Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Books

It's time for our Christmas book advent review. I haven't gotten to Coraline's birthday yet -- but I must do this today. Why? Because we took them back to the library this morning and I'll forget all the details if I don't jot them down soon!

I really tried to branch out this year and not get any of the books from past years. I was able to do this in part because Reid and Nell sit through longer books now, and I didn't feel so prohibited by Amazon's age recommendations. 

I usually start my search on places like Pinterest. This leads me to other blogger ideas. Then I go to Amazon and look at the descriptions of the books -- mostly to get a sense of age appropriateness and how popular books are. Though that last category might not be helpful, as I've found the highest rated Amazon books usually aren't our favorites. Finally, I get on our library's online catalog and put all the books I want on hold. I usually do this in the middle of November. Sometimes our library doesn't have the books I'm looking for, and that's okay. My list of ideas is fairly long. Plus, when I go to the library to pick them up I dig through the holiday shelf and inevitably find a couple more books I'd like to try for the year. 

But let's get on to my actual review of the books. I won't dedicate time to books I've written about in the past. You can find those here, here, here, and here. I will try to (once again) go in order from least to most favorite. Also, I'll divide them by Christ's birth and holiday festive. Oh, and just ignore those three Thanksgiving books up top. We'd gotten those from the library and never read them! So I had to wrap them in order to get 'er done. 

Image result for Home for Christmas, Jan Brett
Home for Christmas
Jan Brett's artwork and storytelling is always amazing. This was just as true for this book as many of her other classics. However, it had almost nothing to do with Christmas. It's the journey of a naughty Troll who runs away from home and, after many misadventures, finally decides to return home. He makes it just in time for Christmas and ends up being less naughty. Great tale of adventure and lovely artwork, but in the future I think I'd just go for Brett's Christmas anthology and not include any in our actual advent. 

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Maisy's Snowy Christmas Eve
Maisy (and Llama Llama) is always a welcome addition for our youngest kids. These sweet character board books really are a must if you have a child under three opening books every few nights. Unlike most Maisy books, this did not have lift the flap features. It was still fun and Coraline enjoyed it. 

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Auntie Claus
This book is definitely not for toddler aged kids. It is long and doesn't have the strongest moral. Ben loves to point out books faults as we read them (I refer to this as a killjoy). The two little kids in the story are totally spoiled and have everything they want. After a big adventure with her Auntie Claus, the little girl learns giving is better than receiving -- but as Ben points out, she has everything she could ever want anyway so her sacrifice really wasn't that grand. If you can overlook that, it is a cute book older kids will enjoy. 

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The Message of the Birds
I feel like this story could go on either list, but since it makes no specific mention of Christ I'll put it here. The story starts with the birds lamenting that no one listens to their message anymore. Either people don't believe it or they have hardened their hearts. Then one bird suggests that perhaps the children would listen. So the birds go from bird to bird and kid to kid, singing their song. In the end, children from all over the world link hands and sing the message together. I won't spoil the final page -- but it's my favorite part of the whole book. 

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The Beautiful Christmas Tree
Reid brought this book home from school, so it wasn't officially part of our advent. It's a good long story. There isn't a big adventure or conflict, but I found my big kids still enjoyed sitting through it. It basically just follows a newcomer in an uppity neighborhood where he doesn't quiet fit in. His neighbors hardly even notice his ugly little tree ends up being the brightest part of the street as they all grow older together. For whatever reason, I really enjoyed this story and would definitely recommend it for older kids who would catch on to the importance of avoiding judgement and helping things grown through love and care. 

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Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree
Reid and Nell both really liked this book. It's on almost every list I come across in my searches, but this was our first year finally getting it. It's basically the tale of a tree that keeps on giving and eventually makes it way back to the original owner's home. The rhyming seems rough at times, but the more I read it the more I valued it. 

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Merry Un-Christmas
We love, love Dave Catrow and even spent some time guessing which other books he has illustrated. Reid named the two we own right away. In fact, the only reason I pulled this off the library shelf is because I recognized Catrow's work. Nell let me know she really likes this book and Reid certainly understood the message. Noelle lives in Christmas Town -- where Christmas happens 364 days a year. As you can guess, no one really enjoys Christmas and the best day of the year is the totally ordinary Un-Christmas day. It's a cute story with a great message. I'd definitely buy it second hand or look for the cheaper paperback version. 

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The Polar Express
Do I really need to review this? Is there anyone out there that doesn't know the story of the young boy who rides the train to the North Pole and receives the first gift of the season? We even have several polar express bells on our tree. This was the first time we read a book that introduced the idea that some do not believe in the magic of Christmas, and I wondered how my kids might take that. But they seemed to be totally unaffected by it. I think it's time to add this classic to our own library. 

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The Donkey's Dream
Perhaps this is written with a Catholic audience in mind ... but I didn't fully understand all the imagery going on in the story or artwork. It was focused pretty heavily on Mary. I did love the idea of the Donkey having peaceful daydreams while he carried Mary across the desert. He certainly carried the Light of the world on his back and deserved the peace that came with his hard work. 

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Humphrey's First Christmas
Like Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree, this book is on almost every list I come across. The first night Ben read it I thought it sounded awful. Really, really awful. The tone and flux sounded like the quality of storytelling I'd expect Reid to come up with. However, when I read it a couple days later it went through a little smoother (I think I better make sure he is as eager to participate in this advent as I am, ha). Humphrey is one of the camels who journeyed to Bethlehem when Christ was born, and the story is his telling of the events. He's kind of whiny at the beginning, but his heart changes and in the end he offers his own gift to the Christ child. 

Image result for Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers
Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers
This story is told from the Angel's perspective. I think Ben enjoyed the break from stories told by the animals. The back of the book has a couple paragraphs explaining the historical accuracy of the Inn (makeshift tents) and the Stable (a cave and The Church of the Nativity). I really liked how the artwork was also told from the Angel's perspective. Overall the message was beautiful and I'd definitely get it again. 

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