Christmas Children’s Book Reviews

Some recommended family reading for this holiday season.

Father and Son: A Nativity Story 
Geraldine McCaughrean. Illustrated by Fabian Negrin Hyperion Books for Children, 2006

How did Joseph feel on the night Jesus was born? Author Geraldine McCaughrean imagines Joseph might have whispered, “Mine, but not mine. How am I supposed to stand in for your real Father? How is a simple man like me to bring up the Son of God?”

In a series of enlightening questions and musings, Joseph contrasts his own finitude and weaknesses with the unlimited power and strength of the Christ Child entrusted to his care: “What lullabies should I sing to someone who taught the angels to dance and peppered the sky with songbirds? How do I protect a child whose arm brandished the first bolt of lightning, who lobbed the first thunderclap, who wears sunlight for armor, and a helmet of stars? And how shall I ever astound you my child, as my father did me? You are the one who fitted the chicken into the egg and the oak tree into an acorn!”

Fabian Negrin’s vivid illustrations capture the wonder of God’s creation and the love and amazement Joseph felt for his son. 

Wenceslas 
Geraldine McCaughrean, Illustrated by Christian Birmingham Doubleday, 2005

In this retelling of J.M. Neale’s poem, Good King Wenceslas, children are introduced to Wenceslas of Bohemia and his loyal page, Peter. 

It’s Christmastime and the countryside is gripped by fierce winter weather. In the palace of King Wenceslas, the royal guests are celebrating the twelve days of Christmas with lavish feasts and much merriment.

But King Wenceslas’ focus is elsewhere. He draws Peter’s attention to a scene outside the palace window: a peasant is struggling through the snow with a bundle of wood on his back.

The king asks Peter if he knows the man. The page replies that the peasant lives at the edge of the forest. King Wenceslas startles Peter when he says, “Then let’s go and share Christmas with him!”

So, Peter’s journey begins – a trial of his strength, courage, and loyalty – as he learns to follow in his master’s footsteps.

Christian Birmingham’s magnificent illustrations add grandeur and mystery to a tale that reveals a king who follows the example of King Jesus.  

Great Joy 
Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline Candlewick Press, 2007

In New York City, a young girl named Frances looks out her apartment window and sees an organ grinder and his monkey playing music for passersby in the wintry weather. 

Frances is worried. She wonders where the man and monkey will spend the night to get out of the cold. When she asks her mother, she’s told, “Don’t ask me questions that I can’t answer. I’m sure they go somewhere. Everyone goes somewhere.” But Frances isn’t satisfied with her mother’s reply.

That night she forces herself to stay awake and, to her dismay, discovers that the man and his monkey sleep on the street.

Late the next day, Frances and her mother pass the organ grinder on the street. Frances stops and invites him to her Christmas pageant which will begin soon in a church down the street.

When Frances is finally supposed to say her lines, no words come out of her mouth. She can think only of how cold it is outside and how sad the organ grinder is.

But a surprise awaits. The back door of the sanctuary opens and the man and his monkey enter. In response, Frances shouts her lines, “Behold! I bring you tidings of Great Joy!”

Kate DiCamillo’s narrative captures the joy of the gospel as a lonely and poor person is led by a child into a loving community. Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations contrast the dark of winter and loneliness with the warmth of welcome, love and fellowship.   

The Little Tree By the Sea: From Halifax to Boston with Love 
John DeMont Illustrated by Belle DeMont MacIntyre Purcell Publishing, Inc., 2017

On Dec. 6, 1917, two ships collided in the Halifax Harbour, creating a massive explosion in which more than 2,000 people died, 9,000 people were injured, and 6,000 people were left homeless.

The Little Tree by the Sea is a fictional retelling of events leading up to and following the Halifax Explosion told from the perspective of a small pine tree on a hill overlooking the harbour.

After the explosion, sailors on the ocean hear the tree’s cries for help. They bring the plea for aid to the city of Boston, Massachusetts. In an outpouring of support and love, the people of Boston send food, nurses and doctors to assist the Haligonians.

Later, when the city is rebuilt and the pine tree learns that the Haligonians want to send a thank you gift to the people of Boston, it volunteers, “Send me!” The little tree’s wish is granted. It is chopped down, transported to Boston, set up in a place of honor, and decorated for all to enjoy.

In this simply illustrated picture book, young children will learn about Halifax’s first gift of a Christmas tree to the city of Boston after the explosion. Author’s notes explain that from 1971 to the present day the province of Nova Scotia has continued each year to send a majestic Christmas tree to Boston.  

A Christmas for Bear
Bonny Becker, Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, Candlewick Press, 2017

Grumpy Bear has never celebrated Christmas before. Now, he intends to do it his way, with style and flair, with pickles and poems. But when his friend Mouse arrives for the celebration, the tiny creature has one goal – to find his presents.

Each time Bear goes to the kitchen to get the specially prepared snacks – pickles from France, crackers and cheese, and Christmas cookies – he returns to the living room and discovers that Mouse is nowhere in sight.

Bear becomes increasingly cantankerous – why can’t Mouse cooperate with his plans?  – while Mouse becomes equally determined to find his gift.

This humorous story, accompanied with lively, comical illustrations, introduces children to two unlikely friends, each with his own agenda, who finally learn to listen to each other and then to celebrate Christmas and their friendship.  

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