Category: Advent, Christmas (page 1 of 4)

In the Beginning | Deeply Rooted

When we tell the Christmas story, we often begin like this: “Once, there was a girl named Mary.” Or “Once upon a time in a manger.” Even the gospels open with things that happened here on earth—the birth of John, the words of Isaiah, or the genealogy of Jesus’ family. Only the gospel of John backs all the way up and starts the Christmas story right at the very beginning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

My newest piece, “In the Beginning,” went up on the Deeply Rooted blog this morning! In it, I got to look at how the Christmas Story fits into God’s larger story of redemption. You can read the full post here.

May you all have a Christmas that is restful in the deepest sense—a celebration centered on Christ, who tucked himself into a finite human body because he loves us. May that be your refrain as you travel, bake, and wipe noses: Because he loves us. Because he loves us. Because he loves us.

Merry Christmas.

The Christmas Promise | Alison Mitchell

When I pulled our Christmas books out of the attic this year, I couldn’t help but notice a theme: our collection is heavy on stories about the first Christmas and noticeably light on stories about any Christmas that came after.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

We have some notable exceptions (Great Joy; Saint Nicholas; An Early American Christmas), as well as the classics: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Snow Man, and Good King WenceslasWe even have the token Fancy Nancy Christmas book.

But every other book is set in a stable in Bethlehem.

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

I don’t think this is a short-coming, not really, because what impresses me is how many ways that one story can be told. Some books tell it from the perspective of the animals in the stable (Who is Coming to Our House?, The Friendly Beasts); some books tell the story just the way it’s told in Scripture (The First Christmas).

Some tell it through the eyes of  Mary (Mary’s First Christmas; My Son, My Savior), or through the perspective of an imagined character (The Little Drummer Boy).

Others are by Sally Lloyd-Jones and are, therefore, wonderful (Little One, We Knew You’d Come; Song of the Stars).

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

But The Christmas Promise begins not with the good news that Jesus has come, but with the news that he is coming: Alison Mitchell (beloved author of two of my favorite picture books) begins with God’s promise of a coming king—”a new king, a rescuing king, a forever king!”—and then goes on to show, through the telling of the nativity story, how Jesus is all of those things.

That big picture approach is one that we did not yet have in our collection, and it’s one that has endeared Mitchell’s other books me. The fact that it’s illustrated by Catalina Echeverri, illustrator of three of my favorite picture books, is a thick, delicious swirl of frosting on the cake.

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

One more thing this book has going for it: The Christmas Promise falls under the heading of “Books I Will Read Any Time, For Any Reason, No Matter What Else Is Going On.” It’s short. It’s charming. It’s hard not to read with gusto. And I am reminded every time I read it of the ties connecting this season to the rest of Scripture, to our strange times now, and to the wonderful times that are coming.


The Christmas Promise
Alison Mitchell, Catalina Echeverri (2014)

Great Joy | Kate DiCamillo

Let’s appreciate, for a moment, the behind-the-scenes people who make books possible. Editors, art directors, publishers, agents—I don’t know exactly what you all do, but books like Great Joy make me glad that you do it.

The pages, cover, and binding combine to make a book that makes our family feel like we’re unwrapping something precious as I read, which I suppose we are, in a way, because the story is precious and the illustrations are warm and welcoming. But the gold leaf on the cover and the cloth binding and the very feel of the pages make the gift a thing that’s not just heard or observed but warmly felt. Somebody chose that paper and decided to ornament the cover just so—thank you, whoever you are.

Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story

Great Joy‘s quiet story doesn’t need bells and whistles—it would shine in a hand-drawn, xeroxed ‘zine, I’m sure, though it may not reach its intended audience that way—but the lovely quality of the book encouraged us to slow down and savor DiCamillo’s language and Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations.

Those illustrations are so gorgeous, by the way, that I’m tempted to heap adjectives on them willy-nilly. But I won’t burden you with that. Instead I’ll show you pictures:

Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story

Great Joy reaches my daughters at different levels: at eight, Lydia delights in the fact that Frances, the story’s protagonist, reads the same verses for the Christmas pageant that Lydia read for hers; Sarah, at six, asks the same questions Frances does about the organ-grinder; and Phoebe, at almost-three, delights in finding the monkey on every page (when she wants to read the book, she points at the shelf and shouts, “MONKEYS!” until someone hands her the book).

And I, as a mother, rejoice: this story is the sort of gift that I love to give my daughters, knowing that it points toward the one who is our greatest gift.


