Things to Read - Children's Books for Winter & Christmas

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Winter - Winter in Virginia is a tricky season. As I recall, two years ago, it snowed once all winter. Then last year, snowpocalypse occurred, leaving us homebound for days. As I never know what to expect from winter, I always try to keep a few books around the house that emphasize the joys of snowy days. But not too many books, as snow may not actually arrive here (except for the occasional dusting).

1. Snowy Day (Picture Books)

Anna Milbourne's Snowy Day (Picture Books) has been our go-to winter book for the last three years. F's starting to grow out of it (I recommend it for children 4 and under), but I still love the simple, wonderful descriptions of winter's wonders - from explaining how to make snowmen to describing sleeping frogs and hibernating squirrels. Plus, the book contains simple science statements perfect for kids - "each snowflake has six points" and "[H]igh in the clouds, raindrops freeze into icy flakes of snow."

2. The Snowy Day

Written in 1963, Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day is a classic, up there with Where the Wild Things Are and Harold and the Purple Crayon 50th Anniversary Edition (Purple Crayon Books). Similar to Milbourne's book, this short, beautiful story highlights the small wonders of a snowy day spent outside. A must-have for every children's book collection.

3.The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

As Christmas becomes more and more commercial (I have no idea why I just wrote "becomes", to the best of my recollection it has always been commercial), I've started emphasizing the solstice in our family traditions. There's something wonderful about celebrating an event recognized by so many different people and cultures throughout time. Plus, the solstice offers a great opportunity to talk to children about science (earth's rotations, seasons, etc.), history, and environmentalism (science talks about our natural world always seem to spin off into environmental talks). In pursuit of my solstice celebrating goals, I purchased The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice. In all honesty my kids like this book, but they don't love it, probably because the narrative operates more as a history book than as a story book. Still, we learned a lot from it - from how Chinese astronomers measured shadows to descriptions of ancient Druid and Swedish solstice festivals. I especially enjoyed the suggested solstice activities at the book's end.

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Christmas - Our family is not especially religious, so I tend to gravitate towards non-religious Christmas books. As the children grow older, I'm excited to discuss stories about Jesus and his birth, but I'd like to wait for a time when we can discuss other religions and religious traditions as well. Regarding Christianity, I idealistically envision talks that begin with "some people believe Jesus is their savior, other people believe he was a really nice, interesting guy" and we can move on from there to discussing the Bible itself. I can't wait to read Job and Ecclesiastes and the different gospel stories with my children. In my idealistic world, the whole family will eventually read the gnostic gospels together and discuss why they were excluded from the Bible and how their inclusion would have effected modern day Christianity (I took a ton of Christianity classes in college). At least that's the goal, but I rarely ever reach my parenting goals. In the meantime, I try to focus Christmas on Santa and family and community.

1. The Polar Express

Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express is possibly the best written children's book I've ever read, coupled with the beautiful illustrations, the joy of reading this book is almost a Christmas present in itself. No words are wasted in Allsburg's prose; I love descriptions such as "[w]e sang Christmas carols and ate candies with nougat centers as white as snow. We drank hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars." The plot itself centers on a train that takes children through the night to see Santa at the North Pole (yes, I know the premise is cheesy, the writing makes the book great).

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I'm cheating on this one, as we've never read the Grinch to the children. Rather, we own (well we TIVOed) the half-hour cartoon (made in 1966), which is very true to the book. I love watching this as a family (with popcorn, of course) and hearing P shout "I love Cindy Loo Who, I just love her." And this year, after you finish the movie, your family can see the Grinch in person at Gaylord National.

3. Olivia Helps with Christmas (Olivia Series)

My children love Olivia. It all started with Olivia, then we moved onto Olivia Saves the Circus and Olivia Helps with Christmas (Olivia Series) and now Olivia has her own TV show, officially making her a child star. Olivia Helps with Christmas (Olivia Series) stays true to all the Olivia books - somewhat sarcastic with several jokes aimed more at parents then at children. In summary, it's a quick read and it amuses me.

4. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (AniMotion)

You need to read your children at least one true classic, if only to make them memorize the same cheesy lyrics you learned as a child. Plus, if your child is ever on Jeopardy he or she may need to know all the names of Santa's reindeer. We owe this to our offspring. Our family has the board book version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (AniMotion) (I couldn't find it on Amazon) so T can read along with us (without destroying anything).

What about everyone else? Any great Xmas or Winter reads to recommend? By the way, if you're looking for more seasonal book suggestions, Uncommon Grace has a reading list (with reviews) to share.

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