Countdown to Christmas: A Children's Book Advent Calendar | 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

You guys, I have been waiting for this list ALL year. Seriously. I think it has been sitting in my draft folder since August.

Part of me feels like I've always been a children's book lover. Obviously books were a big part of my childhood, but then I started working in a bookstore when I was in college and couldn't restrain myself from the children's section. For whatever reason, during that time, I decided to start collecting children's Christmas books and this was the book that started it all. Have you read it?

We're certainly not alone celebrating advent with picture books. Many families have a similar tradition. Of course it makes the holiday season a little more festive, but it also gives us a chance to s-l-o-w down during what always feels like the craziest time of year. This list is a selection of old and new favorites. Five of which are new (published in 2016). Perhaps you'll find a brand new holiday classic amongst these books. As always, feel free to share your best holiday picture book recommendation in the comments below.
  1.  Presents Through the Window by Taro Gomi - Santa's in a bit of a rush this year, riding in on his trusty helicopter, which means he only has a chance to peek through the window and toss in a corresponding gift for each occupant. Needless to say, Santa doesn't always get it right. A comical take on gift giving. 
  2.  Christmas for Greta and Gracie by Yasmeen Ismail - Oh man, this might be my favorite holiday book published this year. Let's just say that I am one of the characters and my next younger sister is the other. A charming take on differences and holiday magic. 
  3.  The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy - This poignant picture book is about the life of a scraggly fir tree that gives warmth to a homeless boy on Christmas Eve and then continues its life for years to come in a local neighborhood park. The sweeping watercolor illustrations brim with color and light, reminiscent of European holiday markets. 
  4.  The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis - Another sweet story about sister siblings and the breadth of holiday sacrifice. Easily one of my favorite reads in recent years. 
  5.  Dream Snow by Eric Carle - Dare I admit that this is the only Eric Carle book we own? Luckily it's one of his best. When a farmer sits down for a rest he dreams that each of his animals gets covered in a layer of snow. With lift-the-flap transparencies and a push-the-button jingle at the end, this book is perfect for preschoolers. 
  6.  The Best Christmas Ever by Chih-Yuan Chen - This book probably falls into my top five favorites category. Simple in scope, but enormous in spirit, it follow the secret wanderings of a young bear who gives gifts from his heart, that his family members can truly appreciate.
  7.  Santa Claus the World's Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee - What does it take to become an expert? Practice and research, two things that Santa has clearly mastered. Anyone familiar with Frazee's other books will adore this riot of color and humor. Best read with a mug of chocolate and a candy cane. 
  8.  Herbie's Secret Santa by Petra Mathers - Herbie and Lottie are off to buy a Christmas tree when they make a stop at the neighborhood bakery. Herbie finds the Santa cookies a little too irresistible and accidentally eats one. The rest of the story is a charmer, one not to be missed. 
  9.  Slinky Malinki's Christmas Cracker by Lynley Dodd - Oh how this brings back memories of our black cat growing up and all the mischief she would unravel with a trimmed Christmas tree at her disposal. 
  10.  Ollie's Christmas Reindeer by Nicola Killen - When Ollie wakes to the sound of jingle bells, she treks into the night snow, bravely seeking the source of the merry sound. Into the woods she walks and discovers a reindeer! Together they fly into the inky sky on an adventure that befits a young girl at Christmas.
  11.  Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs - A classic by many accounts, this comic-strip like tale follows Father Christmas through the vicissitudes and victories of his most important night of the year. Now I need to track down Father Christmas goes on Holiday.  
  12.  Uncle Vova's Tree by Patricia Polacco - This was my first introduction to the prolific author/illustrator, who's work I've now come to adore. Plus I love that this book explores Polacco's vibrant childhood culture in loving memory of her own uncle and their celebration of Epiphany. It also reminds me of the outdoor Christmas tree we created for my dad the Christmas after he passed away. 
  13.  Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano - Finding Christmas books with diverse characters is a little tough, but this book fits the bill. An entire neighborhood is cranky until they all get a whiff of a special Christmas roast. Soon they are all gathered into a small apartment sharing a meal and making new memories. 
  14.  You Can Do It, Sam by Amy Hest -  One of the sweetest books of the bunch is actually a winter story, but charming nonetheless, especially for anyone that still gives out neighbor gifts. Sam is tasked with delivering cakes to the neighbors on Plum Street all by himself. A gentle approach to encouraging altruism and independence amongst little ones. 
  15.  Small, Medium, & Large by Jane Monroe Donovan - This nearly wordless Christmas book is about a young girl that gets three animal friends for Christmas, one in each size. Together the four of them set out on a winter excursion, complete with an exuberant sleigh ride. 
  16.  Plum Pudding for Christmas by Virginia Kahl - The queen wants plum pudding and sends the Duke off on a mission to procure them for their special holiday dessert. This vintage gem is extra special as it reminds me of our family tradition of steam pudding on Christmas Eve. 
  17.  A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith - A young girl named Rebecca is asked to care for a small Donkey, while its mother takes another weary mother to Bethlehem. With characteristic stunning Wildsmith illustrations and gilded gold detail, stars and snow shine as they illuminate the way to the humble stable. 
  18.  Christmas is Here adapted from the King James Bible - A young family treks into the snow to see the Live Nativity and are immediately enveloped in the beloved words from the First Christmas Story. 
  19.  The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy - There are a few versions of the true story of what happened between troops during WWI in 1914, but this compact telling is a poetic rendition of the peace found on the battlefield, that starts with the tender notes of one voice singing. 
  20.  Harold at the North Pole by Crockett Johnson - Can you ever resist Harold's adventurous purple crayon? Follow along as he creates a candy cane wonderland, always drawing exactly what he needs in the moment.  
  21.  When Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey - He loved the color red best, re-wrapped his birthday presents and gave them away, had an unusual fascination with chimneys, and liked to stand near the open cold refrigerator. A cute take on Santa's formative years.  
  22.  A Homemade Christmas Together by Maryann Cocca-Leffler - When the Pig Family decides to give each other homemade gifts for Christmas the littlest family member is stumped for an idea. This also reminds me of when we did this as a family growing up. 
  23.  Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka - I came to this book after reading Wet Cement earlier this year.  Not only are the endpapers festive it's a fun way to teach haiku with a holiday twist. (TIP: Have a fondness for a particular children's author? Check to see if they've written any holiday books. You might be pleasantly surprised.)
  24.  The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jane Ray - A whimsical variation of the timeless holiday carol. With so many versions it's hard to choose a favorite, but this one repeatedly tops our list. 

