A favorite childhood memory: grab a book from the Christmas stack (this was before DVDs), snuggle in a blanket (this was before Snuggies), and while away snowy hours in front of the fire (this wasn’t before fires). My family had a Christmas book library that appeared each year with the holiday decorations, and my sisters and I greeted each book with the serendipitous joy of finding last year’s summer camp friend in this year’s cabin. We had our favorites, and we waited all year to renew our acquaintance.
It’s one of the first family traditions that I migrated to my adult life seven years ago when Big Friend and I had our first married Christmas. Each year we buy a new Christmas book to build our library. I’ll share the titles that have made the list, and perhaps you’ll find last-minute-gift inspiration or simply treat yourself to the start of a new family tradition of your own.
I will disclose now that the winner of the 2010 Christmas Book of the Year is…undecided. Two contenders are battling it out for the title. Big Friend and I are lobbying for our favorite while Little Friend is clinging tenaciously to her selection. Read on for more details on Battle of the Christmas Book 2010.
Christmas Book Selections
2003: Twas the Night Before Christmas illustrated by Matt Tavares
It had to be the first title in the library. How could Christmas Eve be complete without a quiet, sleepy reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas? Many hours of searching went into finding this version of Twas the Night. Renditions of the classic tale are ubiquitous, but I wanted one with just the right combination of nostalgia, vintage illustrations, and classical overtones that fifty years later it would still be the standard of what all Twas the Night versions should be. I was searching for the zeitgeist of Twas the Night Before Christmas, and I believe I found it in this lovely edition.
2004: Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
Discovering Madeline’s Christmas was like finding that summer camp friend in the school lunch line. Madeline? Here? At Christmas?! I’ve loved Ludwig Bemelman’s title character since I was a girl, and finding her adventures crisscrossing the pages of a Christmas book was too good to pass up. Having said that, dearest Madeline, I must confess you’re better off sticking to your sick bed. Not exactly Bemelman’s tour de force, Madeline’s Christmas nonetheless has stolen Little Friend’s heart this year as she compares all of her favorite pages to the original book.
2006: How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
I dare you to read How the Grinch Stole Christmas without a chorus of Who-ville’s “Nah-noo, Nah-noos” looping through your head. While the movie version of the book is quite lovely, I find it difficult to remember that the book did indeed come first. However, the book’s message, valid in 1957 when it rolled off of Random House’s presses, still rings true today. If anything, it’s more true today when I suspect we each harbor a little shred of the Grinch’s heart in our own. No book is a better illustration of the Christmas spirit triumphing over the bad in life.
2007: Toot & Puddle, Let It Snow by Holly Hobbie
The Toot & Puddle series features the foibles and adventures of a truly adorable pair of pigs, Toot and Puddle. If you, like me, are a bit over the whole Olivia thing (she’s great in small doses, but serious overkill when mass consumerism gets ahold of her), you will adore the whimsy and merriment of Toot and Puddle. In Let It Snow, the pigs, who are the best of friends, each want to find the perfect present to give the other. What results is a charmingly illustrated book about the true magic of giving–giving from the heart.
2008: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
I wasn’t surprised when Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express became a hit on the silver screen. It’s a film that would not have been possible when I was a child though, because Van Allsburg’s illustrations are truly magical and demand all the computing power of the 21st century to render box office magic. Despite its peak in popularity a few years ago through the film version success, The Polar Express will remain a Christmas classic and a powerful definition of a journey of faith.
2009: Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett
I bought last year’s Christmas library addition with a one-year-old on my hip. Looking through Jan Brett’s intricately illustrated folk-tale-ish version of the Gingerbread Man, I was immediately won over by the recipe that unfolds discretely with each page turn. Brett has worked a gingerbread recipe into the margins of her illustrations, and this is one book I’m convinced will lead to future Christmas kitchen traditions. (I picture a slightly older, apron-clad Little Friend stirring dough beside me as we flip through Gingerbread Friends, reading the story and recipe concurrently.)
And now, let the 2010 Battle of the Christmas Book begin..
Eric Carle has struck gold more times than he (and his bank account, I’m sure) can count. Yet he’s done it again with Dream Snow, published in 2000. The book is destined to be a child’s favorite: a farmer with five animals (named One, Two, Three, Four, and Five, respectively–love it!) and one tree (named Tree–love, love it!) plays a subtle, unwitting role as Santa as he delivers presents to his animals and decorates Tree one snowy night. Animals, numbers, snow-vellum pages, and a little button to push in the back that plays music? Perfect for a kid’s Christmas! Big Friend and I love Dream Snow!
Little Friend, however, is inexplicably putting forth an impressive campaign for Drummer Boy. Someone could earn decent money by betting, as she wanders over to the book basket, that Little Drummer Boy will emerge victorious in her hand. And it’s a great version of the classic tale. Loren Long breathes interesting twists into the Drummer Boy‘s mission and offers smooth, beautiful illustrations from unique angles to tell his tale. But no music button in the back? What gives? Perhaps my child is drawn to the Little Drummer Boy’s gift of himself and recognizes, in the way that only children can, the true meaning of Christmas. Then again, maybe she just likes to hear me make a fool out of myself as I “Boom pum pum boom pum” along with the Drummer Boy.
Either way, we’re getting down to the wire. Game time decision, 2010. Will it be Dream Snow or Little Drummer Boy? Anyone want to help us decide?!