As it turns out, the snow stopped before it really began and instead of curling up for the afternoon, I bundled up small children and went to the Catholic Shop to pick up yet another stack of books. Well supplied, we curled up the next day and shared stories, pictures and even songs.
Knowing that Katie, our youngest, was unlikely to stay with the task for the duration, we began with B is for Bethlehem. Isabel Wilner tells the story of Christmas in lyrical couplets, which are neither sticky nor snooty. The exuberant collage art in this nicely sized board book makes it eye candy for all of us, young or old.
Katie still with us, we moved on to There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve. The prose on each page is sparse, so the book moves quickly enough for little ones, but watercolor illustrations captivate readers and beg us to linger. There is reality here: Mary is very young, the earth is dry and dusty, and the animals don’t speak. But there is beauty and believability in the reality of the miracle.
Linda Schlafer’s A Gift for the Christ Child: A Christmas Folktale is a lovely story of two South American boys who travel from their poor home in the mountains to the glorious church in town to make a Christmas offering on behalf of their family. Along the way, they are called to minister to a woman in need. This book is also illustrated with bright collages, but they are simple collages. And it’s the simplicity of the illustrations that really captivates and truly expresses the message of the story.
In The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston, it’s Ruthie and her mother who must fulfill the family’s Christmas obligation. They are supposed to furnish the perfect Christmas tree for the town’s celebration. Ruthie’s father had chosen the tree before he left to fight in the war. But he has not yet returned home when it is time to harvest the tree for Christmas. This is a touching story of great wealth amidst poverty. Barbara Clooney’s illustrations are wondrous and this lovely tear-jerker is destined to become a family favorite in our house.
We seem to be collecting quite a treasure trove of St. Nicholas books, so I’m not sure how The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi escaped us until now. A very complete account of the beloved Patron of Children, this book’s gilded pictures are memorable and tease the reader with almost icon-like presentations of modern Christmas symbols. For instance, young Nicholas tosses gold coins into a fur-trimmed red Christmas stocking. There is so much to talk about on every page of this book and so many opportunities for every member of the family to grow closer good St. Nick!
My friend Kathy discovered O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem at the Catholic Shop and called especially to tell me about it. The first thing that struck me about this book, illustrated by the renowned Faith Ringgold, is that the Holy Family is dark-skinned and the supporting cast is multi-ethnic. The book begins with Scripture and then moves to illustrated lyrics of traditional carols. An accompanying CD is a soulful recording of the Harlem Boys Choir singing Christmas carols. Truly, this book and CD set is a sensory feast.
My favorite book this year is a simple one compared to the others. The illustrations are drawn in colored pencil and reflect the message, “Christ is not complicated. He is not hard to find. He is simple. He came to the shepherds poor, uneducated, humble servants. He made Himself obvious and available to the lowly.” The Shepherd’s Christmas Story by Dandi Daley Mackall evokes the whispers of Old Testament prophecies and underscores the tenderness of the Good Shepherd. Children will like the storyline, which is rich with the images of a shepherd’s life, but the message is not a childish one. Children believe in God; they accept Him readily as truth. It is adults who search for God they seek Him, often without knowing what they are seeking. They look for knowledge and nobility, for theological understanding, for outward signs of secular greatness, both for themselves and for their Savior. But they will find Him in infinite simplicity. He is Love. He is the baby, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of Sacrifice and the risen Lord Who commanded Peter to feed His sheep. He made Himself known to the uneducated, unsophisticated, simple shepherd who walked solely by faith.
This Advent, as we share stories with our children, we pray for an increase in faith, so that though we may not understand at all, we like the shepherds will truly know Love.
Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)