up in the beauty of our family sitting together with only the light of the candle and our Christmas tree, reading from the Bible and singing together.  Their prayers as we close are even different than usually, full of wonder and awe.

I don’t know whether we’ll use the same devotions in years to come or look for something new, but I know that our Advent wreath is here to stay.  It has already made the season feel extra special this year, and we’re all looking forward to the weeks to come.

(You can read more about what we did for Advent last year in “My *plans* for Advent.”)

Christmas Music for the Whole Family

Last year at Christmas I found myself in a bit of a dilemma when it came to music.  I wanted to listen to traditional Christmas carols, and I wanted my children to become familiar with them, but most of the Christmas music in my collection just wasn’t great listening for children.  The albums I did have that were kid-friendly either threw in lots of songs about Santa and other non-Christ-centered elements of our cultural Christmas celebration, or else featured cartoonish voices that grated on my nerves rather quickly.  I knew there had to be something out there with children’s voices singing the classics, but Arianna was a newborn and I wasn’t really up to searching.

carols

This year I started early, found a few resources I really liked, and took December off from our usual composer study in favor of focusing on Christmas carols.  My favorite Christmas CD comes with a book: Christmas Carols for a Kid’s Heart.  We didn’t read the stories of the carols this year, but probably will go through next year during Advent.  In addition to using mostly children’s voices on the CD, it also includes all the verses, which I really appreciate.

Christmas CarolsAnother good album that has LOTS of great songs on it is the Christmas Carols CD from Cedarmont  Kids (also available as an MP3 download on Amazon, so you can listen to samples.)  This one sounds a little more like a stereotypical children’s recording, but I still find it enjoyable.

Classical Kids ChristmasThe last CD we used was A Classical Kids Christmas (also available as an MP3 download).  I haven’t fully made up my mind about this album.  It attempts to tell a story (I think) which I really couldn’t follow.  I love the rest of the Classical Kids CDs, so I was a little disappointed with this album.  Still, the production quality is excellent, and the music is beautiful. That’s really all I was looking for, so it’s still worth listening to (for us, anyway).

While I played everything on these CDs, I selected 4 carols that I wanted the boys to really feel like they knew, and then I put those at the beginning of our iPod playlist.

  1. Joy to the World
  2. O Come, All Ye Faithful
  3. Away in a Manger (I also had Ian learn this on the piano.)
  4. Silent Night

I figure these are songs they are guaranteed to hear throughout the season, especially at church, and I want them to recognize them and sing along.  Next year we’ll add a few more to learn intentionally, and I’m sure they’ll be picking up others along the way.  Hope you and your family are having a merry Christmas season!

My *plans* for Advent

This week I’m scurrying about to finishing prepping for the Advent activities I have planned for December.  Since we put our Long Story Short devotions on hold before Thanksgiving and are planning to do Truth in the Tinsel starting next week, I was at a loss as far as how to fill our evening Bible Time this week.  Then, at long last, the answer arrived in the mail. Old Story New is Marty Machowski’s sequel to Long Story Short, going through 78 stories of the New Testament and pointing to the gospel through each one.  As an introduction to Advent, I decided to use the first week from Old Story New, on “The Birth of Jesus Foretold.”  (Then it will go on the shelf for another year or so while we finish up with Long Story Short.)  That should take us right through the last day of November, and then we’re diving in!

For the last couple years the boys have enjoyed opening the doors on our wooden Advent calendar and sticking the magnetic pieces on the picture of the stable.  This year I’m planning to do that each morning and to also read from Advent Storybook: 24 Stories to Share Before Christmas I also plan to make our Truth in the Tinsel ornaments during the day and then present them to Daddy each night, using the readings for Bible Time. (The boys can’t wait to start this. They’re enjoying falling asleep to the glow of the 4-foot tree with colored lights I set up in their room, and they’re eager to decorate it!)

Finally, we have SO many Christmas books, I was afraid they would all end up in a basket and we would never get to most of them because the boys would keep choosing only their favorites.  So I decided to present them with one each day, which we will read before putting it into our basket.  My sister-in-law’s family introduced me to the idea of cloth gift bags, so I plan use one to let them “unwrap” a book each day in December.  Many of our books coordinated with the topics from Truth in the Tinsel, so I wrote up a list of all twenty-four days and selected books that would be appropriate.  For some days there weren’t any good matches, so I used those as a chance to get in some favorites that wouldn’t fit anywhere else.  For a couple days I included two, either because they were simple board books or because I couldn’t decide.  (Yes, I am a bookaholic, though I only purchased a few this year.  Most were treasures I’d picked up at used book stores, gifts, books I bought last year, or oldies either from my childhood or passed on from Grandma’s Kindergarten after retirement.) I haven’t even read some of the new ones yet, but I’m excited to share them all with my children this year.  Here’s what we’ll be reading up through Christmas (books in parentheses have nothing to do with the topic of the day):

  1. Light – The Light of Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall and A Star for Jesus by Crystal Bowman
  2. Kingdom – (The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Daley Mackall)
  3. Zechariah – (The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston)
  4. Gabriel – (Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson)
  5. Mary – Baby Jesus is Born by Juliet David
  6. Mary/Elizabeth – Mary’s Treasure Box by Carolyn Walz Kramlich
  7. Song – Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones
  8. Sun – (The Light of Christmas by Richard Paul Evans)
  9. Joseph – Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado
  10. Dream – (Mouskin’s Christmas Eve by Edna Miller)
  11. Jesus’ Name – Jesus, Me and My Christmas Tree by Crystal Bowman
  12. CensusThe Innkeeper’s Daughter by Jill Briscoe
  13. Bethlehem – Oh Come, Little Children by Anita Reith Stohs
  14. Stable – This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotton and Tell Me the Christmas Story by Joni Walker
  15. Manger – Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck and The Last Straw by Paula Palangi
  16. Clothes – “The Christmas Spider by Marguerite de Angeli, in an anthology called I Love Christmas (The spider’s web covers Baby Jesus. I think it’s a similar story to The Little Spider by Sigmund Brouwer)
  17. Sheep – The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
  18. Angels – Christmas Angels by Crystal Bowman
  19. Shepherd – The Littlest Shepherd by Ron Mehl, Jr.
  20. Temple – Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt
  21. Star – The Christmas Star by Marcus Pfister
  22. Wise Men – We Three Kings traditional carol illustrated by Gennady Spirin
  23. Gifts – Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins
  24.  Cross – The Candymaker’s Gift: The Inspirational Legend of the Candy Cane by David and Helen Haidle and J is for Jesus by Crystal Bowman

Just as a final note: these are my plans.  This is pretty much all we’re doing for school through Christmas, aside from some Christmas music.  Knowing how things go, this probably won’t all happen the way I’m envisioning it.  But I have a plan, and that’s always a good place to start, right? 🙂

Merry Christmas!

UPDATE: Each year I’ve tweaked this list a little as I’ve found books that fit the daily themes better.  Also, as my kids got older, our library grew and I divided the books for older and younger ones.  For more age-specific suggestions, check out my posts “25 CHRISTmas Books for Preschooler” and “25 CHRISTmas books for Older Children.”