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You are in:  Reading | Winter Lights & Wenceslas: A Christmas Reading List

Winter Lights & Wenceslas: A Christmas Reading List

By Kristi Jemtegaard

Snowmen at Christmas
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Caralyn Buehner    Illustrated by Mark Buehner
Dial, 2005

What do snowmen (and snowwomen, and snowkids, and snowdogs for that matter) do to celebrate the holidays?  They wait until everyone's asleep, of course, then gather in the town square for a Christmas party complete with decorations, games, treats (ice cream and snow cones, naturally), dancing, singing, and even a snow Santa with presents made of…you guessed it…snow.  Buehner's illustrations are infused with an inner light that animates these chilly celebrants and the twinkling backdrops add a festive air. Guaranteed to warm the hearts of young and old alike.

The Night Before ChristmasThe Night Before Christmas
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Clement Moore    Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger
Minedition/Penguin, 2005

Illustrated editions of Moore's famous poem abound, but this one is virtually—and visually—irresistible. Snowflakes which spill across the endpapers as well as the white spaces surrounding the text turn out to be, on closer inspection, circles of dancing children.  The tiny sleeping figure on the first page (tucked into a cozy curtained bed) stirs to life at the very end revealing the wee mouse of the poem's second line. Zwerger's uncluttered interiors, silent facades, and sweeping night skies may evoke Victorian sensibilities, but they are really the timeless and magical landscapes of dreams.

Christmas Mouseling
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Dori Chaconas    Illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Viking, 2005

A mouseling, born "when the north wind blew blustery and bold," is carried through the frosty night by a worried mother seeking shelter and warmth for her tiny baby.  A sheep, a dove, and a cow each offer their own abodes as they forge off through the snow "to see a king."  Children will love joining in the refrain: "The north wind blew. The snowflakes flew. And the mouseling sneezed, Ah-choo! Ah-choo!" as each successive shelter is blown away and the travelers are dumped, once more, into the cruel cold.  If the end is predictable, it is also satisfying and Hartung's illustrations are exquisite: delicate, softly hued, and in the end, infused with a golden warmth that is the perfect conclusion to this diminutive pair's weary journey.

There Was No Snow on Christmas EveThere Was No Snow on Christmas Eve
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Pam Munoz Ryan     Illustrated by Dennis Nolan
Hyperion, 2005

Although snow-daubed endpapers frame this gentle story, children accustomed to Christmas in a winter clime will have their eyes opened by this title which begins on a frosty hillside, then shifts to a sun-drenched landscape where "a desert zephyr blew/and palm fronds sang a rustling tune." The spare rhyming text is greatly enhanced by Nolan's uncluttered light-filled paintings which depict the young parents arriving at the stable, the shepherds dreaming in the field, and the wise men bearing humble cloth-wrapped gifts. The final tableau of a lovely young mother tending her newborn child presents the miracle of new life as a universal joy.

A Doll for Navidades
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Esmeralda Santiago     Illustrated by Enrique O. Sánchez
Scholastic, 2005

The desire for a special present is a universal childhood experience and this memoir tells of a young girl's wish for a "baby doll like my cousin Jenny's, with pink skin and blue eyes that shut." On the morning of El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos, however, her hopes are dashed when her younger sister receives the longed-for doll and she receives a different gift more suitable for a "big girl." Set in the lush Puerto Rican countryside filled with velvety hibiscus and gardenias, the illustrations are a rich mélange of colors, textures, and details including the brightly patterned fabrics worn by the island's inhabitants and the indigenous animals—from delicate jewel-toned hummingbirds to sturdy brown donkeys. This graceful story provides a nice glimpse of Caribbean holiday traditions and a sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases to spice up the text.

The Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-weenThe Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-ween
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Ruth Sawyer     Illustrated by Max Grafe
Candlewick Press, 2005

First published in 1941, this newly illustrated version contrasts the chilly blues and whites of a winter landscape with the cozy warmth of a winter hearth.  Unabashedly sentimental, the text tells the story of a tinker's abandoned daughter, given the name of Oona by her foster parents, who lives her life working for others and dreaming only of a wee cabin to call her own.  In the end, it is the Gentle People, the fairies, "their faces no bigger round than buttons" who make her wish come true.  This family read-aloud has much to say about the rewards one reaps through kindness and hard work, as well as the transformative power of love.

What Star Is This?
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
By Joseph Slate    Illustrated by Alison Jay
G. P. Putnam's, 2005

From far out in space, a tiny comet rushes boldly through the blue night sky bent on a mission that only it understands.  The rhyming text and the repeated question ("What star is this?") pull readers along through the pages in the comet's glittering wake as it speeds through the constellations and past the planets to it's final triumphal arch above the heads of the wise men.  Jay's crackle-glazed paintings—which contrast the deep blue of the night sky with the warm golden tones of the desert—provide a lovely faux antique feeling that is perfectly suited to this modern recreation of an ancient story.

Winter LightsWinter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts
Ages: All Ages
By Anna Grossnickle Hines
Greenwillow, 2005

This collection of sixteen brief poems will lead readers up to, into and through the season of winter holidays. Starting with the shortening of the days and the winter solstice, readers can glimpse the Scandinavian celebration of Santa Lucia, The Queen of Lights; Hanukkah; Christmas; Kwanzaa; the Lunar New Year and more.  The real strength of this collection is not only its celebration of diversity but the sumptuous quilts which illustrate each and every page, several made of more than 8,000 individual pieces. Three pages of instructions at the end will help keep young quilt-makers busy indoors on cold winter afternoons.  

Good King WenceslesGood King Wenceslas
Ages: All Ages
By John M. Neale    Illustrated by Tim Ladwig
Eerdmans, 2005

Although American children have probably heard this carol during the holidays, the story of the tenth century king who inspired it, now the patron saint of the Czech Republic, will doubtless be new to them. The text consists of the four verses of the song plus a minimal introduction and a brief historical note at the end followed by the piano arrangement. The historical context is almost wholly provided by the illustrations which show the monarch and his page gathering provisions in the cheery warmth of the castle, then trekking through a winter landscape to provide much-needed food, wine and fuel to an impoverished family. This unique presentation gives substance and meaning to the words of the song as well as to the spirit of the season.

The Nativity
Ages: All Ages
By Julie Vivas
Harcourt, 2005

First published in 1991 and long out of print, this earthy rendition of the familiar King James Version of the Christ Child's birth is once again available in a new, slightly larger edition. The cover illustration of Joseph cupping his hands to help a very pregnant Mary mount her donkey has been replaced by one—drawn from the interior of the book—of  the three wise men gazing down intently at the baby Jesus. The saturation of color in this new offering far exceeds the original adding depth, texture and detail to the illustrations and the addition of a departing Angel Gabriel on the final page means that Joseph is now actually waving goodbye to someone. This version may not be for everyone—Gabriel's wings are tattered, the wise men and Joseph are all having bad hair days, and Mary's back hurts—but that's probably just how it really was.
  


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