Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Dear Family and Friends,

Merry Christmas!  2016 has been a big year for us.  We have visited family and friends in Texas, Tennessee, and Utah.  We have enjoyed visits from family as well.  But biggest of all were the arrival of baby Henry in July and a move to Washington in September.

Jerry is enjoying his new challenges as the HR manager at the Stretch Island Fruit plant.  Michelle manages to find a little time to write and read and loves teaching the teenagers at church.  Joshua is a burst of energy who loves splashing in puddles, racing trucks, and building playgrounds for his toys.  Henry delights everyone with his sweet smile. 

With every cross-country move, we become increasingly aware of the distance between us and those we love the most.  We sincerely hope that you have a joyful holiday and blessed 2017. 

Jerry, Michelle, Joshua, and Henry

Saturday, December 24, 2016

SIlent Night: The Song and Its Story by Margaret Hodges, Illustrated by Tim Ludwig

Perhaps he might write a little song, something as simple as the Bible story, something that every child could understand.

It all started with a broken organ at the church in Oberndorf, Austria on Christmas Eve.  The Christmas mass just wouldn't be the same without music.  Father Joseph Mohr knew his congregation needed a song so he wrote a simple poem then rushed it over to Franz Gruber who created a lullaby on his guitar.  Today this is one of the most loved and most spiritual of all the Christmas carols.

One of the greatest discoveries I made as a librarian was nonfiction picture books.  There are many I like, but this one stands out because of excellent pacing and illustrations that perfectly match the subject.  This book tells the story of the origins of Stille Nacht, it's travels as a folk song across Austria and Germany, the rediscovery of the song's true origin, and it's popularity across the world.

It recounts the famous Christmas Eve truce during the First World War.  Then highlights other lesser known moments.   The peaceful tune reminded a Russian soldier that his enemy prisoners were humans, and coaxed a soldier during the Korean War to cease fire.  This book taught me something remarkable about the my most cherished Christmas song.  The things that draw us closer to the divine, also remind us of the humanity in others. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Frances ran up and put a nickel in the monkey's cup. "I'm going to be in the Christmas Play tonight," she said.  "I get to wear wings, and I have one line to say.  Do you want to hear it?"

From her bedroom window, Frances can see an organ grinder and his monkey play for coins in the cold December weather.  One night, she stays up late to see where they go and is disappointed to discover that they sleep on the street.  Her mother urges France not to worry about the man and his monkey, but she does.  On her way to her Christmas Eve play, she drops a nickel in the man's cup and invites him to see her performance.  On stage Frances is speechless until she sees her new friend arrive.  Then she is joyful.

Kare DiCamillo is one of the greats.  She has written Because of Winn Dixie, Flora and Ulysses, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  I even like The Tale of Despereaux, and I do not like rodent stories.  This book is naturally much simpler than her other stories, but still carries the feeling of wonder and goodness of all of her stories.

It's a good reminder to adults to not make snap judgements about people based on their lowly circumstances.  Frances's naivety actually benefits her.  She can only see the good in this poor gentleman whose music entertains her during the day.  She finds joy in the happiness of others.  Isn't that what Christmas is about? 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Spider's Gift by Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by Katya Krenina

"Please, Mamaniu!" Katrusya begged.  "These baby spiders are so small and helpless.  If we take them outside, they'll die in the cold  Let them stay until Christmas is over."

Katrusya is crushed when she discovers that her family is too poor to have a traditional Christmas.  But after a bit of lamenting her family decides to make the best of it.  They drag a tree from the forest to the house and decorate it with wooden buttons and a paper star.  The next morning Katrusya's mother is horrified to find tiny baby spiders spinning webs in her tree, but is convinced to keep the tree rather than throw it out and kill the spiders.  When the family returns home from Christmas Eve mass, they discover that their tree is sparkling.  At first they think it is beautiful webs, but realize that the spider webs are silver and their wooden buttons have turned to gold. 

This folktale is masterfully retold by the master of folktales, Eric A. Kimmel.  (I highly recommend him especially his Anansi stories.)  Kimmel weaves Ukrainian traditions into the story.  The family leaves a seat open to represent their ancestors.  Three rings of bread represent the Trinity.  Even the names of the family are distinctly Ukrainian.  The illustrator, Katya Krenina, is Ukrainian and beautifully depicts the rustic village.

The gestures of gratitude stand out to me.  The spiders give the family riches as a thank you for preserving their life.  Then, this family provides for their neighbors instead of hoarding their treasure.  This folk story truly embodies the spirit of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I'm Not Santa by Jonathan Allen

"I am not Santa!" said Baby Owl.
"And I am not big and fat like Santa!
I'm very fluffy like a Baby Owl!"

On Christmas Eve, Baby Owl is headed home from a long day of play.  When Baby Hare sees his red hat and sled, he becomes convinced that Baby Owl is actually Santa Claus.  A childish back and forth ensues and ends in tears.  But the real Santa arrives in the nick of time, to settle the woes of the animal friends.  Baby Owl then runs home to recount the evening's events to his mom.

As I looked at the list of books that I chose for this project, I was afraid that I might be giving the impression that I take picture books very seriously.  The truth is I love books that are silly and a little rowdy.  I love making kids roar with laughter when I read.  That's what this book is ... silly.

I've shared this book with large groups as well as one on one.  The large groups got a kick out of my over exaggerated crying.  Joshua has requested this book over and over at bedtime.  He would probably ask to read it more if it included reindeer.

This book is fun and great for toddlers.  And don't tell Baby Owl, but he is seriously cute.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Coomey

I decided that my blog is important enough to invite a guest writer .  What isn't sarcastic is that when I embarked on this project, I immediately thought of how much my sister loves this story.  Thanks, Jen!

