Books Celebrate True Gift

Christmas-themed stories welcome the Christ Child. From our Dec. 4 issue.

“O come, little children; O come, one and all. To Bethlehem haste, to the manger so small,” a beloved German priest, schoolmaster and storyteller wrote more than 200 years ago. Father Christoph von Schmid knew well the heart of Christmas and the hearts of the children he taught. His words — since translated from the original German into many languages and set to music — live on and remind us of the special bond between children and the Christ Child: “God’s Son for a gift has been sent you this day. To be your redeemer, your joy and delight.”

May the children in your life take delight in the stories of Christ’s birth and in the spirit of Christmas.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Written by Barbara Robinson

Illustrated by Laura Cornell

HarperCollins, 2011

40 pages, $16.99

The Herdmans are simply horrible. Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys lie, cheat and bully kids and grown-ups alike. Strangers to the Christmas story, they surprise church regulars by showing up for Sunday school, stealing from the collection plate, and then taking the best roles for the annual pageant. Everyone comes to the show just to see what the horrible Herdmans might do. Given the kids’ newfound understanding of the Nativity, it is a performance like none other — in fact, “the best Christmas pageant ever.” This picture book is a great companion to the classic chapter book by the same name. Ages 6-12.

The Jesse Tree

Written by Geraldine


Illustrated by Bee Willey

Eerdmans, 2003

90 pages, $20

“A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, and from his roots a bud will blossom.” Isaiah’s prophecy gave rise to the ancient tradition of Jesse trees. Jesse trees, the author explains in the introduction, are “the Bible storybooks of unlettered people” that trace the family history of Jesus. In the story that follows, a young boy interrupts an elderly carpenter who is carving a Jesse tree in a church. The boy asks the carver about the tree’s symbols. He returns each day to watch the crafted tree grow in size and meaning and to hear the old man tell stories: from the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ birth. The retold Bible stories within the larger story are perfect for Advent, Christmas or any time of the year. Ages 9 and older.

One Starry Night

Written by Lauren Thompson

Illustrated by Jonathan Bean

Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2011

32 pages, $16.99

One starry night, mothers lovingly care for their young ones. A nanny goat watches over her kid. A sheep watches over her lamb. A pig watches over her piglet. In a stable, Mary and Joseph watch over their newborn son — and the world is filled with love. This book, with its scant text and somber hues of the night, creates a quiet space to reflect on the awesome gift of the Word made flesh. Ages 3-6.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Traditional Christmas carol

Illustrated by Laurel Long

Dial, 2011

32 pages, $16.99

Although everyone knows the traditional carol, the lyrics take on new life in this richly illustrated text. Each double-page spread presents a new verse, accompanied by lavish oil-painting illustrations. Full of visual play, the book invites readers to look (and look again!) to find the hidden treasures on each page. Readers young and old can scour the pages to find the many gifts — from partridges in pear trees to drummers drumming — tucked into each illustration. The inside of the book jacket provides an answer key to help find these treasures. Sheet music and a short history are included. All ages.

Strega Nona’s Gift

Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Penguin, 2011

32 pages, $17.99

With the heart of an Italian grandmother, Strega Nona starts cooking at the beginning of December. The villagers all enjoy her delicious treats to mark St. Nicholas’ Day, the feast of the seven fishes, Christmas, New Year’s and Epiphany. But what about the animals? Strega Nona has something special cooked up for them, too! All goes well — until Big Anthony sneaks a taste of something he shouldn’t. This humorous tale sends home the message that the holidays are a time for giving to others — and for enjoying favorite foods and traditions with those we love. Ages 4-8.

Santa’s Secret Story

Written by Cornelia Mary Bilinsky

Illustrated by Candace Camling

Pauline, 2011

32 pages, $10.95

Rachel’s guardian angel takes her on an amazing journey and introduces her to someone who knows the secret story of Santa Claus. As readers accompany Rachel, they will be introduced to the life of St. Nicholas and his love of giving gifts in secret. The story offers an invitation for readers to be like the great saint and share Christ’s love through giving. Ages 5-8.

S Is for Snowman: God’s Wintertime Alphabet

Written by Kathy-jo Wargin

Illustrated by Richard Johnson

Zonderkidz, 2011

40 pages, $15.99

“For winter brings Wonder in things great and small, and we must remember that God makes it all.” This alphabet book celebrates in rhyme the many wonders of the season. From A to Z (“Zoom! goes a sled as it speeds down the hill. / God’s love is warmth for a winter’s day chill.”), kids will enjoy reading about the joys and delights of this blessed time of year. Ages 4–8.

The Crawford sisters write from Pittsburgh.