Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas picture books

When I came to write this post about favourite Christmas stories, I found myself stymied by a couple of things. Firstly, there are such a lot of Christmas stories around, selecting a few seemed impossible, especially given how many my kids and I read each year. That was a problem in and of itself; how to select when the field is so wide?

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, it struck me that Christmas stories come in many different shades and hues. There's the nativity stories, with varying degrees of overt Christian sensibility. There's the "true meaning of Christmas" stories, with their generosity / family / love / sharing / giving themes. There's the Santa stories (the significant sub-genre of Rudolph stories fit in here too). There's the offbeat stories, that pick up festive moods or ideas without really being straight Christmas stories at all. What a field, and each kind of story has some strong contenders for favourites (and also, let it be said, some duds too).

So in the end, I have listed 5 Christmas stories that are very different from each other, but all have been enjoyed by my kids and all, I think, are very good of their kind. I don't think I'd even say they are our all-time top 5 (although the #1 on the list is probably our all-time #1). They are, however, a good selection covering a lot of Christmas ground.

I'd be interested to hear of any others people are attached to!

1. The Jolly Christmas Postman

Janet and Allen Ahlberg are geniuses in my opinion (and I will devote a later post to exactly why I think so) and this Christmas story is pure delight. The combination of beautifully detailed illustration, gentle and funny rhyming story, the use of fairytale and nursery rhyme characters, and the interactivity of the book is just magic. Each page features a letter or card for a different fairytale recipient, all inserted into envelopes on the backs of pages, and there is twice as much reading in the inserted bits as in the storyline itself. Highly recommended for 2.5 years and up (younger ones will enjoy the pictures but probably rip the letter / card inserts).

2. Twas the night before Christmas

Sometimes you just can't go past the classics, and this well-known Christmas poem, which was read to me every Christmas Eve as a child, remains dear to my seasonal heart.

My 5-year-old is the biggest fan of it from my three kids this year; she's enjoying it as much, I think, for the curious and (to her) archaic language as for the lovely illustrations.

3. The Fox's Tale

I could have picked lots of nativity stories, but this one is one our favourites. Written by Nick Butterworth, it tells the story of the nativity from the perspective of a fox who observes the shephereds and angels on the hillside, then follows them to the stable to see the infant Jesus. It is a pretty straight-up nativity story, couched in terms that toddlers can absorb easily.

4. The Polar Express

I think most people come across this Christmas phenomenon at some point, if only because of the movie it produced. (We haven't seen the movie as yet, but may do so this Christmas). It is a beautiful, lyrical story about the polar express, an imaginary train that takes children to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to see Santa on his way. It is magnificently illustrated and has a simple and charming message. My kids all love it.

5. Wombat Divine

As an Australian, finding stories about our Christmas (the hot, dusty, non-snowy kind, with non-reindeer type animals) isn't always easy.

Mem Fox, well-known Australian author, delivers a very sweet, accessible one in Wombat Divine, the tale of a bunch of Australian animals putting on a nativity play, and the dumpy, childlike, sweet as sugar wombat who struggles to find his place.

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