Tag: advent (page 1 of 4)

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Susan Wojciechowski

The other day I pulled a pile of Christmas books out of the shop and tried to covertly photograph them while the girls were distracted. But they were at my elbow in minutes, hailing old friends, eyeing new ones with suspicion (“I don’t remember that book”), and trying to sneak favorites off the pile while I wasn’t looking. The most adored, the most likely to be snatched from the pile and spirited away to a comfy chair was this one: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Little Book, Big Story

Jonathan Toomey is a woodcarver in a small village, known (and feared) for his gruff manner. But before the story itself truly begins, the author lets us in on a secret: Mr. Toomey wasn’t always this way. Once he was young and full of life, but he closed himself off after suffering terrible grief. Because Susan Wojciechowski introduces us to this side of Mr. Toomey first, watching his transformation throughout the story—as he meets the young widow McDowell and her son Thomas—is like watching someone open a gift we just know they’re going to love.

Here is the thing about the widow McDowell and Thomas: they show up at Mr. Toomey’s door with a request. They’ve lost their set of nativity figures and ask him to make them a new set. But Thomas also wants to watch Mr. Toomey work. His comments throughout the story and his true “little boyness” has us all giggling every time we read it, and yet this is a genuinely deep, sorrowful yet joy-filled book that also makes me cry every time I read it. That balance seems to me just right. (The illustrations are gorgeous, too. P.J. Lynch captures the characters’ expressions in such a living way that I feel as if I’ve walked in on the characters mid-conversation.)

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Little Book, Big Story

One of the things I love about this book is that, though it is called The Christmas Miracle, Etc., Jonathan Toomey’s transformation doesn’t come about through some nebulous holiday warm-fuzzery. It is nurtured by his interactions with the pieces of the nativity, as Thomas explains beautifully the purpose of each figure. It also nudged along by acts of gentle kindness, both to him and, eventually, by him, as he learns to give himself to others and to welcome them into his life again. And so it is one of the books the girls welcomed most eagerly into our lives this year. This book deserves such a welcome.


The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Susan Wojciechowski; P.J. Lynch (1948)

A Very Noisy Christmas | Tim Thornborough

A funny thing happened when we started packing: our books, that fill shelves throughout our house and are already quite a presence, seemed to multiply. One shelf’s worth filled three boxes, yet there were dozens of shelves to go. We understood, early on, that the bulk of our packable possessions are books.

It also became clear, while we were moving about from place to place, that the bulk of our portable possessions are also books. Lydia packed her entire collection of Redwall books, because she feels at home wherever they are. Josie needed her Sandra Boynton library; I filled a plastic tote with books I intended to read (Enjoying God), books I hoped to read (A Girl of the Limberlost), and books I might feel the sudden urge to re-read (The Lord of the Rings)And none of that includes our school books, of which there are also many.

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

But here is where this works out well: I spent the summer posting re-runs here and the fall posting nothing. But all summer and fall, our family was buying and borrowing and reading and falling in love with new books. Which means I have an abundance of wonderful books to share with you. I am, frankly, finding it very hard to wait to share some of them.

But I will start with this one, because it is so much fun to read and so seasonally appropriate:

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

When you have a toddler or a preschooler (or, like me, one of each for the past eight years or so), the volume in your home fluctuates quite a bit. There’s the high setting: squealing, giggling, ricocheting off furniture, weeping, and so on. And there’s the low setting: sleeping, snuggling, drawing on the wall with mom’s best lipstick.

A Very Noisy Christmas turns that knob up and down as you read the Christmas story, with prompts that encourage kids to whisper and bellow along with a telling on Jesus’ birth. It begins in a whisper, with the shepherds sleeping, and turns to a yell when the angels burst on the scene. Tim Thornborough’s text is fun to read aloud, and Jennifer Davison’s illustrations are full of energy, movement, and color (a great combo for energetic, ever-active, and certainly colorful kids).

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

This book would be great in a Sunday School class, or with a group of kids. Or with a toddler on one knee and a preschooler on the other. Or, really, just any time with any little kid.


A Very Noisy Christmas
Tim Thornborough; Jennifer Davison (2018)


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.

Little One, We Knew You’d Come | Sally Lloyd-Jones

We bought this book years ago, when Lydia was in the tornado stage—flinging books off the shelves at random, emptying baskets of toys on the floor—and The Jesus Storybook Bible was not an old friend, broken in by years, but a new acquaintance we couldn’t get enough of. I ordered Little One, We Knew You’d Come because it, too, was by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Little One, We Knew You'd Come, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But (I’m embarrassed to admit this) I didn’t immediately love it.

The illustrations are of a style that, though beautiful, didn’t appeal to me at first. And the text, though beautifully written, never mentioned Jesus’ name. I remember thinking, Wait. This could be about any longed-for baby. It doesn’t have to be about the coming of Christ. I had that uncomfortable sense that I was missing something.

Little One, We Knew You'd Come, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Years passed and three more of our babies reached the book-flinging stage (Josie is firmly entrenched in it now). We have read this book to every child every year, and it has borne those repeated readings with grace. The gentle and quiet illustrations have grown on me; Lloyd-Jones’ poetic words have, too. And I have grown to love the way it doesn’t mention Jesus’ name, because while so many Christmas books illustrate his coming through the eyes of creation awaiting a Savior or Israel waiting on a king, this one lets us see his coming through the eyes of Mary and Joseph, who await not just God’s Son, but their son. He is their Redeemer, and he is the baby they have waited nine months to meet.

Little One, We Knew You'd Come, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (review) | Little Book, Big Story

I get it now. And it is lovely.

Also

Merry Christmas! I am so thankful for you all and pray that this season is filled with that deep-seated wonder—the one that comes not from the “childhood magic” of Santa, but from the true magic of a God who took on humble, helpless infancy for our sake. He is the One who took the shadow of the Law and gave it substance, the One who ripped the curtain so that God might, when all is ready, dwell among us. May the joy of this carry you through many long evenings in the kitchen, many unanticipated needs, and many overtired toddler meltdowns. May he sustain you and give you strength, and may he give you peace.


Little One, We Knew You’d Come
Sally Lloyd-Jones; Jackie Morris (2006)

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.