Books and More Books for Advent and Christmas

Thanksgiving is so early this year! That gives you an extra weekend to find Advent candles. Go! This weekend, go get those candles and when you do, buy an extra set and have them blessed on Candlemas. Then, next year, you'll already have your candles and they'll be blessed, too. You'll feel so efficient. (Unless, of course, you manage to lose them between Candlemas and the first Sunday of Advent. Ahem.)

Look for some oldies but goodies reposted here this year during Advent. We have a birthday, Christmas, a wedding, and a graduation–all in the last nine days of December. Blogging time will be a bit limited, I dare say. 

Here's a compilation of book suggestions from years past. First up is the Tomie de Paola unit–all the family activities and lessons plans a family could do for the entire month of December (and into January). This "unit" is tradition 'round these parts.

My children's ages and stages are all over the calendar in the rest of this post, so please bear in mind that this isn't real time. Some families like to wrap their Advent books and then open one a day throughout the season. In our family, we pull them all out and put them in baskets. That way, they make a lovely backdrop for monumental pictures of historic occasions

Ring pic

See? Decorating with books.

Without further ado, here's a big list to get you started. I'll be back on Friday with Chris Scarlett's list to share as well. Chris' baskets and my baskets are filled very similarly, so that list will be all spiffy and polished and up to date when it posts Friday (which, remember is still well before the first Sunday of Advent). I pretty much love the way the calendar worked this year.



We became devoted fans of

Anne of Green Gables
 and the other Anne
stories by L. M. Montgomery this year so it was with great joy that
I reviewed

Christmas With Anne And Other Holiday Stories
edited by Rea Wilmshurst. The book is a collection of short stories by Montgomery
published in magazines in the early 1900’s and two stories from the
Anne of Green Gables series. Like the books in the series, the stories can be a bit
overly-sentimental but there is something so compelling and
good about Montgomery’s
characters and plots that the sweet is satisfying instead of
sickening. If your
children haven’t met Anne, this book, read aloud, is a lovely
introduction. If they
know her well, the two Christmas stories will be remembered fondly
and the others will be fresh fodder for the devotion that
Montgomery inspires in her young readers.


I have been writing reviews of advent books for several
years and sometimes I wonder if there will be anything fresh to

read. The message of advent and Christmas can get a little worn
when the book box is brimming and they all begin to look the same. I read

Papa’s Angels
 by Collin Wilcox Paxton and Gray Carden in one sitting, with
tears streaming down my face. It brought to mind a dear friend who has experienced the
loss of both her parents this year and the hope and joy that I pray
her children will bring her this Christmas.

Papa’s Angels is a book for older children. It is a quick and easy read but it is deep and thoughtful
and at times, dark and haunting. Told through the eyes of Becca, a gifted twelve-year-old
writer who lives with her father and four younger siblings in
Appalachia, it is the story of the immense grief of a young father
who has lost his dearly beloved wife to an illness just before

 As Papa retreats more and more into his sorrow, the
children become increasingly hopeless that they will ever again
hear him sing or see him laugh. Their grandmother keeps alive the flickers of hope that seem
to be every child’s birthright and gently guides them to see how
they can help their father stir from his misery. Interspersed throughout the book are lovely songs that
Papa has composed in happier days to celebrate his family and
express the sweet, pure, lasting love he has for his wife. In the
end, it is music, the wisdom of children, and the spirit of love
that triumphs over loss and brings the father back to his children.





by Arnold Ytreeide is an advent storybook with one
installment for every day of Advent. The

story is very compelling and my children frequently begged for more
after one day’s devotion was read. Ten-year-old Jotham travels acr
oss Israel, searching for his family and facing great danger and breathless
adventure. Ultimately,
his journey takes him the Infant in Bethlehem. While the

author uses this book as a bedtime story, some
adventures are rather intense

and I prefer to read it to my
during the day. We liked this one so well last year that I’ve ordered it for
my godchildren this year.




Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers
 comes highly recommended by my six-year-old who does not want
to return it to the library. The nativity story is told from the perspective of an
angel– not really an original story line. What sets this book apart is the ability of the author to
discuss the interaction of the supernatural world with the natural
world and to shake off the constraints of time and embrace
eternity. The
supernatural and eternity are not usually within the grasp of
children but this book makes them so. Readers young and old gain a greater appreciation of how the
earth was made ready for the glorious night when Jesus was born. The pictures are lovely and add depth and warmth to the ethereal quality of the story.



 I freely admit that I bought

All for the Newborn Baby
by Phyllis Root solely because of
its title. This book lies wrapped and ready, waiting for our
newborn baby. It is a
well-researched, beautifully illustrated picture book that might
be enjoyed by a small child on a quiet afternoon but will truly be
appreciated by much older children and adults.

