10 Books That Make Great Gifts for Preschoolers

Your baby is not such a baby anymore. She’s speaking in clear sentences (though the syntax is often an endearing mess); she’s stopped eating books or throwing them off your shelves, but will instead sit still for stories longer than that of Pajama Time! What then? If you’re looking to bulk up that part of your library dedicated to good reads for the over two set, here are my top recommendations:

1. The Story of Creationby Norman Messenger

The Creation Story | Little Book, Big Story

The detailed (and animal heavy) illustrations are fun to study with small zoologists, and the story is a great one for those little readers to learn. (Read the full review.)

2. The Maggie B., by Irene Haas

The Maggie B. | Little Book, Big Story

This one really started warming hearts at our house when each of our daughters reached age four. (Read the full review.)

3. Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne

A classic typically recommended for slightly older children, but we tried this one as an early chapter book with our preschoolers and met with great success. (Read the full review.)

4. The Jesus Storybook Bibleby Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible | Little Book, Big Story

Every Christian family should own this book. It’s one to read and re-read often. (Read the full review.)

5. The Golden Featherby David and JJ Heller

The Golden Feather | David and JJ Heller

A charming bedtime story, complete with unicorn and hidden bunnies. (Read the full review.)

6. We Are in a Book!, by Mo Willems

We Are in a Book! | Little Book, Big Story

How to describe this book? I can’t do it. But your little reader will love it (you will, too). (Read the full review.)

7. Let the Whole Earth Sing Praiseby Tomie dePaola

A lovely and simple call to worship for everything, everywhere. Beautiful illustrations. With animals! (Read the full review.)

8. How to Be a Baby, by Me, the Big Sisterby Sally Lloyd-Jones

How to Be a Baby (By Me, the Big Sister) | Little Book, Big Story

A hilarious guidebook, by the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible (Read the full review.)

9. Does God Know How to Tie Shoes?by Nancy Carlstrom

Does God Know How to Tie Shoes? | Little Book, Big Story

A young girl asks questions about God, but not catechism-style, “Who are the three persons of God?”-type questions. No, she wants to know if God has to clean his room and if he gets letters. Her parents answer her well. (Read the full review.)

10. Or, you could write your own stories

On Writing for Your Children | Little Book, Big Story

Sound like a crazy idea? It isn’t. (Read more.)

 Bonus List

Here are our favorite Christmas books to read with our preschooler:

1. The Stable Where Jesus Was Bornby Rhonda Growler Greene

The Stable Where Jesus Was Born | Little Book, Big Story

A gorgeous rhymed poem paired with rich yet cozy illustrations tell the story of Christ’s birth with beauty and grace. Also, there are kittens. (Read the full review.)

2. The Friendly Beastsby Tomie dePaola

The Friendly Beasts | Little Book, Big Story

This lovely book tells the story of Jesus’ birth through the lyrics of an old Christmas carol, and rounds it out with his own distinct illustrations. Tomie dePaola fans, you’ll love this one. (Read the full review.)

 

Song of the Stars | Sally Lloyd-Jones

We take cake pretty seriously around here. And we take any excuse to bake cakes, especially when we find an excuse that looks like this:

Little Book, Big Story

This weekend, we’ll celebrate Phoebe’s first birthday with pancakes and snuggles and a gift bag full of tissue paper (what more could a baby ask for?). We’ll celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, too, and our twelfth anniversary. So you see, we could make as many as three cakes if we wanted to. But I think we’ll stick with just one:

Birthday Cake | Little Book, Big Story

And we’ll keep rolling along with Advent, and I will keep pulling books down from the attic every so often so we can read them anew. This week, I’ll unveil one of my very favorites: Song of the Starsby Sally Lloyd-Jones (a regularly featured author here at Little Book, Big Story).

Song of the Stars | Little Book, Big Story

I bought this book based on Lloyd-Jones’s name alone, and if I’m perfectly honest, I’ll admit that my first response went a little like this:

Opening pages: Is that snow? (Aren’t we in Israel?) Do I see deciduous trees?

Mid-book: Are those . . . whales? And stallions? (Where are the camels?)

Closing pages: Tears. Sniffles.

Song of the Stars | Little Book, Big Story

At first, I didn’t get it. In her illustrations, Alison Jay departs from the standard Christmas-book livestock of ox and ass and camel and takes readers around the world, showing how Christ’s coming wasn’t only a local event for Israelite animals but something that the whole world–every nook and cranny of creation–was preparing for. Somehow that wide-ranging perspective made for a striking contrast to the fact that all of this deep anticipation, felt by birds and beasts alike, was met in the coming of a baby–a seemingly ordinary baby who was overlooked by most of the people he had come to redeem.

