I love Jane Yolen's How Do Dinosaurs....? picture book series; they demonstrate ideal manners and behavior without condescending or boring listeners. Our dinosaur hero learns proper behavior during Christmas (which includes NOT de-trimming the tree and opening up all the presents under the tree). How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? is a great read aloud for toddlers and preschoolers.
I always look for Christmas books that depict the holiday in unique situations and settings, which is why The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood is a huge favorite. Being the daughter of an Episcopal priest is not easy, especially when Virginia is expected to let everyone else choose gifts before she does from donations sent to the Rosebud Sioux reservation. Virginia needs a new coat to get her through the harsh South Dakota winter, and is thrilled when she spies a lovely gray fur coat in good condition among the recent donations. She is heartbroken when another girl, unfriendly to Virginia, picks the coat. It looks like Virginia will have to make do with her old coat--until a special box arrives. I adore this book; the Sioux face harsh conditions on their reservation, but they are a tightly knit family and community oriented culture. Make sure you pay attention to the illustrations; I always look for the Nativity pageant with its Sioux culture influences (the Three Wise Chiefs), and the American Indian dolls in Santa's sack.
I would love to use this in my story time for Santa's annual visit to the library, but I don't think I could get through it without tearing up! Cynthia Rylant draws upon her Appalachian heritage for many of her books, and Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story is one of her best. Young Frank eagerly anticipates the Christmas train that runs through his Appalachian community every year. Children catch packages thrown from the train, which are often their only presents for Christmas. Every year, Frank longs for a doctor's play kit, but always receives something else (which end up being things that he really needs). Frank grows up and moves away from his community, but he returns just in time to see the Christmas train again. Is the ending sentimental? Sure--but it's a Christmas story, and a beautiful ending. (I won't tell you what it is--it would ruin it.)
Ramona and Her Father might not be considered a "Christmas story" by many, but it should be! After all, it begins with Ramona writing her Christmas wish list (in September), and ends with a Nativity pageant. Ramona soon finds out that this Christmas will be different from others, for Mr. Quimby has lost his job. The Quimbys go through the year coping with the struggles and changes due to the sudden loss of Mr. Quimby's income and Mrs. Quimby working outside of the home. Finally, Christmas looms, and Ramona and Beezus find themselves with parts in their church's pageant: Ramona as a lamb and Beezus as Mary (which annoys Ramona to no end when Beezus decides to be all method-actor about it). Despite general grumpiness in the family on the way to the pageant (mostly due to Ramona's attitude about her costume and her mother's lack of time to create a fluffy one like her friend's grandmother did), the ending is beautiful and bursting with love and humor.
Whether or not you reread your own favorites or find some new literary treasures under the tree (Christmas related or not), I hope you have a Merry Christmas!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library
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