Category: Holiday (page 1 of 8)

The Gift of the Magi | O. Henry

I had read this story before but reading it this time, on the spongy brown carpet of the piano teachers’ house, within sight of a woodstove and warm with both Phoebe and Josie in my lap, I still sniffled. You have probably heard this story, too. It is an old one, frequently adapted and retold, but that frequent use serves only to polish it to a shine.

The Gift of the Magi tells the story of young Jim and Della Dillingham Young, newlyweds who face Christmas together with their savings scraped bare. Della wonders how she can possibly afford a gift for Jim, decides that she must find a way, and does it. But the story doesn’t end there, and it’s the final pages that make O. Henry’s work endure.

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry | Little Book, Big Story

Not all editions of this book are equal, though: the one I read while Lydia and Sarah took lessons was an adaptation. It was sweet in its own way, but when I ordered this copy, unabridged, I realized how much the other edition had left out and how dramatically Jim and Della’s story had been reduced in editing. This version contains the full text, complete with some grand words–mendicancy, parsimony, meretricious, to name a few–but PJ Lynch’s illustrations are so rich and nuanced that I found my girls were still able to keep up with the story (with perhaps a helpful nudge here and there).

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry | Little Book, Big Story

But though the language is beautiful and the illustrations, too, the prettiest piece of this story is Henry’s depiction of love. We talked for a while afterward of how nice it is to be loved the way that Della loves Jim and Jim loves Della, and how we would like to love others that way. For as often as I try to exhort my children to love one another sacrificially, it is beautiful to see loving sacrifice lived out in the lives of the Dillingham Youngs, though O. Henry does not moralize much about it. He tells us a great story with a bit of a twist, and lets us do the rest.


The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry, PJ Lynch
(Original story: 1905; Illustrated edition: 2008)

Sing the Bible: Family Christmas | Slugs & Bugs

Remember two weeks ago, when I told you we wouldn’t listen to Christmas music until the first day of Advent?

We made it until the day after Thanksgiving. Here is why:

Slugs and Bugs: Family Christmas CD | Little Book, Big Story

My very favorite Christmas album is A Charlie Brown Christmas. No matter how many times I hear it played in my home, your home, my parents’ home, Starbucks, and the department store, I still love everything about it. If anything brings back warm, fuzzy Christmas memories for me, it’s that album. If any Christmas song consistently makes me weepy, it’s Vince Guaraldi’s rendition of “What Child is This?” If any CD calms me down when I have more to do than time to do it in, it’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. I play that album more or less on repeat for all of Advent.

My second favorite Christmas album is A Slugs & Bugs Christmas. It’s funny and touching and quirky at once and gets the blend of humor and wonder and just right. The affection for this one in our home is corporate—we all love it equally and, unlike A Charlie Brown Christmas, no one person is making everyone else listen to it all the time against their will.

Slugs and Bugs: Family Christmas CD | Little Book, Big Story

The only thing better than those two albums would be one that somehow combined the cozy jazz piano of Vince Guaraldi with the clever energy of Slugs & Bugs. Seasoning the whole mix liberally with lyrics pulled straight from Scripture would take this hypothetical album from good to great.

That is exactly the album that Slugs & Bugs just released.

Slugs and Bugs: Family Christmas CD | Little Book, Big Story

Randall Goodgame is, it turns out, not just a stellar songwriter but also a stellar jazz pianist, and he anchors the whole album with piano pieces that elicit of the warmth and nostalgia of A Charlie Brown Christmas. But the songs are decidedly his, with songs ranging in tone from charming to beautiful. Within the first four songs, I had laughed helplessly once, cried twice, and said “I love this album so much” to Mitch more times than I can count.

“Mary’s Song,” sung by Goodgame’s daughter Livi, is stunning. “Joseph’s Dream” is wonderfully peppy (“I didn’t know he could sing that fast!” said Lydia from the backseat). The rest of the album is good, too, I’m sure, and I’ll have listened to it all before this post goes up*. But I knew within the first song that I wanted to share Sing the Bible: Family Christmas with you, and so here I am, having listened to only seven songs before writing a review.

