Monday, December 16, 2013

our favorite Christmas picture books


Our stack of Christmas picture books emerges from the attic every December and is packed away in January. Having them out for only one month of the year makes them extra special. Here are some of our favorites:

My bestest Christmas book EVAR: Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree (above). This is an oldie from my childhood, so it comes wrapped in 1970s two-color nostalgia for me. It's a really sweet story about a rich old man who buys a Christmas tree that is too tall, and how the top of the tree gets lopped off and successively smaller as it gets passed down to a series of other people and woodland creatures, finally ending as the perfect tree for a mouse family. And it rhymes!

More:


 

They've published a full-color version these days, but I searched Ebay until I found the two-tone green and black one I had when I was a kid. Because I'm weird that way.

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If you love the classic Petunia picture book, you need to add Petunia's Christmas to your library. In this one Petunia gets her head turned by a handsome gander behind a fence, and then she tries her whacky best to keep him from becoming Christmas dinner. Spoiler: For those of you who are now worried about the gander, he does not, in fact, get eaten. The illustrations have the same bright primaries and vintage ink pen sketch look I like so well in Petunia.

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Fancy Nancy Splendiforous Christmas was a new one on us. Thanks, Robyn, for introducing us to her. Fancy Nancy loves glitter, girliness and big words, and so do my girls. There's also plenty of humor thrown in for the parent:
"I think bigger is always better.
But my dad says we must compromise.
That means we end up with the tree my mom wants."
And in this story, crafting saves the day. So I especially like it.

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The classic Seuss Christmas must-have, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The Boris Karloff TV special is nice and all. But the book is so much grinchier when you read it under a blanket with funny voices and take your time over the drawings. You get to say fun words like "Cindy Lou Who" and "roast beast". Also, two-color books rule.

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This is a new one in our stack from last year. This version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol is illustrated by the same talented Brett Helquist who did the A Series Of Unfortunate Events books. I love his sinister style.

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The Polar Express: This sweet story of a boy's magical nighttime train ride to the North Pole is possibly my very favorite in the illustration category. How they decided to make a full length feature film out of a book you can read very thoroughly in 15 minutes is still a mystery. Can you say filler? (Also I really hate when they put 'now a major motion picture' stickers on the front of a book! I can't get it off without tearing the paper. Grrr.) 

But look at these gor-orgeous illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg:





I lovety love the velvety texture and strong color of his paintings not to mention his gifted use of light and shadow. Chiaroscuro! See, art history professor? I did not sleep through all of your slide shows.


My family went on an actual train trip in NC modeled after The Polar Express a few Christmases ago. It was a great experience overall, but the much anticipated hot chocolate was a lukewarm, watery disappointment. For the price of the train ticket I kinda expected a melted chocolate bar with gold dust sprinkled on top. But it was still pretty cool. Our waiters conducted us in Christmas carols as we trundled along. Then there was a reading of the book. Then we entered the North Pole! A train full of excited children wearing their pajamas were suddenly glued to the windows as we pulled into a little town lit up with about a gagillion Christmas lights. And then Santa Claus boarded the train. Major excitement! The girls each received a heavy, shiny sleighbell from Santa himself. 

I checked and yes, I can still hear them ring!

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What's not to love about the busy, cheerful country cuteness of Mary Engelbreit combined with the classic The Night Before Christmas poem? There is so much eye jangling detail and pattern to look at in each of her spreads. It's a keeper.

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OK, if you are looking for an impressive, over-the-top pop-up book to rock someone's world, this is it. Robert Sabuda is the pop-up master and Winter's Tale is amazing. It's about 2.5 inches thick because there are not one but two complex pop-ups on each page.


The main pop-up forms as you open each page, like this snowy owl.


And then there is always a side flap to pull out that holds a second pop-up wonder.



I've spent a lot of time looking at the mechanics. Every time I close it I can't believe it all folds back down like it should.


And then there is the grand finale forest scene and the little cabin with actual lights(!) that blink on and off when you pull a tab.

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We love Eric Carle, and we love Dream Snow, given to the girls a few years ago by Gramma. It's a great one for younger kids. The sleepy farmer dreams that snow is covering his farm in a soft blanket, so each illustration from the farm has a clear overlay so little hands can enjoy covering them with dream snow. And when the farmer wakes, he sees the snow is real and it is time to decorate for Christmas. Such sweet pictures. And there's a little button in the end that plays a tinkling (and kinda eerie) Christmas tune.

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I can always count on cool gifts like Where Are They? Christmas Fun from our friends, the Smileys. (Hi, Julia!) Take this book with you to wait in line for Santa. It's chock full of busy pictures with lists of objects to find. Lots of humorous twists thrown in to enjoy as you scan for the list items. We love it!

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This The Twelve Days Of Christmas, by Laurel Long. I have several Twelve Days books but this one is the prettiest (thanks, Leigh Ann!) I also like it because it accurately says collie birds (it can be spelled colly or collie) instead of calling birds for day 4. You didn't believe me, did you?

