Category: Advent, Christmas (page 2 of 4)

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas

The first time we listened to A Slugs and Bugs Christmas, we were on our way to the pharmacy for flu vaccines. To give you an adult-to-child ratio, that was me to three small children, all destined to get shots in the next hour. We needed something light-hearted and peppy to boost morale.

The girls were immediately smitten with Slugs and Bugs—Randall Goodgame was speaking their language! I enjoyed the songs, I think, but was inwardly crafting my strategy for the pharmacy: three girls. Me. Narrow aisles; shelves of small things. Shots.

I don’t think I heard much of the album at all.

On our way home, though, I was in a state of elation: we’d done it! We survived! Nobody cried (much), not even me, though I felt like eating a whole pint of ice cream to celebrate and/or de-stress afterward. Instead, we did something better: we listened to “The Camel Song.”

And I fell head-over-heels for Slugs and Bugs.

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

To tell you that “The Camel Song” was just the things for girls whose arms still smarted was one thing, but to tell you that it had me laughing out loud is another. The next morning, I kept listening to the albumwhen it was just Phoebe and me in the van and I could have listened to whatever I wanted. I reached “The Camel Song Conversation” at the end of the album and really lost it, laughing so hard my eyes watered while I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store, waiting for the song to end so I could get out of the car and behave like an adult.

What could be a better endorsement for a children’s album than that? I listened to it on my own, just because I wanted to. And it made me laugh.

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas somehow hits all the markers for a good Christmas album for kidsthere are silly and nostalgic songs at the start, and the end of the album is full of beautifully arranged Christmas carols old and new. A six-year-old friend put it this way: “It’s funny, because there are Santa songs and then God songs and then some songs that are just silly!”

Randall Goodgame, Andrew Peterson and others made an album that is a joy to listen to (and to have stuck in your head throughout the day). But when I read about their vision for children’s music, I loved them even more:

We believe songs are one of God’s powerful tools for building strong relationships. When songs inspire laughter or deep spiritual thought, they can transform a routine car ride into a sweet family experience. Over time, that influence can profoundly impact the culture of the home. . . . Our small hope is that the joyful creativity of Slugs & Bugs music will delight your whole family.  Our grand hope is that Slugs & Bugs kids would find it natural to remember Jesus in their homework, in their friendships, and one day, in the parenting of our grandchildren.

That paragraph makes me glad that I have their other album Under Where? ready to tuck into someone’s stocking on Christmas Eve.


A Slugs and Bugs Christmas
Slugs and Bugs

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever | Barbara Robinson

A good story prepares the soil of a child’s heart for the seed of the gospel. When choosing books to read to my daughters or share with you, I think about that a lot: is this a good story? Will it nourish children and plant in them a longing to see the King return and the world remade? Or does it give them a cramped perspective that this life—with its illness, injury, and evil—is the best that we can hope for? That there is no magic after all?

What I don’t often think about, though, is which stories fed me as a child. I read voraciously but I did not read deeply, so many of the classics featured here are new discoveries for me. All of the Christian literature is new, and because I only dimly recall reading Goosebumps  and The Babysitters’ Club, it rarely occurs to me to wonder which stories the Lord used to soften my heart toward him.

But a few years ago, my mom gave me a well-loved copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever—my own copy, revisited annually throughout my childhood. I read it again for a dose of nostalgia and discovered instead the gospel, embedded in a story I’d loved because it was funny and, in its own way, irreverent.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever | Little Book, Big Story

Because the story is so delightful and unexpected, I don’t want to tell you much about it. Perhaps I’ll tell you that it approaches the question of who does and doesn’t belong in the church with humor and grace, and that it will almost certainly make you laugh and, later, cry. And I’ll tell you that I plan to read it to my daughters this year, in the hope that this story will soften the soil of their hearts so that, when the gospel’s seed is sown, its shoot will flourish.


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Barbara Robinson (1972)

First Coming

Our Christmas Tree | Little Book, Big Story

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the maker of the Stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane,
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

– Madeleine L’Engle

Merry Christmas!

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 4: Root

I have an aversion to reading birth stories on the internet. It’s not that I don’t care about birth stories—quite the opposite, in fact. I love hearing them told in person, when I can watch a new mother gesture with her hands as she tries to wrestle those first moments into words. I love laughing with her over the things people said, the things she said, during labor, and over how far away it all seems now, as though she has crossed a great chasm and we’re standing there together, looking back at the bridge that brought her to safety.

Birth stories are personal stories, and not just because they have to do with bodily functions: their power lies not in the litany of details—minutes, centimeters, hours—but in the fact that each story is truly unique to the woman who lived it. No one else can share your story with you—not fully, anyway. And while the rest of us can enjoy your story and be moved by it, we eventually have to back away and leave the experience with you, where it is meant to stay. Telling these stories on the internet, then, feels to me like shouting from a platform what ought to be treasured among close friends.

Yes, I have an aversion to reading birth stories on the internet. And so it is fitting (and just this side of hypocritical) that my first full essay for Deeply Rooted opens on a scene from the night of Phoebe’s birth. It seemed right, as I was writing, to include that moment, and so I did. That took me down a peg.

Deeply Rooted, Issue 4: Root | Little Book, Big Story

From there the essay moves into a consideration of the birth of Christ—what we know happened that night in the stable, what might have happened, and what it might have meant to Mary. But the essay isn’t a birth story: it’s mostly about Mary. And it’s in the newest issue of Deeply Rooted. (You can purchase a copy here.)

Deeply Rooted, Issue 4: Root | Little Book, Big Story


Deeply Rooted Magazine
Issue 04, Winter: Root

10 Great Books 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 a few of my favorite books for preschoolers:

10 Great Books to Read With Your Preschooler | Little Book, Big Story

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

I want there to be more books like this in the world. (Read the full review.)

3. Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne

While there are families who prefer to save this book until the children are older, we’re a family of re-readers who wanted to get an early start on the wit and rollicking prose of A.A. Milne. Our girls enjoyed this book at four and again at six, and will no doubt get a little more out of it every time we re-read it as a family. (Read the full review.)

4. The Jesus Storybook Bibleby Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible | Little Book, Big Story

For a while there, we dropped this one out of the rotation. I brought it back as a lunch-time read and, forgetting how moving this book is, found myself weeping awkwardly into my quesadilla while my children waited patiently for me to regain my composure and turn the page. Lloyd-Jones’s powerful rendering of the gospel in simple (but not shallow) language makes this the best of the children’s Bibles. (Read the full review.)

5. The Golden Featherby David and JJ Heller

The Golden Feather | David and JJ Heller

The story is sweet; the illustrations, lovely. The hidden bunnies on each page take Dave and JJ Heller’s first picture book up the level of “Perennial Favorite.”  (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

Tomie dePaola illustrates a beautiful hymn of praise in watercolors. Sized for little hands and short attention spans, it’s just right for reading over and over and over and over . . . (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

What is the life of a baby like? You’ll know by the end of this book.  (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 and inspire me to step up my game. (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, regardless 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.


Song of the Stars
Sally Lloyd-Jones, Allison Jay (2011)

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 in this passage from 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.

(But 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 Early American Christmas
Tomie dePaola (1987)