I’ll send you off with a little foretaste of that first song:

May these songs fill your Advent with light and warmth and joy (and jazz).

Footnote

I have listened to the whole album now, many times. The entire thing (and especially the last song, but also many others) is a thing of beauty.


Sing the Bible: A Family Christmas
Slugs & Bugs; Randall Goodgame (2017)

Shooting at the Stars | John Hendrix

Over the years, I have written about some beautiful Nativity stories. But as I drew up my list of books to review this Advent, I noticed an unlikely thread: only one of them takes place in a manger. The rest are stories set at Christmas time (though one of them isn’t even that), in threadbare apartments and in trenches.

This is the one set in the trenches.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

In Shooting at the Stars, John Hendrix tells the story of the Christmas Truce of World War I. Have you heard this story? It’s a famous one and one I have loved for years. On Christmas Day, 1914, a group British and German soldiers reached an impromptu truce and spent Christmas Day giving one another gifts, singing together, taking photos, and laying to rest the dead spread over the no man’s land between the trenches. In the book’s afterword, Hendrix explains that, though we’d like to think this truce brought both sides closer to the end of the war, it actually happened fairly early in the war and its significance was unappreciated by military leaders. In fact, they took deliberate measures to avoid its happening again the next Christmas.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

But even so, Hendrix presents this story as a glimpse of hope, a moment when peace stalled a world war and brought opposing sides together, if only for a few hours. I love, too, the way this story puts faces to the enemy and makes them human: “Fritz,” the German army, becomes a band of young men as hungry and muddy and afraid as the British, and for one evening both British and German soldiers are allowed to see one another not as targets but as men with names and histories.

Hendrix’s illustrations are, as always, rich in detail, and each detail seems deliberately chosen to add some surprising depth to the story. In the corner of one spread, a German soldier and a British one lift the body of a fallen British solider into a newly dug grave. In another, the soldiers play football with a biscuit tin, British boots running alongside German ones, but the field they play on is studded with broken tree trunks, the ground an ashy gray. Hendrix uses every opportunity to tell his story—including the foreword (on what the war was and how it got started) and afterword—and he does it beautifully.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

Advent may not seem like the time to introduce your children to trench warfare, I know, but Shooting at the Stars awakens that hunger for peace and restoration that is at the heart of our Advent waiting. We read of the misery of life in the trenches, and we long for the day death and brutality will be done away with for good. We see those illustrations of a barren battlefield and long for a time when the earth itself will be renewed by the coming of our King.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story


Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914
John Hendrix (2014)

The Littlest Watchman | Scott James

The Christmas aisle in Costco is our reward. When we’ve made it halfway through the store and no one has cried, complained, or punched anyone else, we steer the cart through the Christmas aisle and ogle at the display. Life-sized, lit-up snowmen; nativity sets the size of our dining table; swag draped along the shelf like glittery, green boa constrictors: Costco does nothing small, and they’ve had it all set up since October. But at our house, the season stays closed until the first day of Advent. Then, I tell the girls already clamoring for Christmas music, then we’ll bring out A Slugs & Bugs Christmas. Then we’ll string some lights.

But I’m breaking my own rule here today, because you really need to know about this book before Advent begins. If I do it any justice at all, you’ll want it in your hands before the season opens.

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

The Littlest Watchman is the newest book by Scott James, creator of our beloved Easter devotional Mission Accomplished. In it, he introduces Benjamin, the youngest in a family of “Watchmen,” whose job it is to sit by a stump outside Bethlehem and watch for the new growth that heralds the Messiah’s arrival.