It is when shopping is over that Christmas begins.

In second grade my sweet teacher read this story aloud to my class. I loved it. It was about a little girl and a doll, and it was magical. Every year I would check an old copy out of the city library and enjoy the story in December. When I was in high school my mom bought me this beautifully illustrated version! (Apparently, the library had this copy too, but it was always checked out by the time I got there. Looking back, I realize my mom must have done lots of searching to track down this book in the days.)

This story is about a little orphan girl (Ivy) who longs for a doll for Christmas and for a family, and about a doll (Holly) who wishes for a girl for Christmas. It is also about a childless couple who are rediscovering the joy that come come at Christmas time. It recounts the crossing paths of several characters. Both Holly and Ivy are determined and unwavering, and with a little luck, many wishes come true for Holly, Ivy and the other characters in the story. 

As I read this story I am always filled with the joy that comes from watching Christmas through a child's eyes. I am reminded that simple things truly matter most, and that Christmas can be a time of miracles.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Christmas Train by Thomas S. Monson, Illustrated by Dan Burr

I watched the windup engine make its labored way around the track and saw Mark's face beaming.  I felt a supreme joy, difficult to describe and impossible to forget.  

When Thomas S. Monson, the current President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was a little boy, he desperately wanted an electric train for Christmas.  His family had more than many other families and he was delighted to get what he  his much longed for train set.  His mother had purchased a windup train set for Tommy's neighbor Mark.  When he inspected the set, he saw a train car that he wanted.  He knew his powerful train would easily pull it along with the other cars.  His mother allowed him to keep the car, but when they arrived at Mark's home, Tommy realized that the train car was truly meant to bring someone else joy.  He learned that Christmas was more about giving than getting.

This book stood our to me this year because I have a little guy who would sure love a train set for Christmas.  (He's getting one.)  Even though the book is a bit long for Joshua's age, he loves to read it and look at the pictures.  I keep reminding him that it is important to help all kids have presents on Christmas. 

There are moments in every person's life where getting seems far more important than giving.  We think that adding a metaphorical train to our collection is more important than ensuring that someone else has a bit of joy in their life.  I view Thomas S. Monson as a pinnacle of unselfish behavior, and it is great to see how the seed was planted early in his life. 

My favorite quote of Christmas 2016 comes from President Monson.  "Christmas is the spirit of giving, without a thought of giving."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Friendly Beasts: an Old English Christmas Carol by Tomie dePaola

Two years ago, I did a countdown to Christmas of some of my favorite carols.  I had a lot of fun doing it and wanted to make it a tradition, but last year life got in the way.  I've decided to resume the countdown this year, but focus on Christmas books.  There are thousands to choose from and I've decided to narrow my focus to books that aren't wildly popular, but are still beautiful.  Enough explaining, here goes ...

"Jesus our brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude:
And the friendly beasts around him stood.
Jesus our brother, strong and good."

When I was growing up, we had a collection of Christmas books that came out every year when we decorated the Christmas tree.  One little paperback was a collection of songs and poems.  I was so taken with "The Friendly Beasts"in the book that I memorized it and performed it on Christmas Eve.  Last year, I discovered that Tomie dePaola, one of my favorite illustrators had done a version of the book.  I bought it.

This book uses a technique that I truly love.  The words to the song are only on every other double page spread.  Thus slowing down the book and making the reader focus on the illustrations. With folksy illustrations, he draws a close up of the animal sharing his gift.  On the following page the animals engage with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  The verse of the doves is my favorite.  The birds sing the Baby Jesus to sleep.  Perhaps it is because I love calming my boys with song, that I love this simple gift. 

On the pages without words, a subtle story is being told.  Similar to the Bible version, Jesus and Mary arrive on a donkey.  Then the cow gives place for Jesus in the stable.  The sheep arrive with the shepherds as the story tells.  But then the illustrations diverge from the Bible telling.  When the doves give their gift of song, three women arrive to greet the Savior.  It is not until the following page that you see three men entering the tale.  The final double page show villagers, children, and carolers all arriving to worship the Lord.  

It is obviously not meant to be historically accurate, but it brings to mind "O Come, All Ye Faithful." They have all arrived to adore or worship the Lord.  This is a beautiful story of giving and faith.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


On Monday night we did a superhero Family Home Evening based on an idea I got from the Friend MagazineIt shares all the qualities that kids have that make them super - brave, loved, patient etc.  We dressed up like superheroes for the night.  Joshua was super thrilled to be a part of it.  We ran around the house a couple dozen times yelling "Superhero!!!"

Henry tends to sleep through FHE, but luckily the next day Joshua wanted to spend the whole day being super.  So he got a dishcloth cape.

I'm not sure Joshua has retained any new knowledge of his divine nature, but he sure does kow how to be a great superhero. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Worldwide Day of Service

This December, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is encouraging individuals to participate in a month long initiative to give service called "Light the World."  Today is a Worldwide Day of Service where they have asked as many people as possible to serve in any way they feel appropriate.

I love the concept of an advent calendar of service and wanted to do something special for today.  It is not my season to go stock shelves at a food bank or pick up litter by the ocean on a Thursday.  I decided to do something at home that hits close to home.  I sewed these developmental hearts for premature babies.  Honestly, I started earlier this week because even simple projects can take ages these day.  I was hoping to get them to the post office today, but unceasingly runny noses and damp weather have convinced me that it is wise to wait.

I plan to do little things every day until Christmas.  I'm not planning on blogging about most of them, but I might mention a few on Facebook.  I'm hoping that this deliberate effort in service will help it become a habit throughout the year.