Hence the tears and sniffles. The beauty of this book runs deep, so it will appeal–I’d hazard a guess–to all members of your family, irregardless of age (and possible predisposition to cry over picture books). And if you’re anything like me, it will be one that you look forward to each season with, perhaps, an enthusiasm much like the one you feel for cake.

An Early American Christmas | Tomie dePaola

Before we get to today’s scheduled post, I have to say something a little awkward: I no longer recommend Ann Voskamp’s book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. This is due in large part to Voskamp’s writing style, which seemed passable when I read through the book alone but that fell apart when read aloud with our family, as it rendered each story so frustratingly abstract that even my husband and I had a hard time following her train of thought. We also began to suspect that there were some doctrinal soft spots lurking in the devotions, but because of the author’s writing style (about which I really am trying to be gracious), we found them hard to identify and therefore hard to discuss with our children.

I wanted so badly to love this book (did I mention the illustrations?), but we were only able to make it through four readings before reaching a unanimous decision to return the book and investigate our other options.

And now I find myself in the prickly position of having to retract a recommendation that I made–not once, but twice–here on the blog. I know now that it’s not enough to read through family devotionals on my own, especially if I find myself swayed by beautiful illustrations, but that they need to be read with my family before I so much as draft a post to share with you. If any of you bought the book on my recommendation and had an experience with it similar to mine, I’m so sorry!

Now, back to today’s post about a book that I have read dozens of times over the course of many years with my family and therefore can stand fully behind:


I don’t know what afternoons are like where you live, but up here in the Northwestern corner of the continental US, they are dark. Sometimes, they are cozy dark–“stay in and make hot chocolate” dark. But the rest of the time, they’re just drippy, dreary, dismal, ready-for-bed-at-5 o’clock dark. I have lived here my whole life and despite the fact that it happens this way every single year, I still cannot get used to parting ways with the sun at four in the afternoon.

But one side effect that I’m discovering for the first time this year is that it’s difficult to photograph one’s books on the front porch when the light outside is effectively that of dusk by 2 pm. The colors are weird, the shadows are weird, and the cat is cold enough to interrupt everything I do in the hopes that I might–just might–sit down so she can nest in my lap.

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola turns that early darkness into something lovely this passage from in An Early American Christmas: “As the days grew shorter, the winds blew colder. Then the snow began to fly and December was here. Soon, soon it would be Christmas.” See? This only lasts until December 22–that is what I tell myself. And then: Christmas! And after that: more daylight!

An Early American Christmas introduces us to a small village in New Hampshire where celebrating Christmas is not a thing that is done, and to a family from Germany who moved to that village and brought their Christmas traditions with them.

“The Christmas family” celebrated the holiday with the sort of joy that simmered over the course of months as they prepared their home for the coming festivities: shaping bayberry candles, whittling nativity scenes, choosing their tree and baking sweets, as the year moved them closer and closer to Christmas. Tomie dePaola is the right sort of illustrator for a story like this, as he excels at depicting sequences: the grandmother and mother making candles moves from the top left of one page to the bottom right of the other, beginning with them picking bayberries and ending with the finished candles hanging to dry.

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

He details the thoughtful creation of each piece of their family’s celebration in a way that stands in stark contrast to our highly marketed, factory-made gifts and decorations, and creates a sort of nostalgia (in me, at least) for a time when there was no option to purchase tacky decorations or token gifts: if you wanted something, you had to make it yourself. And if you wanted to give something to somebody else, you had to make it yourself. (Whenever I start feeling this nostalgia for “the old times”–Lydia’s phrase–I remind myself of the state of medical care back then, with its leeches and blood letting and lack of anesthetic and bam! Contentment with my own point in history returns.)

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

This is a slow-moving story filled with the anticipation and preparation before Christmas, and it captures beautifully how one family lived quietly among their neighbors and yet changed the ways of their village, until “one by one every household in the village became a Christmas family.”

I don’t know if this book is still in print, but it is available on Amazon for pretty reasonable prices. Also, for you local folks, there is a copy in our public library (that’s where I found this book in the first place).

An Origami Advent Calendar

Years ago, I went on an origami binge. I think the flu may have been partly responsible for the large amounts of time that I spent on the couch, watching Arrested Development and folding boxes, but I can’t be sure. What I do know is that for years afterward, a good portion of our closet storage was dedicated to what boxes were left over after I used at least two dozen of them to package the chocolate truffles that were that year’s Christmas gifts.

