My family's most lasting Christmas tradition? Each child always gets at least one book.
So why are fewer parents reading to their children?
[ From Echo News, 8:40pm Tuesday 28th October 2008 - See whole article at http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/3795033.So_why_are_fewer_parents_reading_to_their_children_/ ]
"READING aloud to children is seen by many as a parent’s duty. But sadly, in today’s time-pressed world it’s one that’s increasingly taking a back seat. Just a third of parents now read aloud to their children every day, with 35 per cent of those who don’t saying they have too much else to do, with 30 per cent saying they’re too tired.
New research by the Book Trust found daily reading aloud with children has decreased over the past two years from 43 per cent of parents of young children in 2006, to just 33 per cent in 2008. In addition, 23 per cent of parents never or rarely read aloud with their children.
Not surprisingly in this modern age, the average four to five year old spends twice as long watching TV as he or she does reading with parents. Yet, one in five children say they don’t read enough with their family. "
Another study recently out associates time children spent with 'media' (TV, video games, internet, etc) with higher rates of obesity, smoking, and early sexual activity. The evidence is fairly clear - it's better for children to have LESS time in front of the TV or video games, and MORE time doing things with their parents.
Picture books for December reading:
Christmas, by Pienkowski - the text for this book is from the King James Bible. It begins with the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, continues through the birth of Jesus, and ends with Joseph taking the family to Egypt. The distinctive illustrations look like black paper cut-out silhouettes of the people, animals and places, set against colorful backgrounds. My favorite may be the one of Mary hanging out laundry when the angel appears to her! The text has initial letters illuminated on each page, like an old Bible, and is decorated with a different symbolic plant on each page: holly, ivy, mistletoe, oak, rose, etc. In our family, we read this book and The Night Before Christmas just before bed on Christmas Eve.
Christmas in the Manger, by Buck, illustrated by Bond - a board book with sweet, simple illustrations, this is a good one for the youngest listeners - age one and up.
Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale, by Waddell, illustrated by Cockcroft - a kind of 'always room for one more' retelling of the birth of Jesus from the point of view of the animals in the stable, with slightly old-fashioned-looking painting illustrations. Age two and up.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Houston, illustrations by Barbara Cooney - One of my favorite Christmas stories - Ruthie and her father pick out a Christmas tree for the church in the spring, and then he is sent off to fight in the war. The war ends, and they get a postcard saying he will be home by Christmas, but on the day before Christmas Eve he still isn't there, so Ruthie and her mother go up the mountain alone in the snow to cut the tree, and then, since there is no money for presents, her mother cuts up her wedding dress to make a doll for Ruthie, and her angel costume for the church Christmas pageant. For four or five year olds and up.
The Mousehole Cat, by Barber, illustrations by Bayley - I mentioned this book with other cat stories a few months ago, but it is set just before Christmas. Winter storms have prevented the fishing boats from going out, and the village people have run out of food. An old fisherman and his cat risk going out in the rough sea to bring in fish for their starving neighbors. Although it is not very "Christmas-y" in the usual ways, it is a story of unselfish heroism, and ends with a joyful feast. Four or five year olds and up.
The Polar Express, by Van Allsburg - after The Night Before Christmas, and possible Suess's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this must be the best-known children's Christmas story in the country. Van Allsburg's illustrations are not all black and white (as in Jumanji), but the colors are soft, muted, with a night-time feel. A boy travels by train to the North Pole, and when Santa asks what present he would like, chooses just a bell from the harness on Santa's sleigh. When he wakes up on Christmas morning, he finds the bell missing, and thinks it must have been a dream - till the bell reappears mysteriously, but is silent for those who no longer believe. Age three or four and up.
Laughing All the Way, by Sam, illustrated by Sophie Soprano - Just published, this has a story in the tradition of the Grinch, but the pictures are what really shine. Colorful, whimsical, joyful - just plain fun. Age three and up.
by Tomi de Paolo: The Legend of the Poinsettia, The Legend of Old Befana, The Night of Las Posadas, The Friendly Beasts, An Early American Christmas, The Story of the Three Wise Kings - I think there are even more Christmas books by de Paolo, who creates beautiful, stylized illustrations and writes lovely, understated text. These books are good for three or four year olds and up, and the stories come from various folk traditions.
Christmas in Noisy Village, by Lindgren, illustrated by Wikland, translated by Lamborn - a traditional Christmas celebration in Sweden, as told by the author of Pippi Longstocking. Three or four year olds and up. Lindgren's The Tompten, which I think I mentioned in a previous post, is also a nice bedtime story for reading around Christmas.
Christmas Day in the Morning, by Buck, illustrated by Buehner - Buck's classic story about the teenage boy who gets up early, early in the morning to do all the farm chores so his father can sleep in has wonderful pictures in this edition. Read to five or six year olds and up.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Wojciechowski, illustrated by Lynch - A Scrooge-like man is transformed after a widow and her little boy ask him to carve a creche. For five or six year olds and up.
For Elementary School Age Children:
The Long Winter, by Wilder - I find this to be the most memorable of all the "Little House" series - a prototypical 'pioneer winter on the Great Plains' story, with danger, privation, blizzards, heroism, and family love. Laura is a teenager, and they are living in the "Little Town" on the prairie. Almanzo is one of the daring young men who venture out for supplies when everyone is running out of everything. Second or third grade and up.
Why the Chimes Rang, by Alden - an old classic Christmas story with a message, longer than most picture books but still short enough to read in one sitting. First or second grade and up.
A Christmas Carol, by Dickens - Dickens' writing is well worth reading aloud, long, long after he wrote this icon of Christmas tradition. Movies and abridged editions aren't bad, but none of them capture the complete flavor of the original. Third or fourth grade and up.
For Young Adults:
The Glass Castle, by Walls - This is an autobiograhical story about growing up (childhood through young adulthood) in a family with (to put it mildly) unconventional parents. Jeannette is the second of four children born to an irresponsible, brilliant, alcoholic father and a self-centered (possibly bipolar) artist mother. You will want to bang the parents' heads together before you are three chapters into the book, and you will marvel at how the children survived. Practically the ONLY things Jeanette's parents did right were to instill a love of reading in the children and give them a chance to be out in nature. Walls writes with almost no self-pity or bitterness, and her sense of humor and the love the four children have for each other helps keep the book from becoming too bleak. I would probably consider reading this to fifth or sixth graders or above, or giving it to high school readers to read themselves (especially if they are feeling like their lives are pretty tough!). There are at least two Christmas chapters - one from when the children were still very young, and their father takes each, individually, out into the night and tells them they can choose any star as their present - and then tells them all about that particular star; and one later, when their father's drinking ruins what might have been the nearest-to-normal Christmas they ever had.