Great Joy
Kate DiCamillo, Bagram Ibatoulline (2010)

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It

Over tea, a friend recently told me that she had never heard of Advent until last year, when she and her husband showed up to church one day and found blue and violet clothes draped behind the cross at our church and candles everywhere. She covertly googled “what is advent” as our pastor began his sermon.

She told me this story and both of us laughed, but I find myself coming back to that conversation, because I, too, showed up for church one Sunday in December years ago and found that Advent—whoever that was—had arrived. I am well-acquainted with Advent now, but it was humbling to realize that I have grown so well-acquainted with it that I don’t think to slow down and introduce others to the season as well.

I know you are all from a variety of backgrounds. Some of you grew up celebrating Advent; some of you, like me, grew up celebrating presents. So I want to assume nothing today and tell you all a bit about what Advent is and how we celebrate it as a family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

Advent is the season preceding Christmas, when we prepare ourselves for the entrance of our Creator God into his disordered creation. The season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas (that is, last Sunday the 27th), though most of our Advent readings begin on December 1. The important part is that, whether it’s four weeks even or more-or-less four weeks long, we spend that time meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus, both independently and as a family.

There are so, so many ways to do this, both at church and in our homes, but here are a few of our favorites:

We use a Jesse Tree to remind us daily of where Jesus fits in his long lineage of ancestors (and of how surprising it is that God used the people he did to shape that tree). I have written a few posts about that for this blog. If you’re interested, you can learn about what a Jesse tree is and how we use it here. You can learn how to make ornaments for it here.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

We use an Advent calendar in tandem with our Jesse Tree. You can learn more about how we use it and how I made ours here.

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

We light candles each Sunday to mark our progress toward Christmas. Many people use Advent wreaths for this; we use a cheap tea light holder from Ikea that conveniently has four wells for candles. It gets the job done and it’s pretty.

I try to do some devotional reading on my own. Last year, I spent the season studying for and co-writing the Advent series at the Deeply Rooted blog (you can read my posts from that series here, here and here. If you want to know more about why I love Advent so much, they’re a great place to start!). This year, I plan to read through John Piper’s book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy and Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him. But on the years when I’m feeling less structured, I at least try to read through one of the gospels on my own.

So You Want to Celebrate Advent | Little Book, Big Story

We try to do some sort of service as a family. The older girls usually visit a nursing home with their school and sing carols. I like to serve in the worship team at our church during Advent, though that doesn’t happen every year. But finding some way to use our gifts to bless others, even if it’s just bringing something sweet to the neighbors (sometimes that, honestly, is the extent of our service) is a goal we aim for each year.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

And, of course, we read a lot of beautiful books. I pull out an old favorite from the attic every few days, but I also like to purchase one or two new Christmas books each year to build our library. By the time Christmas rolls around, we’re swimming in beautiful stories about Jesus. If you’re looking for some of our favorites, you can read this list, or you can peruse the “Christmas” section of this blog. The Read-Aloud Revival podcast also has a lovely episode all about Christmas books that aired last year, full of great ideas for how and when to read with your family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

There. That’s a flyover view of how our family celebrates Advent. I’ll be back next week with more beautiful Advent books and resources for you.

Does your family celebrate Advent? Do you have any favorite traditions to share?

My Book House | Olive Beaupre Miller

Our shelves are full of books I believe in. We own adventure stories, where after a few battles and close calls, good triumphs over evil. We own fairy tales, picture books, poetry collections, and a whole lot of Sandra Boynton board books. And books are everywhere in our home: in fact, the only room in our home that doesn’t have a single book in it is our laundry room. Everywhere else has a cache of books tucked into some corner or other.

I tell you this not because I’m in a mood to state the obvious, but because I want to paint a picture of a family who loves books, who reads them often, and who trades favorites on a regular basis. We read a lot—but we’re not very structured about it. I trust that by filling our shelves with great titles, our kids will get a well-rounded literary education.

But, of course, I am the weak link there: they will get a well-rounded education in books that I am familiar with. Books that like.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

So when I heard about My Book House, I was intrigued: In 1920, Olive Beaupre Miller, the series editor, chose character-building stories from classic literature, mythology, fairy tales and more, and arranged them in multiple volumes, each one progressively more challenging than the last. The idea was that a family could read straight through the series and provide their children with a rich literary foundation, from nursery rhymes to great historical speeches.