Did you catch that? I had tons of boxes left over after I used about two dozen of them to package Christmas gifts. And that only accounts for the boxes: there were origami ornaments, too, stars and cubes and some awkward cranes, plus paper quilts made from folded squares. I am not one for moderation when it comes to meditative folded-paper arts, apparently.

So there the boxes were, tumbling out of corners of our closet when we tried to find dress shoes and fallen scarves, tucked away with remnants of other, past binges: the jewelry binge. The hand-illustrated card binge. (The great knitting binge of 2008-2012 was still on the horizon, as was the present day watercolor-painting binge.) I began to despair of ever finding uses for all of those boxes, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away–they were too lovely.

But then, inspiration struck rather forcefully one morning in late November, about six years ago. Mitch found me digging through the closet at 5 am, pulling out not only the boxes, but also the library-style date stamp (left over from making our wedding album), scraps of origami paper, plain white labels, and the backing for a picture frame that had long since lost its glass. He grumbled something and went back to sleep; I took myself off to the living room where I worked until he and Lydia woke up. I tackled the project again during every spare moment until the evening of the next day, when I had this to show for my hard work:

This baby has been with us for almost seven years now and has aged with surprising grace, though it is looking well-loved (sorry, DEC 24!). It seems that every year, someone asks about it–how I made it, how others might make one, too–and because of that, I once posted a tutorial on my old blog, Two Blue Buttons. But that blog is now retired and that post went with it into retirement. And so, because some of you have also asked about our calendar, and because I am enjoying branching out this Advent from book reviews into some Advent-themed DIY projects, I decided to write about our calendar for you, too.

I realize that the odds are against you having all the same miscellaneous stuff in your closet that I did, so rather than give you a full tutorial here, I’ll give you some simple guidelines for making a similar calendar, with some helpful links below in the “Resources” section.

DIY Origami Advent Calendar | Little Book, Big Story

The most important pieces, obviously, are the boxes. Once you’ve folded twenty-five of them (as mentioned, I find that episodes of Arrested Development pair nicely with this sort of project), all you really need to do is label them and then glue them to a base of your choice, be it painted board, a canvas, some sort of fabric-wrapped thing–I painted a large piece of drawing paper and wrapped it around the remnants of the picture frame.

Finally, fill them with stuff. In the past, we’ve done scraps of paper with service ideas or small squares of chocolate, but then I hit on the idea of filling the boxes with the ornaments for our Jesse tree, which felt delightfully like solving two problems with the same answer.

If you decide to make one of your own, I would love to see pictures!

REsources

Origami instruction sheets can be terrifying, but there is a lovely tutorial (with photos) for folding origami boxes on Creativebug. (The paper I used wasn’t as big as theirs, but measured something like 6×6″.)

You can find some of my favorite origami paper on Amazon. (As you can see, I used quite a few different kinds for my boxes, but this link is for the stuff with the pretty gold details.)

Those library stamps aren’t hard to come by either.

8 Christmas Books that Your Family Will Love

I like to get an early start on reviewing Christmas books around here, because I figure that at least some of you are, like me, whatever we call the opposite of a procrastinator. We were the ones who read through most of the course material weeks before our college professor presented it in class (but only in courses that we were excited about). If we have anything resembling a deadline in our near future, it’s a safe bet that we started working on the item due weeks, if not months, beforehand. And we start thinking about Christmas some time in late summer.

So it’s nice to know which books we’d like to add to the family library well before the need for them arises. Here, for you opposite-of-procrastinators, is a list of our family’s favorites (and yes, this post was written three weeks before publication).

A quick note, before we get started: there is one book that appears in the photograph above that I no longer recommend, but the list below is up-to-date.

1. The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, by Rhonda Growler Greene

The Stable Where Jesus Was Born | Little Book, Big Story

A gorgeous rhymed poem paired with rich yet cozy illustrations tell the story of Christ’s birth with beauty and grace. Also, there are kittens. A great book for toddlers and preschoolers. (Read the full review.)

2. The Advent Jesse Treeby Dean Meador

If you’d like to try celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree this year, I highly recommend this little book. It’s filled with daily family devotions that will take you from Genesis to Revelation during the month of December, and it will help you lay a great biblical foundation for your kids as they prepare for Christmas. (Read the full review.)

3. The Friendly Beasts, by Tomie dePaola

The Friendly Beasts | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola’s charming rendition of an old Christmas carol will appeal to readers big and little (but especially little). (Read the full review.)