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

But before you wrinkle your brow and think, Wait a minute. I don’t remember that part of the nativity story, let me say that I wondered the same thing. I was apprehensive at first about the idea of introducing a new character (and an entirely new way of marking the Messiah’s coming) to kids, especially younger kids who are still learning the story of Jesus’ birth. I was about halfway into the book before my brow unfurrowed and I realized what James was up to: the Watchmen give young readers a clear picture of the people of Israel waiting and waiting, for hundreds of years, for the Messiah to come.

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

The Christmas story begins not in the manger but all the way back in Genesis 1, and there is a lot of history supporting the story of Jesus’ birth. James uses the Watchmen, who pass the probably very boring role of sitting and watching a dead stump down from father to son for generations, to give readers a sense of how long the Israelites had waited for the coming of the Messiah. Benjamin’s frustration with waiting provides a gentle insight into why some of the Israelites had stopped watching.

In an afterword (“You Can Join the Watch”), James explains very clearly that the “Watchmen in this story were not real, but the events Benjamin saw on the shepherd’s hill were.” Some children may find this harder to grasp than others, so please use your discernment there. I can already see this book inspiring some rich conversation among my girls when we read it together (on the first day of Advent and no sooner!).

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

Also worth noting!

The Good Book Company (if you made it all the way to end of last week’s exhaustive post, that name may sound familiar) also offers an Advent calendar and devotional that coordinates with The Little Watchmen. We obviously haven’t used ours yet, so I can’t give it a full review, but it looks promising and beautiful. If you want to use it as a Jesse tree, you can actually tear the flaps off the calendar as you open them and hang them on your tree! Brilliant.

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story


The Littlest Watchman
Scott James, Geraldine Rodriguez (2017)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

The Easter Story | Brian Wildsmith

I love celebrating Holy Week. I love it in the same way I love the anticipation of Advent, and the long meditation of Lent. I love living, day by day, the story of our Savior’s last week as a mortal man.

On Sunday, the triumphal procession. On Thursday, the Last Supper, Passover, the washing of feet. On Good Friday—oh, Good Friday—the Crucifixion, that startling ending and the piercing sorrow of it. The stunned silence of Holy Saturday.

The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith | Little Book, Big Story

And then: that first Easter morning, when the women gathered at Jesus’ tomb, come to minister to him only to find the tomb empty and angels waiting to bless them with the best news, the news that Jesus lives!

The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith | Little Book, Big Story

At our church on Easter morning, our pastor calls out to us at the start of the service, “He is risen!” And we, sleepy congregants who may have woken before dawn to come to the sunrise service before this one, call back, “He is risen indeed!” Our pastor doesn’t chide us for a lack of enthusiasm, but calls again, louder this time, “He is risen!” And we, still attending to fidgety children and crumpled bulletins, call back, “He is risen indeed!”

And again, still louder, “HE IS RISEN! Finally, we get it. Our hearts are warm, the tears gathering in some of our eyes as the joy in our pastor’s voice reaches us. The noise of it, the delight in our voices as we respond is palpable, the room filled with the good news as we call back, louder this time, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”

The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith | Little Book, Big Story

At home, we have spent the week walking through Holy Week in Scripture and in our favorite picture books. We have read books that recount Jesus’ last week plainly, in gorgeous language straight from the Bible, and we have read books that come at the story from a fresh angle—from Peter’s perspective, from Petook’s, or in the case of The Donkey Who Carried a King or this book, Brian Wildsmith’s The Easter Story, through the eyes of the donkey both blessed and humbled by the honor of carrying the King of Kings into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith | Little Book, Big Story

Brian Wildsmith’s version is beautiful, the illustrations intricate and illuminated with gold accents that cry happily, “This story is something special! Attend to it!” We have had this one in our collection for years, and the joy evident in its creation and contagious in its reading makes it a fitting selection for this week, this Holy Week that is almost at its end.

May you all have a jubilant Easter, filled with delight and song and celebratory chocolate, for he is risen indeed!


The Easter Story
Brian Wildsmith (1993)

Michael Hague’s Family Easter Treasury

I made it my mission this year to find unusual Easter books, books that play variations of Easter’s main themes rather than hammer out the melody over and over. That is, I went looking for books that don’t recount the events of Holy Week in the usual way.

