Chestnuts roasting by an open fire.
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And in your lap, a book of prose.
If this is your vision for Christmas break, read on!
Old Stories for New Readers
If Christmas is evoked for you by old-fashioned Christmas cityscapes and church pageants, Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo will strike a chord. Gentle-spirited Frances notices a homeless street performer as the cold of December inches toward Christmas. Her mother is far more focused on Frances’s costume for the upcoming pageant. Will the girl find a way to share the good news of great joy with the humble stranger?
Eugene Field’s Wynken, Blynken and Nod might not be a Christmas poem, but it contains the essence of Christmas coziness. Publishers like to make a quick buck on classic poems, especially squeezed into anthologies, so you may find ten versions or more at your local library. The poem alone is lovely, but this edition with illustrations by Johanna Westerman is certainly the best picture version. For a bedtime story during the winter months, this one would be delightful.
The immortalized Christmas Truce of 1914 is captured in Shooting at the Stars by John Hendrix. Presented in the form of a letter home from the front, the book features richly colored illustrations that capture this unlikely Christmas Eve celebration. The story is told with tenderness and joy, while hinting at the harsh reality into which this fairy-tale event is nestled.
New Stories for Any Readers
A Very Mercy Christmas by the author/illustrator team of Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen is the latest in my favorite pig-themed series. Ever wary of new spins on Christmas, I was grateful to see that this hot-off-the-press book sticks to the classic traditions of Christmas-lovers (plus, of course, toast). Admittedly, it’s not a profound story, but if Mercy Watson and her human friends are friends of yours, you’ll enjoy this Christmas book.
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson similarly impressed me with its wholesomeness. While the gospel message is not present, the story is set at Christmastime and delivers a black-and-white view of good versus evil. Magic, puzzles and codes, dark strangers, a huge library, and one innocent eleven-year-old girl (yes, she’s an orphan) collide in a lavish mansion hotel on Lake Luna over the Christmas holidays. The story seems designed for fans of Harry Potter and The Mysterious Benedict Society, but a variety of classic children’s literature is name-dropped throughout the book. I was truly delighted by this story. Suggested for middle grade and high school.
True Stories for Imaginative Readers
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin tells the biography of Wilson Bentley, the first person to record snowflakes in photographs. The story, along with the woodcut illustrations, won this book a Caldecott Medal in 1999. It’s a good one to stash away for the first big snowfall.
Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard might not be technically “factual,” but it’s True in deeper ways. This book was recommended by one of my students and the very next week I stumbled upon this lovely illustrated version at my used bookstore. It’s an allegory and not a veiled one. Much-Afraid begins her journey with the Chief Shepherd in order to escape the Valley where she dwells with her fellow Fearings. Her trip takes her through desert, shores of loneliness, mist, and forests of danger, among other perils, and by her side are always her two gentle guides. (To name them would give too much away, so I won’t.) Consider making time for this book as a family.
Looking for more Christmas ideas? Try the Endpapers issues from 2021 and 2020.
curated by Brittany Mountz
English major and unsuspecting English educator at ALC