The author shares that she remembered being told as a child
that some people are blessed on Christmas Eve with the ability to
hear animals speak.
She researched Christmas stories from around the world that
featured miracle tales of animals and wove the stories into a lullaby that Mary might have
sung to her newborn baby. The text is very simple and the illustrations exquisite.
This is a book that will truly be a treasure for those who collect
fine Christmas books.



the very youngest child,

Who’s Coming to Our House?
 by Joseph Slate is engaging and endearing. The book
follows a pattern so predictable that my son Christian, who was not
even really a fluent talker at three, had the entire book memorized
so that her could “read” it to Patrick, one. All the animals in the stable take part in preparing their
house for a very special visitor.


of my children were baptized during advent and we received a lovely
picture book as a baptism gift.

This is the Star
  by Joyce Dunbar is a lovely story of
the birth of Jesus that builds on itself. The book works well as a read-aloud because it is rhythmic
and employs rich, poetic language and gorgeous illustrations that
hold the older listener while younger listeners absorb the story. 





A picture book that is
suitable for older children is

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey
. Toomey is a widower who has becom
sad and reclusive since the death of his wife and son. A seven-year-old boy and his widowed mother are persistent i
offering their friendship as Jonathon carves a creche for them. The carving of the creche is a story within the story and t
is a joyous miracle on Christmas day. This is a tear-jerker that gives me chills every time I read
it. It is not sappy
and ove
but truly touching.
This is the perfect picture book for children in the middle grades
who might consider themselves too old for picture books. The book was written by Susan Wojciechowski. Illustrations are rich, realistic watercolors by P.J. Lunch. If there is a seven-year-old boy in your life, you must have
this book. The rest of
us should find a seven-year-old boy and buy the book so that we can
live the story through the eyes of the child. 



excellent art book, whose text is pure scripture is a sophisticated
picture book illustrated by Jane Ray called

The Story of Christmas
. The large
pictures combine symbols from ancient and modern folk art to
illustrate the Christmas story. Text is taken directly form the King James version of the
gospels of Matthew and Luke. The book begs to be read aloud reverently by fathers on
Christmas Eve. 




A gift book to give a musical family is

Silent Night.
The text is that of the lovely carol and the
illustrations, in shades of blue and soft yellow, are by popular
children's illustrator Susan Jeffers. This book will help visual children to interpret the carol. The pictures are very engaging. Since the words are well-known, you might also find yourself
digressing from the text to just chat your way through the book. These are pictures for conversation. Music is included so this book would make a pretty
decoration propped on the piano. 



One book in our box which is so tattered and
well-loved that I would like to replace it in hardback is

The Donkey's Dream
by Barbara Helen Berger. It tells the story of the dreams a donkey dreamt as he
carried the Blessed Mother to Bethlehem. This book is one of a few really “Catholic” feeling
Christmas books. The
images of Our Lady—which read like a litany—are worthy of study and
discussion with older elementary and middle school children but the
story can stand on its own with very young children. The pictures are beautifully colored and framed by a border
of forget-me-nots, also called les yeux dex Marie.




children’s favorite last year was

The Legend of the Candy Cane
 by Lori Walburg. A
young girl named Lucy helps a stranger in town unpack the boxes in his store.
There, she discovers that his is to be candy store. The owner shares with Lucy the legend of the candy. When held upside down, the cane is a “J”, for Jesus. The red stripes represent His suffering, which washed away
our sin and made us pure as the snow, represented by white stripes. I really appreciated this gentle reminder that the sweet
baby was born to die for all of us–the ultimate Christmas present. The candy held upright looks like a shepherd’s staff. I pointed out to my children that the bishops and the Pope
carry such staffs today. This book really begs to be a project. Lucy and the candy man went to every house in town leaving
candy canes and an invitation to the store to learn the legend. I don’t think I’m up to entertaining the whole town, but
perhaps a few neighborhood children would enjoy a candy cane and
some cookies while we read some carefully chosen Christmas stories. 



Legend of the Christmas Rose
 by William H. Hicks is the story of Dorothy, a nine-year-old
girl whose older brothers are shepherds. When they see an angel who directs them to a baby in a
manger, Dorothy secretly follows them. Just before she arrives, she realizes she has no gift. Beautiful white flowers miraculously appear. When she presents them to the Christ child, He performs
another miracle. The
book is well-written and illustrated by lovely, realistic
paintings. To extend
the book, I would bring some Christmas roses into the house. 



King of the Stable
by Melody Carlson, is the story of Matthew, who leaves his
father’s affluent home to live with relatives in Bethlehem. Not accustomed to working, Matthew is a bit discouraged when
he is made “king of the stable,” in charge of feeding, watering, and cleaning up after the animals. Since this is Bethlehem and Matthew is in charge of a
stable, wondrous things are certain to happen. 