Printable advent tags available here.

Ps. Special thanks to my friend Rachel for taking these pictures on her beautiful bookshelves. We mixed in all sorts of books, so you might spot a couple not on this list. If you'd like more Christmas book recommendations be sure to check out my 2015 list and follow along on Instagram, where I'll be sharing more books throughout the month. 

14 Winter Books We Love

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Whether you celebrate Christmas or some other holiday, we can all agree that colder weather keeps us indoors a little more. Which makes it the perfect season for reading. Today I'm delighted to be sharing my list of the best winter picture books over at Hello, Wonderful. I hope you'll find a few new favorite on this list.
  1. Snow by Uri Shulevitz. A little boy rushes onto the scene, jubilantly shouting, snow is on the way. The grown-ups doubt his forecast. Then, gently, ever so gently, the first fat snowflake starts to fall. Followed by another. Soon the radio and television announcers and the entire town are slushing through a mountain of powder. With a sweeping old-world setting, this award-winner is a classic for many reasons.
  2. Brave Irene by William Steig. When Irene’s mother becomes ill, it falls to Irene to deliver a dress to the duchess. Through a blustery and almost impassible storm, she pushes. Shouting against the wind, and bossing the elements, the young protagonist is determined to complete her errand. A picture book for slightly older children, but a story for the entire family.
  3. Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Christian Robinson. A waddle of penguins awake to find snowflakes falling. Ready for an outdoor excursion they pull on mittens, heavy socks, boots, and matching scarves. Together they roll in the snow, relishing winter’s glory. Told with few words, this seemingly simple tale is a delight. Perfect for even the smallest child. 
  4. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen. A collection of poems, told through the voice of each animal. Swans settle into sleep, while voles burrow under frozen ground. Listen to the chickadee’s song and watch as the world starts to melt when spring comes again. A glossary and informative sidebars provide detailed facts about each animal. A must for animal lovers.
  5. The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshii. When Kikko discovers that her father left the pie intended for Grandma she treks off in search of her father, following his tracks in the fresh snow. However, she discovers the man she was following wasn’t her father at all, but a great big bear. Soon she enters a mysterious house, where a gathering of animals are delighted to welcome her to their party. With minimal charcoal illustrations this book is a rare and remarkable gem.
  6. A Dot in the Snow by Corinne Averiss, illustrated by Fiona Woodcock. A polar bear cub uninterested in learning how to fish wanders off and sees a red dot in the snow. Slowly the dot comes closer, turning into a pink-cheeked child. Together the two slide through the snow, until a mitten goes missing and the little cub dives after it. In many ways this sweet story reminds us of Blueberries for Sal.
  7. A Poem for Peter by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Snow is nature’s we-all blanket. When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten. When Snow paints the streets, we all see her beauty. Snow doesn’t know who’s needy or dirty or greedy or nice. Snow doesn’t choose where to fall. A compelling account of Ezra Jack Keats, the man behind the cherished award-winning book, The Snowy Day.
  8. White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. The postman and farmer predict snow. A woman with an aching toe knows that always means snow. Children stand watch, waiting for the first snowflake to fall. And so the familiar story goes. Each one with a special task, before, during, and after the snow falls. Beloved by generations, this is a classic for good reason.
  9. Snow by Sam Usher. A young boy wakes to fresh snow and all he wants to do is go out in it, preferably before anyone else does. But he has to wait for his granddad. Waiting takes forever. But finally, when Granddad is ready to go, the two head to the park for an adventure of giant proportions. A really special book worth seeking out.
  10. Walking in a Winter Wonderland by Richard Smith & Felix Bernard, illustrated by Tim Hopgood. For holiday music lovers everywhere, this illustrated rendition of the holiday classic is a new book you won’t want to miss. With vibrant and jazzy images, you can’t help singing, rather than reading, this book.
  11. Bear's Winter Party by Deborah Hodge, illustrated by Lisa Cinar. Bear feels at home in the forest, but he also feels lonely. Then he has an idea to invite his friends over for a winter party. He sets out and delivers each invitation and returns home to ready his den for guests. He looks out, wondering if anyone will come. Then, one by one, the chickadee, hare, fox, and other friends cross his threshold for an evening of baked goods, dancing, and merriment. As his guests leave and bear falls into his deep winter sleep, he knows that come spring he’ll have a forest full of friends. With sweeping watercolors and a recipe for ginger cookies in the back, you can’t help but be inspired to throw your own winter party.
  12. Fox’s Dream by Keizaburo Tejima. In the deep woods at midnight all is still, except for the sound of the fox’s footsteps. Hungry and cold he wanders, first chasing a hare, and then stopping at a forest of ice. Memories of warm summer days flood his mind. As morning breaks he is greeted by another traveler, a welcome assurance that winter will not last forever. The bold colored woodcuts make this story an immediate favorite.
  13. Into the Snow by Yuki Kaneko, illustrated by Masamitsu Saito. A child peeks out the window, watching the snow fall down. Bundled up, with sled in hand, he heads out to play. Content and cold, he returns for a cup of hot chocolate. A familiar and simple story, made fresh again with mixed-medium illustrations that radiate movement and light. An exquisite rendition of childhood enthusiasm.
  14. Sugar White Snow and Evergreens by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, illustrated by Susan Swan. When sugar snow falls, the colors on the farm become vibrant and fresh against a crisp white backdrop. Follow a small family as they hunt for winter’s gold (maple syrup). With a kaleidoscope of color, this rhyming book makes a delicious breakfast-time read.

