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Babe To Teens, Past
A Youth Column
By Jan Fields

Read Aloud for the Holidays

    Holiday time for my family always includes reading aloud. Reading aloud passes along information about the things we believe without lecturing. Reading aloud gives us a chance to laugh together. Reading aloud makes us slow down, turn off the TV, and think -- wonderful and rare things in the hustle of holiday time. And reading aloud isn't just for the tiniest family members. As we read stories we remember from our childhoods, we make a special connection -- not just with our offspring but also with the children we once were.

     So, with all those things in mind, I wanted to look at Christmas read alouds. If Christmas isn't your cup of nog, don't skip the chance to cozy up to a good book. Children's books cover the full array of winter holidays and there is something wonderful out there for every family. But for those fellow Christmas-philes, let me share a few of the books that have delighted my family and the families of those I know. For many families, the "bringing out of the Christmas books" is every bit as special as trimming the tree.

     First, what's Christmas without A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore, also known as The Night Before Christmas? There is an amazing array of beautifully illustrated books featuring this poem, making the experience a visual feast as well as joining your family traditions to those of generations before you. There are three versions that I especially love:

     The Night Before Christmas: Poem, illustrated by Jan Brett, gives the listeners as much pleasure looking as they get listening. I especially love Brett's style of doing a picture within a picture where the border of each page shows antique toys or someone looking into the page to watch the action. This is a book children won't tire of looking at soon. The illustrations have the strong Scandinavian influence seen in most of Brett's work.

    Another visual wonder is The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Mary Engelbreit. The Santa in this book really looks like he's on the verge of breaking into jolly chuckles. Engelbreit's work is considerably more whimsical than Jan Brett's but this book still contains plenty of bits to delight a child's eye. And our copy came with a special treat -- wrapping paper!

    Another huge favorite, though a bit less reading friendly is Robert Sabuda's brilliant The Night Before Christmas Pop-up. I love paper engineering and I can spend hours with a good pop-up book. This one is amazing. On one page, Santa's reindeer leap out of the page -- all eight of them -- and charge toward the reader. On the last spread, a village pops-up complete with buildings whose windows you can peek into and a tiny bridge. Santa flies overhead. This book is so much fun to look at, though, that you may have trouble getting your little ones to listen and the pop-ups are definitely too delicate for little fingers, but for the pop-up lover, this is a must have.

And, since I've admitted my passion for pop-ups, I wanted to mention my other hero, David Carter. His bug books are perfect for little listeners -- bright, interactive, and matched to simple text. Not all of the bugs are terribly bug-like but they are all eye-catching and wonderous, my five year old loves them. For the holiday season you can choose from The Twelve Bugs of Christmas (warning, your kids will be singing this and so will you), Jingle Bugs, (this one has a tiny tree ornament and ends with a bug tree that lights up and plays music -- such fun), or Chanukah Bugs (okay, it's not Christmas but the spinning dreidel and the Menorah at the end are amazing.)

     For some families, good Christmas books are those that share the Nativity story in ways that captivate children. I have two new favorites that do just that. The first is by one of my favorite picture book authors: Dori Chaconas. That Blessed Christmas Night has a simple rhyming text that reads aloud beautifully. The illustrations by Deborah Perez-Stable add a special sweetness to the story as they depict small children doing a Christmas Pageant.

     A slightly less traditional telling, but incredibly special is One Winter Night by John Herman. In this story, a little lost cow looks for a warm place to birth her first calf. She ends up in the stable where Jesus is born. The text is lyrical and truly touching and the story makes the circumstances of Jesus' birth amazingly real and personal. The illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon combine soft blue-tinted full-page illustrations of the little cow's search with smaller sepia wood-cuts of Mary and Joseph's parallel search for a warm place for Mary.

     For those families with slightly older children, who love to laugh during read-aloud time, I have two favorites. One offers an interesting perspective on the meaning of Christmas and the other is just silly from beginning to end. Sometimes I love silly.

     One of my good friends reads The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to her children every year. This terrific chapter book by Barbara Parks is funny and touching and just as enjoyable on the 25th read as it was on the first. It tells the story of how a rowdy family of children, the Herdmans, crashed the Christmas Pageant changing it into something never seen before. In the process they learned and taught the community the true spirit of Christmas.

     For pure silly hilarity for older kids, nothing beats Santa Claustrophobia by Mike Reiss, which introduces us to a town so wonderful, the townspeople named it "Stinky Cigars" just to keep it from being swamped by tourists. The town is populated by all the characters of the holiday season: Santa, the Easter Bunny, Uncle Sam, Doc Holiday and Labor Day Amos -- okay, some of these characters are a little out of the ordinary. Santa finds the pre-holiday pressure is getting to him so Doc Holiday sends him on vacation and the rest of the holiday gang try to do Santa's job. The results are hilarious and David Catrow's terrific illustrations definitely add to the giggles.

    So whether you want a holiday filled with giggles or snuggly moments, there's a book out there for your family. Why not pick up a book or two and add reading aloud to your holiday traditions? I bet you'll be glad you did.

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Read Aloud for the Holidays

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