Christmas story books...we've collected quite a few over the years. My plan is to always read one to my kids each night before they go to bed during the month of December. Most of the time I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be. In fact, this month if we have reading time before bed, it's been more of the Percy Jackson variety than holiday.
But Julianne went through our stash of holiday books that sit in a little box near the fireplace downstairs a few days ago, wanting to take a few to her Christmas Dance day activity where they would be wearing ugly sweaters, decorating sugar cookies and reading Christmas stories. And it made me think a bit about which were my favorites and the memories behind many of them.
My very favorite is "Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect" by Richard H. Schneider. This is actually the very first Christmas book I ever bought. I picked it up in 1993 when Bryan and I were celebrating our first newlywed Christmas. Children were still a few years down the road for us. But I was working at a book store that Christmas in Logan and one of my coworkers who managed the children's section, showed it to me. I fell in love with the gorgeous illustrations and the message of service and love...the story talking about the trees in the forest striving to be the most perfect in the hopes of having the honor of being chosen by the queen to grace the palace during the Christmas season. And the one tree who decided to give up its perfect status in an attempt to help the little forest animals...sheltering them from the storms, letting them nibble on its branches when they were starving, etc. The final line in the book, "For, as have many of us, the trees have learned that living for the sake of others makes us most beautiful in the eyes of God."
"The Reindeer Christmas" by Moe Price tells the story of Santa's struggles trying to deliver gifts each Christmas to his increasingly large list...and how his elves build him a sleigh as a way to get around faster. But then, who would pull it? They hold auditions, which end up being fairly interesting, what with the illustrations showing the potential issues with the sleigh being pulled by hopping kangaroos, heavy elephants who struggle with landing on rooftops, and hungry warthogs that want to stop at every apple tree they see, among others. And then eventually the reindeer come into the picture saving the day at the last moment. But the reason I bought this book? I was in a Spanish class at the University of Utah and to end the fall quarter we were assigned to come up with some kind of oral report or project dealing with the Spanish language or culture. I decided to choose a Christmas book, translate it into Spanish and read it to the class. It was a bit complicated but with Bryan's help (seeing as he had served a Spanish speaking mission) I got the book translated and the assignment went well. I taped the papers with my translation into the front cover of the book and so now every time I read this story to my children, I smile a little as I remember the reasons behind why we own this book. (And no, I don't actually read it to them in Spanish....)
One Christmas we were gifted a book by a co-worker of Bryans...."Santa's New Suit" by Laura Rader. It is one of my favorites because it makes me laugh! Santa's traditional red suits are getting very worn...soot stains, holes, etc. Mrs. Claus sends him out to buy a new one and he decides that maybe he wants to try something different. Details of all the stores he stops at and the various styles he considers are rather humorous. And then the reactions of the elves and reindeer, not to mention his wife, when he comes home with his new suit...cracks me up every time.
For some reason we adore "Elmo's 12 Days of Christmas" which is a Little Golden Book....the 12 Days of Christmas Sesame Street monster style. And my kids always make me sing it. Which is a little awkward but totally hilarious when you are singing things such as "...four calling monsters, three french friends, two yummy cookies and a red monster up in a tree."
And of course we can't leave out "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg. But the reason this is a favorite has nothing to do with the Caledecott Medal it won, the movie that was made or the yearly train ride up in Heber. When this book first came out back in 1985 my Uncle Craig was working at a book store. He brought the book home and read it to us at our traditional annual cousin Christmas party that we have the day after Thanksgiving. When I grew up and started my own family, I made sure that this book was a part of our Christmas story collection. And every time I read it I can still hear my Uncle Craig's voice and see his animated face as he read it to me for the very first time.