Jacob’s Gift
popular Christian author Max Lucado, tells the story of a
carpenter’s apprentice, Jacob, who is competing with the other
apprentices to determine who will be chosen to help build the new synagogue. Jacob loves working with wood and pours his heart and soul
into a beautiful feeding trough. He falls asleep just as he finishes only to be awakened
by brilliant starlight and a tough decision. Jacob truly learns that “when you give a gift to one of
God’s children, you give a gift to God.”



The Huron Carol
 is a beautifully illustrated, sophisticated picture book. Illustrator Frances Tyrell has set pictures to the English
translation of an old Christmas Carol composed by Father Jean de
Brebeuf, a French Jesuit missionary who lived among the Huron
Indians in the early 1600’s.The carol entwines the traditional
Christmas story with Huron spirit and tradition. In this book, the
pictures complement the text and maintain the authenticity of the
Huron heritage. 



From my favorite publishers, the folks at Bethlehem Books,

The Miracle of Saint Nicholas
. Alexi is a Russian child whose grandmother tells him of the
soldiers who closed Saint Nicholas church many years ago. When he asks why they can’t celebrate Christmas there this
year, she tells him that it would take a miracle. The little boy believes in miracles. I purchased this book to give to my children on the feast of
Saint Nicholas. It is
my sentimental favorite because it reminds of me of people in my
life who are very dear to me and who have meant much to the growing
faith of our family. Two of my children’s godparents are Eastern
Orthodox and, among other things, the boys are learning a true
appreciation of Eastern religious art. I am especially pleased with the icons throughout the text. It is nice to see both the art and the faith of the Russians
so beautifully depicted here. 



Christmas Story
 by Brian Wildsmith was well-received in our house. My children are fond of other books he has illustrated. Wildsmith’s unique illustrating style is at its best in this
book. The story
is a simply told rendition of the nativity story, from the
perspective of Rebecca, a little girl whom Mary leaves to care for
a young donkey when the donkey’s mother carries the Blessed Mother
to Bethlehem.
The young donkey misses his mother and Rebecca ends up in
Bethlehem, too.
The paintings are anything but simple. They are richly textured with brilliant color and lovely
accents of gold. We
stopped and looked carefully every page. This book begged to be followed by an art project, where
gold paint was readily accessible. 



My favorite book
to give new mothers is

When It Snowed That Night
 by Norma Farber.
My children really don’t sit still very well for this one. I read it more for me. It is so easy in the weeks preceding Christmas to get caught
up in the busy-ness of life. There is so much for parents to do. What we forget is that often what our children need most is
not that we do but that
we be. They need us to be available to them to talk or rock or read
or just sit in comfortable silence when the story is finished. This book remains in our Christmas box to remind me to slow
down and just be with my children. Reading aloud is a wonderful vehicle for doing that. 

The book is composed of poems from many of the creatures who went
to greet the Christ child. At the end of the book, the queens come. They are late, having left their children with sitters, and
they don’t stay long because: 


“Their thoughts are already straining

Past manger and mother and guiding star
and child aglow as a morning sun— 

toward home and children and chores


They are distracted because they are going in too many directions. There are so many worthy causes—particularly during advent
and Christmastime. 

I don’t want to be like the queens, giving little bits of myself to
lots of people and all of my heart and soul to no one. Instead, I want to serve my Lord with my whole heart—caring
tenderly for the children he has entrusted to me and guarding
carefully my time so that I don’t over-commit and neglect my home
and family. 

We are given opportunities every day to bring into our children’s
lives those things which are true and beautiful when we read aloud
to them in our homes.
We have the opportunity to be like the last creature in Farber’s
book, who identifies with and emulates the Blessed mother: 


           I never got to

someone, I thought,
should (day and night) 

be here, someone should
stay at home. 

I think I was probably


For I have sung my child
to dream

far, far away from where
there lies 

a woman doing much the

And neither of our
children cries. 


Beautiful books are enduring and I can imagine sharing our
collection, which will be quite large, at Christmas with my
children’s children. I
also give books to each of my godchildren each year at the
beginning of advent. I
hope these books will find a special place in the hearts of the
children who are dear to me. I know they have found a place in mine.

from 2005:

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 Saint 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.



  1. Sasha says

    Thanks for the suggestion to buy an extra set of candles – buying them was on my list for the weekend anyway, now I’ll be getting two sets!

  2. says

    Thank-you for the wonderful list. I love this season because of all the book reading involved. Our children are still young but I already said to this yesterday “I hope when you grow up you will bring your children over so we can have a storytime and I can read to them.” I love to savor the moments with our children through books.

  3. says

    Elizabeth, thank you for this list which includes several I hadn’t heard of before!! Have you read, Pearl S. Buck’s _Chirstmas Day in the Morning_? It is truly my favorite during this season!! God bless.

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