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The one for this year! It's not wrapped yet so I can still show you. I'm sooo excited to have found this favorite sad/beautiful version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Steadfast Tin Soldier on Ebay. It's illustrated by Fred Marcellino, whose style you might know from this gorgeous version of Puss In Boots. It's in great condition with the dust jacket and everything. I love Ebay.

I'm running out of ideas for books though. Do you have a favorite? Do tell.

26 comments:

  1. Love your Christmas books! I need to put ours out also -- that fancy nancy is cute and cheery -- and I adore the vintage Mr. Willoughby!

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    1. Thanks, my happy bluebird! Merry Christmas!

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  2. The Father Christmas Letters by JRR Tolkien is one of my favourite - reminds me I need to pull it out to read to the kids this week. Someone just gave my son Petunia's Christmas the other day!

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    1. CarolM, thank you thank you! I love JRR Tolkien and can you believe I have never heard of that book? I'm looking through descriptions now and I think I must have it.

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  3. I love the Mr. Willowby book. One of my favorites has scratch and sniff stickers... "The Sweet Smell of Christmas" by Patricia Scarry. I can still smell the pine & oranges. :)

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    1. I love scratch and sniff anything, Kim! Thanks! I'll have to see if I can find it.

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  4. Great post! Thanks for sharing. Here are some I love:
    The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren (also, and The Tomten and the Fox - not necessarily Christmas stories, but very wintery and so nostalgic for me).
    The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (grew up watching the animated version; SUCH beautiful music). The book has gorgeous illustrations only, which tell the story instead of text.
    I Spy Christmas by Jean Marzollo. Classic - and helps me with ideas for decorating :)
    Richard Scarry's Best Christmas Book Ever!

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    1. Oh, Emily, wow, thank you, I love your list. I have been looking them all over on Amazon for a few minutes and I may have to buy them all! We already have the Richard Scarry and it is really great, isn't it? I've always loved Richard Scarry.

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  5. Oh, and
    The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
    :)

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    1. Looking at this one too...I think I saw this one when I was little!

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  6. Thanks for the heads up on a lot of great books! I think I need to go shopping! Sorry, nothing new to add.

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  7. Thank you for the wonderful post...I've been on the fence about Mr. Willoughby but this may have just put me over the edge! Another favorite of ours is Santa Mouse. It's out of print now, but you can still get a used copy online. A hint on the story..we now leave a piece of cheese along with cookies out on Christmas eve.

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    1. CC, thanks so much! I'll have a look at Santa Mouse. I have a weak spot for mice -- they are just so cute. I buy these books as much for myself as for the kids.

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  8. OK, so I wrote a super long comment that was full of suggestions and it got eaten. Let me try again. It won't be nearly as witty or charming, but hopefully I can at least get the titles in there for you. Sheesh.

    -Listen to the Silent Night (Dandi Daley Mackall) - beautiful paintings)
    -The Bears' Christmas (Stan and Jan Berenstein) - classic Berenstein mishaps)
    -Snow (Roy McKie) - my son's favorite book that we have to read every. single. day.
    -God Gave Us Christmas (Lisa Tawn Bergen) - We have and love God Gave Us You so this was a natural addition to the collection.)
    -Mortimer's Christmas Manger & Bears Stays Up for Christmas (both by Karma Wilson) - Have you ever read Bear Snores On? . . . same author.
    -Annie and the Wild Animals & The Mitten (both by Jan Brett) - Not necessarily "Christmas" but wintery.
    -The Christmas Story (the one illustrated by Eloise Wilkin) - I always loved the art in this Little Golden Book when I was a kid.

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    1. Found another one: Feliz Navidad illustrated by David Diaz - It's just the lyrics to the song, but the pictures are terrific.

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    2. Wow, Skooks, thank you! Another great list I'm not familiar with to peruse through. I'm set for years! We have God Gave Us You -- PRECIOUS. I love it.

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  9. What a beautiful collection of Christmas books, Larissa!
    I hope you might look for my book "Christmas with the Mousekins - A story with Crafts, Recipes, Poems and More."
    I think you would like it! xoxo

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    1. Oh, Maggie, I didn't know you have authored a Christmas picture book! It's beautiful and has CRAFTS! I love it, thanks so much for letting me know!

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    2. thank you! moms & girls of all ages seem to enjoy it. and you have introduced me to mr. willowby - i just ordered it and can't wait to see it.
      see how much you do for us?
      merry christmas!

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    3. Your book just went on my wish list! Thank you Maggie!

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  10. Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree looks amazing. And that pop-up!! Nice assortment. :)

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  11. How could I forget: Winter Story (Brambly Hedge) by Jill Barklem. Could spend HOURS studying those illustrations.

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  12. I've compiled a list (which I will continute to add to): Emily's Wish List of Christmas Stories and PIcturebooks
    http://amzn.com/w/398YMIBFNT1M5

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  14. We love vintage Christmas books at our house! We found the Mr Willowby's one this year and love it! There's another, not vintage, called Just right for Christmas. Same premise as Mr Willowby's, but it's about fabric instead of the tree. Cute!

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