Tag: christmas (page 1 of 5)

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)

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.

Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible | A Kickstarter Campaign

What could be better than news that Slugs & Bugs is currently fundraising for the release of their third Sing the Bible album?

Reading that news while eating a donut would be nice. Reading that news while eating a donut and drinking a cup of coffee would be nice, too. But better than both of those is the news that Slugs & Bugs is fundraising for both Sing the Bible Vol. 3 and for a Vince Guaraldi-seasoned Sing the Bible Christmas album!

You can read more about the project (and watch a behind-the-scenes video) here, at The Rabbit Room. And you can support this worthy project here, on Kickstarter. Happy Valentine’s Day to us!

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)