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A Picture Book Christmas December 16, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.

Christmas is my favorite holiday, so of course I have LOTS of picture books about the traditions of Christmas or set during Christmas. While I have plenty of the usual suspects (The Nutcracker, The Twelve Days of Christmas, A Christmas Carol) and several modern holiday classics (The Polar Express, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey), I thought I would highlight a few less well known books here.

Two childhood favorites were The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and The Doll’s Christmas by Tasha Tudor. I loved any and every book about dolls when I was a kid, and especially those books that had dolls who talked, thought, and wished, such as Godden’s tale of a girl and doll brought together magically on Christmas Eve. An orphan, an evil toy, and all the details of Christmas preparations, from decorations to cooking breakfast combine to make a perfect holiday story. The picture here of the breakfast table, with poor little Ivy, looking in the window, was always one of my favorites. The Doll’s Christmas is shorter, but just as packed with detail, as the reader follows little girls Laura and Efner and their dolls, Sethany Ann and Nicey Melinda, through the fun times of the holiday. From presents to dinner, to a marionette show, it’s old-fashioned,  yet all activities I could see myself creating for my toys. And can I say how much I envied that huge dollhouse?

Another favorite book of my family’s explained the genesis of the carol ‘Silent Night,’ composed during the 19th century in Austria by pastor Joseph Mohr and his organist Franz Gruber.  The Christmas Mouse  by Elisabeth Wenning is a re-telling of a legend that the carol was composed on guitar because a mouse had chewed the bellows of the organ. The illustrations are beautiful (they look like woodcuts, but I’m not sure) and it was very easy to sympathize with little Kaspar the mouse, who is afraid he will have to leave the church of St. Nicholas, his home, when his crime is discovered. I loved this book so much, that the first time I went to Salzburg, I took the local train out to Oberndorf to search for the church of St. Nicholas. After a few hours of blundering around the countryside (ending up in Germany briefly after crossing the Salzach River), my friend and I discovered that the church burned down around the turn of the twentieth century, but a memorial chapel had been built in its place, so we searched for mice there instead.

Finally, a book that I first read in my school library and which took me years to track down is Christmas Toyland by Lynn Hollyn. My copy, purchased online, is missing its cover and has scratches and worn edges. The bright pictures, with their borders of stenciled children and toys, seem a little more Disney-ish than I remember and the story is definitely a bit too sugary sweet. But there is still a wide picture of the dolls with their curls and lacy dresses sitting down to a feast of desserts that look scrumptious…reminding me of how delectable this book seemed to me at age 7. And really, aren’t those memories part of what Christmas is all about?



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