25 Stories of Advent--December 25--The Rest of the Story

The book I'm sharing today is precious to me beyond words. I think it was my first Christmas book acquisition, many years before I had children.

This is certainly a case of saving the best for last. It's a book that starts with the Christmas story, but then follows through with the rest of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Which is ultimately the reason His birth is cause for celebration today.

The Life of our Lord, by Charles Dickens is the last of his books to be published. In fact, it was never meant to be published. It was written for his children because, as he said,

"My dear children, I am very very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle and so sorry for all the people who did wrong, or were in anyway ill or miserable, as he was. And as He is now in Heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, and there be happy always together, you never can think what a good place Heaven is, without knowing who he was and what he did."

I found this volume at a Parable store after Christmas one year. I picked it up as a gift for my beloved grandfather. Though not educated (you'd never know it to speak with him), he was the smartest man I knew. And he made me feel smart too.

He was born in England, so of course he grew up reading Dickens (and everything else he could get his hands on; I never knew a more voracious reader). Since this book wasn't published until after Dickens' last child died, I was fairly certain my non-religious grandfather had never read it.

Grandpa and I didn't discuss spiritual things; an informal agreement to disagree I suppose. But I knew he'd read what I gave him, so I gave him this book for Christmas the next year hoping he'd read it from interest regarding what Dickens might have to say on the topic. We never talked about it.

 Two years later, after he died, I found this book on his bedside table along with his copy of my first book, which I'd dedicated to him. Last year, as I pulled this volume out to add to my basket of Christmas books, I thumbed through it--apparently for the first time since then--and found that he marked his place in the book with my kindergarten photo! I had never seen any photos of us outside the few albums they had.

God knows my prayer that between the devotions in my book that explain the plan of salvation, and Dickens beautiful summary of the life of Christ, that my grandfather's heart would be open to Him in a way it never had been before.

This book may be hard to find; I'm sure you'll have to visit one of the sources for used books to get a volume of your own. But it's worth the quest to find. Reading the life of Jesus, told as only Charles Dickens can, is a blessing in itself.

May you have a blessed day celebrating with loved ones. And may the conclusion of our "Christmas holidays" be just the beginning of another year spent seeking to know Him more.


25 Stories of Advent--December 12

Today's books both look at the animals in the stable making room for the baby Jesus to join them. Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell (Jason Cockcroft, Ill. McElderry Books, 2004) is a warm, beautifully illustrated book that tells of each animal (Kind Ox, Old Dog, Stray Cat, et al) welcoming the next in out of the cold with the encouragement, "There's always room for a little one here."

It's a simple, gentle telling of Mary and Joseph arriving at the stable and baby Jesus being born surrounded by the animals. Room for a Little One is a good choice if you want to give a book of the real story of Christmas without it seeming overly preachy. The soft, almost dreamy illustrations make this a perfect bedtime story.

The classic Who is Coming to Our House? was one of our first Christmas books. In this sweet board book Little Mouse comes to the stable to announce the pending arrival of a special guest. In turn, the animals each do something to prepare. "We must clean, " says Lamb. "Dust the beams," says Ram. 

There is something precious in the telling of each of these stories. While my (allergic-to-everything-with-fur) logical mind knows that Jesus didn't come for the animals, the expectation that these tales build does give a glimpse of the what the state of our own hearts should be.

25 Stories of Advent--December 11

Today's book is for younger children. What Is Christmas? by Michelle Medlock Adams, Ill. by Amy Wummer (Candy Cane Press, 2006) is a bright, colorful board book that looks at all the fun things about the season--Christmas trees and twinkling lights, candy canes and cookies, the Christmas play and Santa Claus--and asks the question, "What is Christmas about?" In a simple rhyme the book tells children:

All of these things are really nice,
and super-duper fun.
But Christmas is about much more than that--
It's all about God's son.

This is a great book for reading to very young children, but even my older boys still like hearing the list of all the things we all enjoy about the season even as they're reminded,

But Jesus is the real reason
We have a Christmas Day!

25 Stories of Advent--December 10

"Do be patient with him," she said to Joseph. "We need him
as much as he needs us."
This made Donkey feel very special indeed. They needed him!

Today we follow Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and we're looking at books from the donkey's perspective. First is All Safe in the Stable by Mig Holder, (Candle Books, 2005). This is a fun book that looks at the journey to Bethlehem with a beaten down donkey purchased by Joseph. While he's glad to be away from his previously unkind owner, the load he has to carry seems to be more than he can handle.His stubborn streak shows itself as he plods along, but when he realizes there's danger ahead for the expectant mother, digging in his heels may be the best thing for everyone.

This detailed story is one that will keep the attention of children who are 6 and older. The contrast between the cruel owner and kind Mary, and the sneaky Rat and the dutiful Donkey add to the drama and convey a message of doing the right thing even when faced with the opportunity and pressure to make a self-serving choice.