Michael Hague's Easter Treasury | Little Book, Big Story

We have a number of books that do that and I love them, but reading them repeatedly for the forty days of Lent can deaden the power and beauty of the resurrection story a bit by Easter, so this year, we tried something different: in Lent’s early weeks, we’ve been reading from books like At Jerusalem’s Gate and this one, Michael Hague’s Family Easter Treasury.  We’ve been savoring variations upon that main theme, whetting our appetite for the rich feast of books to come.

This book is similar in style to The Children’s Book of Virtues (also illustrated by Michael Hague). It contains accounts of the Easter story, but they’re tucked into a well-chosen collection of fairy tales, folk tales, poems, hymns and stories that all touch on Easter in some fashion. The stories we’ve read so far have been beautiful—”The Maid of Emmaeus,” especially, and “The Selfish Giant.” We’ve savored them slowly as a part of our homeschool mornings, and they’ve already become a valuable part of our Easter library.

Michael Hague's Easter Treasury | Little Book, Big Story

And Easter is coming! Soon we’ll pull out the old favorites and set this new favorite aside, but right now, this treasury is just right.


Easter Treasury
Michael Hague (1999)

At Jerusalem’s Gate | Nikki Grimes

I finally figured out how to use our public library.

It’s been there for years—I frequented it myself as a child—and I have taken my daughters there semi-regularly since Lydia was a baby. But my approach to checking out books was haphazard at best: throw books that looked interesting in our book bag and sift through them when we got home. Return them a few months overdue, pay fines, and sheepishly avoid the library for a while. Every so often I would reserve a book, forget to pick it up, and sheepishly dodge the library again.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Something changed a few months ago, though, when I sat down to the online catalog and reserved every book I had ever bookmarked on Instagram. Every few days after that, I got an email announcing that some new book was in, waiting for me. These were the best books, the ones usually not on the shelves because their hold lists were so long they just moved from drop-box to hold shelf to somebody’s home and so on.

We found The Princess in Black this way. We discovered Mustache Baby. We checked out every available John Hendrix book this way (sorry, Whatcom County John Hendrix fans! We’ll bring them back soon, I promise).  We learned that our library cards max out at seventy-five books, and that our county actually has a pretty respectable Easter selection.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

You already know how to use your library, I’m sure. I am extremely late to this particular party. But I love this party: we go to the library weekly now, collect our box full of books and go home happy, not having entered the children’s department once. In this baby-and-toddler season of life, that’s a welcome development.

But about those Easter books.

At Jerusalem’s Gate was one of my favorite library finds this Lent, a title I remember from long ago on Aslan’s Library. In a genre where every other book seems to be titled either The Easter Story or What is Easter?, Nikki Grimes gives us something unexpected: a collection of poems that branches off from the familiar story of Easter.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Grimes walks the line between Scripture and speculation gracefully: each poem explores some aspect of the story that has caught her attention—the meaning of Judas’ name, the story of Pilate’s wife, Mary’s response to the Crucifixion—while making it clear in each poem’s introduction that these are the author’s thoughts, not canon. She invites the reader into her own musings and expands the world around the well-trod path of the Gospel accounts, reminding us that actual people lived the events of Holy Week—people who wept and wondered and lived the story’s beginning, middle and end.

This book is, obviously, available at our local library, but we loved it so much that I purchased our own copy (sadly, Jerusalem’s Gate is out of print, but you can sometimes find affordable copies on Amazon). It has been a beautiful part of our family’s reading for Lent, and it’s one I’ll look forward to reviving every spring.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

If you aren’t entirely smitten with this book yet, I highly recommend reading Sarah’s review on Aslan’s Library. It’s beautiful and gives a detailed look at some of the poems. You know what? You should read that review anyway, even if you’ve already put the book on hold at your library.


At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems for Easter
Nikki Grimes, David Frampton (2005)