It’s December. Another year has almost come and gone. My children are almost a year older, and so am I. The days shorten and night stretches out a little longer. It’s the time of year when dusk comes in quickly, but a string of lights hanging across our gate reminds me that the light is always shining in the darkness, and is all the more precious for the backdrop. There is something is so familiar and sweet and reliable about this time of year. As the year draws to a close, it also slows down…suspends a few minutes, invites us to linger, over a cup of tea, over a plate of cookies (which I do often), next to the fireplace. And out come the books: they’ve never been really put away because I’m not that organized, but now they’re given a special place of honor and prominence. They, too, symbolize this fading, precious, quiet and joyful time of year. Here are my very favorites:
1. The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot
Beloved British country vet James Herriot tells us the story of a very special kitten. Set in the Yorkshire Dales, James is called out to a farm on Christmas Day to attend to a sick cat. With an optimistic, straight forward style, this story spans two Christmases to tell the stories of two special cats. Every year we read this charming, endearing story and it never fails to bring a lump to our throats.
2. The Gift of the Christmas Cookie by Dandi Daley Mackall
This was a book I had never heard of until a few years ago. I was at a book fair with my girls, and just picked it up, along with a pile of other books, not knowing it would become a yearly favorite. This sweet story, about a young boy named Jack, takes place on Christmas Eve during the Great Depression. Jack’s father has been gone, hopping freight trains from town to town, in hopes of finding work to support his family. On Christmas Eve word arrives that his father won’t make it home for Christmas, and to make matters worse, the delicious cookies his mother is making in the kitchen are for the needy at church. As it says in the book, Jack feels pretty needy himself. This is one where my voice shakes as I read it aloud. It’s poignant and touching, but easy to understand even for young listeners/readers. It’s a lovely read aloud.
3. A Pussycat’s Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown
This extremely charming Christmas book is by beloved author Margaret Wise Brown. A little cat notices all the signs that Christmas is coming…the smell of tangerines, the rustling of tissue paper, the smell of snow in the air. The sights, sounds, and smells that are unique to this glorious time of year let her know: Christmas is coming! This book could not be more sweet; it invites you in to all the charms of the season.
4. Christmas in the Big Woods adapted from The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This lovely picture book is simply excerpts from the Little House series – all the stories about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood Christmases are here! From making molasses candy with Ma to cherishing a single stick of peppermint found in her stocking on Christmas morning, Laura’s grateful appreciation of the things that are most simple and heartfelt will warm your heart cockles instantly! Reading about the Ingalls family’s simple and sweet Christmas celebrations feels new and fresh to me every year.
5. Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World by Douglas Wood
Last year, as Advent came, my heart was heavy. Unrest in the Middle East, refugees fleeing places of persecution looking for a new home, so many displaced and hurting people – it seemed as though the weight of the world was enough to crush anybody. It certainly felt like it could crush me. I was struggling to show my children hope and courage in the face of so much horrific pain and suffering. Then, I came upon this book. Instantly, it buoyed me up! It’s a story of courage in the face of adversity, of being brave and fighting even in the darkest hour; it’s the story of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill coming together to stand against against the Nazi powers to fight and eventually win WWII. This might seem like a very odd choice for a children’s Christmas story, but I sometimes think the easiest way to be brave is to hear about someone else being brave in incredible circumstances. Now, one Advent later, we are still in dire need of being brave. Incredible challenges weren’t just the province of these two leaders and those who lived through World War II. Today we still need to hear and tell stories about brave men and women who faced the unique challenges of their times, and this book is absolutely one of the most enheartening I can think of.
6. The Tweny-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite writers; from the Crosswicks Journals to her YA fantasy /scifi offerings (I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time with my children right now!), I love just about everything she ever put out. This little book is a lovely Advent story about the Ausin family, and particularly about Vicky Austin who is worried a special Christmas arrival might completely derail all the beloved and familiar ways the Austin family celebrates Christmas each year. This is a really sweet little read and the Austins’ day by day Advent traditions will make you want to pour a cup of hot cocoa and linger by the tree just a little longer.
So these are our tried and true favorites, but I’ve just ordered a huge slew of used books from Instagram book sales that will be arriving soon and I have a feeling my Christmas book list will be happily expanding! Merry Christmas!