4. Song of the Stars, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Song of the Stars | Little Book, Big Story

Lloyd-Jones, author of the much-beloved, Jesus Storybook Bible, tells a beautiful story of the whole world preparing for the coming birth of Christ. She branches out from the usual fare of camels and barnyard animals and includes wild horses, whales and bears in the litany of wildlife preparing to worship the Lord–but she doesn’t stop there. This book is great for toddlers, preschoolers, and early school-aged kids.

5. Saint Nicholas, by Julie Stiegemeyer

Saint Nicholas | Little Book, Big Story

If you’d like to add a biographical note to family’s celebration of Santa, or if you prefer not to celebrate Santa at all but want to share a bit of history with your kids, this books is a great resource for you. (Read the full review.)

6. Who is Coming to Our House?, by Joseph Slate

Who is Coming to Our House? | Little Book, Big Story

The animals in the manger prepare for special guests in a story that is simple and sweet and for some reason, moves me to tears every time we read it. This one is perfectly suited to the smallest of readers.

7. An Early American Christmas, by Tomie dePaola

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola tells the story of an immigrant family who brings their Christmas celebration with them to America. He tells us this Little House-style, and includes details about how they prepared each piece of their celebration–candles, sweets, ornaments, and more–that proved positively enchanting to our pioneer-loving daughters. Those details don’t overwhelm the point of the story, though, and the book closes on a gorgeous note. (Read the full review.)

8. One Wintry Night, by Ruth Bell Graham

As a new believer, I was seventeen, wore combat boots to church, and approached the Bible as I would any other book: I opened it, flipped past the table of contents, and started to read. I treated the Bible as a single story, at times confusing and downright unlikable, because I didn't know any better. . . (from Little Book, Big Story)

Ruth Bell Graham tells the Christmas story by placing it in its context: this is a full-size, beautifully illustrated book, but it’s told in chapters, so she can start the story at the very beginning and see it through to the Resurrection. This is a great book to read as a family during Advent, though the chapters may be a little long for smaller, wigglier readers. (Read the full review.)

A Quick Guide to Jesse Tree Ornaments

It’s two weeks from now, and you’ve dropped by to borrow an egg. From the front door, where you stand chatting with me about the weather (weirdly clear, and the grass is crunchy with frost), you can see our kitchen table and on it, a jar full of gathered branches. If you squint, you can see a few small ornaments hanging from the very tips of the branches–our daughter’s preferred spot to hang them being as close to the end of the branch as possible, so that looking at the fragile globes suspended over our Formica-topped table gives you a sense of nervousness that you can’t immediately place.

Perhaps you think, That’s an odd centerpiece, as you pocket the egg and walk home.

But if you came back two weeks after that, with a plate of homemade Christmas cookies for us (you are the kindest and most sharing neighbor), you’d find those branches covered in ornaments–twenty-five of them, more or less evenly distributed over the branches. And you would sit at the table with us and drink tea (because we’re nice neighbors, too), and as we talked, you’d notice that each of those ornaments has a picture on it: a sheaf of wheat, an ark, a scribble meant to be a snake. You would put down your tea and look at them closely. You’d finally ask, “What is this?”

And I would say, “Oh! That’s our Jesse tree.”

Ideas for how to make or where to buy Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

But now, let’s say that you want to make a Jesse tree of your own. How would you go about it? Assembling the tree itself is pretty straightforward–we use the process as an excuse to lightly prune the lilac beside our porch–but collecting the ornaments is a bit more challenging. You need twenty-five different ornaments, after all, each of them printed with a specific image. Would you purchase the ornaments pre-made? Could you make them yourself? (Would you even want to?)

Here are your answers, in short: yes, yes, and possibly, I suppose, but that depends on what sort of person you are, whether you’d rather spend time or money on this project, and if the thought of making twenty-five of anything makes the back of your neck feel unpleasantly ticklish.

So. Let’s explore your options, shall we?

To Make

I now have two separate sets of ornaments (one to accompany The Advent Jesse Tree, the other to accompany a different book that didn’t work out for us), and I made each set for under $10 and in what amounts to roughly one hour, spread out over the course of a few days. (There were small children involved, after all.)

DIY Jesse Tree ornaments (with instructions!) | Little Book, Big Story

For the set on top, I used air-dry clay and Sharpie markers. The process is quick and meditative: shape the clay into 25 balls, smoosh them into discs, and use a bamboo skewer to make the holes. After the clay has dried thoroughly (and not a moment before! I learned that lesson the hard way), draw the symbols recommended in your book on the front of the disc; number the back (you’ll thank yourself later). Run twine, string, or ornament hooks through the holes and voila! The season is officially begun!