That’s pretty awesome. The series includes things I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward—fables, folk tales, and nursery rhymes, to name a few, as well as things familiar and well-loved. It’s delightful to be drawn outside our box.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

But while I was immediately smitten with the idea behind My Book House, it wasn’t until I saw pictures of the books themselves that I decided to take the plunge and order a set. The books are beautiful, and there’s something satisfying about seeing that many good stories huddled together in matching jackets on our shelves.

To clarify: Yes. I bought the books because they’re pretty.

Buying these books is a hefty investment, and I hesitated about whether or not to post them here because I hate to talk you into adding $100 worth of books (however beautiful) to your wishlists unless I’m positive you’ll like them. But the thought that you might see a set at a garage sale and pass it by because you’d never heard of them finally convinced me that I have a duty to share these books with you. So, check thrift stores, garage sales, and eBay (that’s where I found mine)—perhaps you’ll get lucky!

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

How We Use Our Set

These books have become a part of our home school routine. I read them aloud to the girls, but I also encourage my newly fluent first grader to practice her reading on some of the early volumes.

We have been studying geography this year, so it’s been fun to read some of the stories from other countries. (I will warn you, though, that these books are a little dated in places. Some of the perspectives on race and culture might bring up some interesting discussions with your kids.)

I love digging into them around holidays: my set has a giant index at the end of the last volume, so when a holiday rolls around, it’s fun to rummage through that index and find the stories and poems that relate to each holiday and incorporate those into our reading for the week.

Plus, my girls love them so much that they often pull a volume down and curl up on the couch with it. That’s a hearty endorsement from the intended audience right there.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

A Note on Editions

I understand that there are different editions out there and that some of the older ones are a bit better than my 1971 set (read more about that at the link below), but I didn’t know that until after I purchased mine. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because the 1971 set is so darn pretty.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

One Last Thing

If you would like to know more about either the history of My Book House or how you might use it in your home, Pam Barnhill has an excellent article all about the series on her blog, Ed Snapshots. Read it here.


My Book House
Olive Beaupre Miller (1920)

The Christ Candle | Deeply Rooted Blog

The stable falls silent and then—a cry. The thin cry of an infant, so welcome to waiting parents, to a laboring mother, who breathes a sigh of relief and falls back on her improvised pillow, laughing and weeping at once. As the father wraps the baby warmly and delivers him into Mary’s waiting arms, creation shares in her delight: the wait is over. The work is done. Emmanuel—God With Us—has come.

The Christ Candle,” the final post in Deeply Rooted‘s Advent series, went up today, and writing it was a well-timed blessing: while I prepped for gatherings and baked sugar cookies from scratch with all three girls (because we will make memories, by gum!) and tried not to curl up in a weepy, overtired, pregnant ball, I also got to meditate on Jesus as the Light of the World. Verses like this one kept me going:

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone . . .
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be on his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2,6)

Merry Christmas, dear readers! Worship the Lord in quiet ways and with great noise (and sugar cookies) today. He has come!


The Christ Candle
Théa Rosenburg, Deeply Rooted Blog

Good King Wenceslas | John M. Neale

I once sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in a high school choir. We all dressed in black and walked down the aisles with battery-operated candles, singing eerie, anticipatory harmonies to our parents and loved ones.

I loved the song (and still do), but I had no idea what I was singing about.

Good King Wenceslas, by John M. Neale | Little Book, Big Story

I think that is often the case with Christmas carols: so many of them retain the beautiful language of centuries passed, filled with words that have dropped out of our vocabulary and doctrine. Though we know the words by heart, it is hard to take them to heart without a dictionary. The carols become so familiar as we sing that we forget to listen to them.

Good King Wenceslas, by John M. Neale | Little Book, Big Story

Good King Wenceslas takes a familiar carol and slows it down: though I like to sing the words as I read this book to my girls, the illustrations draw out the story behind the song and surprised both my husband and me. Oh! we thought. That’s what the song is about!

Good King Wenceslas, by John M. Neale | Little Book, Big Story

It’s a beautiful story about a servant king, and Tim Ladwig’s illustrations bring rich and lively details to a song whose story sweeps over the heads of many children (the line “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen” always perplexed me when I was small). I found this one at a used bookstore mere days after reading about it on Aslan’s Library and knew I had found a book worth returning to Advent after Advent.


Good King Wenceslas
John M. Neale, Tim Ladwig (2005)