5 Ways to Give Books this Holiday Season

Friday, November 18, 2016

This probably isn't a news flash for anyone that knows me, but I can safely say I have given more books as gifts than I have any other item. Hands down. Whether for birthdays, baby showers, care packages, weddings, Christmas gifts, or just to brighten someone's day. Books are my go-to gift. Do you feel passionate about giving books? Or gifts in general? I know it stresses some people out, but gift giving is one of my top love languages, so perhaps I come by it honestly.

Here are five ways to incorporate book into your holiday gift giving:

1. Make a Book: You already know there are a lot of websites for making photo books these days. We've tried several of them over the years and found that Pinhole Press repeatedly delivers a high quality product in a timely manner. Plus their customer service is outstanding. You can make everything from a hardcover book, to a spiral board book, or custom sticker book w/ drawing pages. I like that there is something for every price point. And believe me, once you have a kid you can never have too many pictures to give to grandparents.

2. Give a Magazine Subscription: While this isn't technically a book it is similar. As noted in The Read-Aloud Handbook, kids need a wide variety of reading materials. You'll be pleased to know that Anorak makes the most beautifully deigned and cleverly crafted magazines for kids, to the extent that opening the pages feels like a party. Dot is their most recent publication, focused primarily on pre-schoolers (ages 2-5) and I can tell you AJ loves it. Giving a magazine subscription to kids is a blast, because not only will they enjoy the publication, they'll look forward to checking the mail with renewed enthusiasm.

3. Give a Book Excerpt: This is the first year we have a bunch of teachers to give little gifts to and I especially like the idea of giving something semi-homemade. Which is why this coloring card book is perfect. Cards, envelopes, and stickers all in one place. Bonus: each card has a little inscription on the back where you can write-in who created it. Such a fun and interactive way to give something unique.

4. Read to Your/A Child: If you have a kid in your life, be it your own, a niece/nephew, neighbor, grandchild/godchild, or even a child you volunteer with, carving out a few minutes of time to be with them is probably the nicest thing I can think to give. We've been enjoying the intricate and exquisite detail of this new pop-up book, The Christmas Story by Robert Sabuda. In the season of rush, rush, it truly is a gift to slow down and read a story aloud together. It can be something holiday related or not. The important thing is to do it. Preferably as often as possible.

5. Donate to a Local Charity: Earlier this year we discovered Ready Readers, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping preschoolers from low-income communities love books and reading. We support their mission by making annual donations a family priority. No doubt you probably have something similar in your community that you can access through a Google search or asking your local librarian.

Wishing you a season of generosity and exceptional reading material.

Special thanks to Anorak, Candlewick, and Pinhole Press for providing us with the resources for this post. 

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