Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stories of the Season

Ever since my first born was, well, born, I have been reading to him....and every single child since.  Books of all types, especially children's picture books, have always interested me.  That interest has only escalated since the inception of homeschooling in our family.  Not every children's book is a good book, and few are great books, so I have relied on a few solid sources and insightful recommendations from friends over the years to build our library.  There is something almost magical about the pursuit of books with insightful or entertaining text, beautiful or clever illustrations, predictable plots yet surprise endings.

I know that Christmas is only two weeks away, which doesn't leave a lot of time for reading....but don't forget, the Christmas season endures until Epiphany, which leaves plenty of time for cuddling up with the kiddos and a stack of great books.

This is one of my all time favorite stories to read during Advent.  The illustrations are magnificent (boys will especially appreciate the grandeur of the king and his knights), the text is of course the traditional hymn by the name of the title, and the richness of the tradition behind the carol is a superb teaching/catechetical tool.  If you have any Czech blood in your heritage, it is worth the time and effort to do a map study on the Czech Republic, look up pictures of Prague, and bake or buy some Kolaches (a traditional Czech pastry - yummy!!).

If you would like to read more about St. Wenceslas before enjoying the book with your family, here is a link:


In addition to the story, this You Tube clip features artwork of St. Wenceslas set to a lovely vocal of the traditional carol.

This title is the most recent addition to our Christmas library.  I found a recommendation for it on the website "No Time for Flashcards."  The illustrations are hilarious, and it is simply fun to read.  My littlest one, Henry, asks me to read it about 100 times a day, and I cannot get enough of his little giggles!
If you want to make it educational, you could introduce the following:
Art: Let the kids identify the colors of the sprinkles, then talk about the color wheel.  They can paint a page of sprinkles using primary colors, then mix their own secondary. (Bingo dobbers would also be fun!)
Language Arts:  Teach the term alliteration.  Let the kids find patterns of alliteration throughout the text.  Also, you could have the older kids write a summary, putting the events of the story in order using the terms first, second, next, then, finally, etc.
Character Formation:  Teach the virtues of generosity, helpfulness, charity, industriousness, etc. Then, discuss how the Sprinkle Snitcher is the antitheses of these good behaviors.

The Gift of the Magi is a beautiful demonstration of the exemplary virtues of generosity, sacrifice, and self-gift lovingly enacted through two individuals during the Christmas season.  Though the text will be too advanced for little ones, if they are patient, the language can be simplified and explained as the story is read.  It is one of those books that I never tire of reading as an adult, and the richness of the illustrations give a unique life to the story.

Many of you probably have at least on Tomie dePaola book in your library.  He is a great storyteller and his books can often be recognized by the illustrations alone.  These are two that are nice for the season...you may even be lucky enough to rescue one off of the bargain book rack!  The 50% off sticker adds such a nice touch, don't ya think?
One of the first Christmas books to enter our library, Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect is a simple yet wonderful story.  It encourages discussion on why Christ came into the world and how we can model His self-donating love to others.
A good friend of mine graciously recommended this fantastic trilogy to me several years ago, and the anticipation of their reading never ceases.  They follow the Advent calendar, and one chapter is read for each day, ending on Christmas day.  I love how they generate discussion of Jewish law and tradition, pre-Christ.  The chapters end with a brief but insightful reflection for practical life application.  The author does a wonderful job of weaving the characters together through adventures and exciting situations that will keep the kids on the edges of their seats.
Finally, although this is definitely a more secularized Christmas story, it is entirely too cute to pass up for the little ones in your home.  However, it is not exempt of meaning.  Kids will easily pick up on the themes of friendship, thoughtfulness, sharing, joy, sacrifice and encouragement.  It is also a nice introduction to naming animals most of us don't see every day such as a mole, a badger and a crow.  The illustrations of the bear rekindled my understanding of why teddy bears have been such a popular stuffed animal for children to own for generations.

I hope that you enjoy this short list of titles and are able to find most of them in your local library, discount book store or perhaps they will be gifted to you.  Most of all, I hope you savor the time you have to read to your little ones (and big ones - my older boys still love picture books!)

Please share any books that are meaningful to you with us.  We will be posting again next year, and would love to share your ideas with others!

You may have tangible wealth untold:
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be - 
I had a mother who read to me.
~ Strickland Gilllilan

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