DIY Jesse Tree ornaments, made with air-dry clay and Sharpie markers (post includes instructions) | Little Book, Big Story

For the set on the bottom, my original set, the process is even easier. I bought a package of those tiny ornaments at a craft store for under $5 and decorated them with a gold paint pen.

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

And now you know how you’ll be spending your weekend.

To Buy

But for those of you who would rather not spend your weekend drawing tiny pictures on round bulbs, there are other options. These ones will cost you more in money than time, but they’re beautiful and they will probably last longer than my ornaments will. The one thing you have to watch out for, though, is that some sets are designed to go with a certain book. Make sure you double check the symbols before purchasing.

For a customizable option, take a peek at these beauties from the Etsy shop Jesse Tree Treasures. You can customize your order by choosing from 60 possible images for your ornaments. That way, you can ensure that your set matches whichever book your family follows (for the record: I love this idea):

Jesse Tree ornaments from Jesse Tree Treasures | Little Book, Big Story

And then there is the gourmet, deluxe, extra-fancy set from the Etsy shop Baby Whatnots. This listing includes a full set of handmade ornaments, as well as a copy of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (we weren’t, for the record, crazy about that book) and all the goods you could want to make your very own Jesse Tree (except branches–you’re on your own for those):

Jesse Tree Ornaments from Baby Whatnots | Little Book, Big Story


And now that your research is done, you can start thinking about those cookies. (We like chocolate, if that helps. And sprinkles.)

 

One Wintry Night | Ruth Bell Graham

As a new believer, I was seventeen, wore combat boots to church, and approached the Bible as I would any other book: I opened it, flipped past the table of contents, and started to read. I treated the Bible as a single story, at times confusing and downright unlikable, because I didn’t know any better.

One Wintry Night | Little Book, Big Story

I know now that many Christians advise new believers to begin with something easier to read and saturated with the Gospel, something like John or Galatians–I have, on occasion, done the same myself–and as a result, many Christians go for decades before meeting the bit players of the Bible or confronting the fine points of the Mosaic Law.

But when we approach Scripture like that, it becomes easy to see the Bible as a collection of story fragments that may or may not fit together to form a cohesive whole, and so I am thankful that I came to books like John or Galatians only after wrestling through the Old Testament with its laws, prophets, and poetry. After months spent reading the genealogies, detailed descriptions of things measured in cubits, and all that stuff in Ezekiel about the “likeness of living creatures” and the “likeness of a throne,” I was hungry for good news.

I didn’t know to put it this way then, but what I longed for was the Messiah.

One Wintry Night | Little Book, Big Story

And then, the New Testament. I sat in an armchair in a cabin by one of Minnesota’s thousand lakes with the door open, the screen door closed, while the smell of breakfast drifted through it from my aunt and uncle’s cabin, and I turned the page from Malachi, to the title page–THE NEW TESTAMENT–to this: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ . . . “ (Matt. 1:1). Now that was a genealogy I could get into. The morning light perked up; the song of the birds crescendoed. I held my breath and read on.

One Wintry Night | Little Book, Big Story

Ruth Bell Graham takes a similar approach to the story of Christ’s birth in her book, One Wintry Night: she doesn’t treat it as a story separate from the rest of the Bible, but as part of a larger story (the big story). The premise of the book is this: a boy named Zeb gets caught outside in a snowstorm. He finds sanctuary with a neighbor, an old woman who tends to his sprained ankle and tells him the Christmas story to help pass the time until the storm dies down.

The story is told in chapters and so makes a good devotional for Advent, beginning with the story of Creation and ending with the Resurrection. Graham writes clearly and well, and that clearness of tone pairs well with Richard Jesse Watson’s illustrations. The dust jacket says that he spent four years preparing the illustrations for this book, and it shows: they are highly intricate, delicate and lifelike, so much so that it is hard to flip past the beautiful double spreads to continue the story without pausing to study them closely.

Advent is a season meant for looking not just at the Christmas story itself, but at the way it fits in with the whole of Scripture, and books like One Wintry Night know this. In the opening pages, the old woman says:

“The first Christmas happened almost 2,000 years ago,” she began. “That’s when the angel appeared to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. But the story doesn’t begin there. It couldn’t have because the angel called Jesus a ‘savior,’ or a rescuer. Someone must have been in trouble.”

The story as we know it begins at the very beginning of the Bible.