The other book for today is An Angel Came to Nazareth, written by Anthony Knott, Illustrated by Maggie Keen (Chronicle Books, 2005). This is a book with a simple, rhyming message that shows an angel appearing to a camel, donkey, horse and ox and giving them the choice of who they will carry on a journey.

"Just one beast from this stall
Will carry into Bethlehem
The greatest of them all."

One by one the animals make their choice, to carry a king, a solider, a good Samaritan, and finally, an expectant mother.
"Now I will choose," the donkey cried,
"Not good or great or tall,
but the lady waiting here 
Who needs bearing most of all."

While the simple telling of the story is lovely, the real charm of this book can only be felt when it's in your hands (this is one case where the e-book can't possibly do it justice). It's printed on cardstock, and each page is embossed and foiled and beautifully illustrated. While your child may need you to read the story to them, this would be a book to put into their hands while you do.

25 Stories of Advent--Great Joy-- December 9

"The week before Christmas, a monkey appeared on the corner of Fifth and Vine. 
He was wearing a green vest and a red hat..." 

I have to admit, I think this is my only Christmas book with a monkey in it. But aside from that unusual element, everything else about it has the look, feel and message of a classic Christmas tale (not to be confused with a monkey tail!). 

The time period and illustrations are reminiscent of "A Miracle on 34th Street." The main character is a young girl who wants to invite the organ grinder and monkey in for dinner after she sees that they sleep on the street, even in the snow. When her mother says no, she finds another way to share "Great joy" with them.

This big, beautiful book is one of those that will have a place of honor among the other Christmas books. From the golden end-papers to the soft, expressive, over-sized illustrations on every page, this book will take you back to the days you sat for story time when you were a child. (And I have yet to be able to read the last page to the boys without finding myself all choked up! It's destined to be a Hallmark Christmas movie.) Because of Winn Dixie and Tale of Despereaux are among DiCamillo's other best-sellers. 

25 Stories of Advent and a Giveaway! Dec. 8

"Eager to help Joseph make his decision about marrying Mary, God chose to reveal His will in a dream...God showed us how Joseph trusted and followed Him so that we can, too."

A new book to my collection this year is Our Family Christmas--a Memory-Making Devotional, by Karon Phillips Goodman (Barbour, 2010). This lovely gift book has 28 chapters; enough for each day of Advent even if you start the book on the first Sunday of Advent rather than December 1.

Each 4-page spread starts with a Christmas-related scripture passage including some of the prophetic Old Testament passages in Isaiah or Samuel. Following the scripture is a brief devotional that draws the spiritual principle into our present time. A simple activity follows; some are crafty, but others are more focused on pondering or apply the spiritual lesson. Next there's an excerpt from a traditional Christmas song, and the section concludes with a suggested prayer.

Although we have our own evening tradition that includes most of those aspects, I could see using this book as a breakfast-time devotion during Advent. It would be a great way to start each day with thoughts of what the season really means. And it would be easy to choose to do just a few of the activities each week so that from year to year the experience would differ a bit. And though it's titled "Our Family Christmas," it would actually be a nice devotional for someone to go through even on their own. From the ribbon bookmark to the beautiful full-color illustrations throughout, this book would be a thoughtful and cherished gift as well as a meaningful addition to your own Christmas library.

I just found another bag of Christmas books I added to my collection after Christmas last year (yes, my bargain-hunting runs through my Advent traditions too!). Looking through my unexplored treasures I found that I have a second copy of Our Family Christmas, and I'd love to share it with someone who would love to have it. (If you don't win the giveaway, but would like your own copy of this book, it's on sale for 2.99 at Christian Book.com.)

To enter the giveaway, you just need to leave me a comment answering the question: What is your favorite family Christmas tradition? Either the family you're raising/part of now, or the family you grew up in. 

 I'll include comments left until midnight Friday (Pacific Standard Time) and announce the winner on Sunday. Please be sure to leave me a way to contact you in case you win; either a link to your blog (where I can find your contact information) or an email address.

25 Stories of Advent--December 7

Joseph was upset by Mary's news. 
"Mary's baby isn't my baby," he said."Perhaps I shouldn't marry her."

Tonight we'll be reading  The First Christmas by Sophie Piper (Lion Children's, 2006). I like this little storybook because it gives Joseph a voice and a significant role in the journey to Bethlehem. In fact, it's Joseph's voice we hear most throughout the story.  Unlike many of the simpler picture books, it also includes details about Herod's message to the wise men, and the family's departure from Bethlehem. If, like me, you're trying to build a library of storybooks that highlights all the various people involved in the nativity story, this book is a great addition.

25 Stories of Advent--December 6

Tonight we'll be reading about Joseph from the 5 Minute Christmas Stories book we first saw on December 2 and The Nativity Story we read on the 4th.

We'll also read The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell (Candy Cane Press, 2002). I bought this book a couple of years ago because I remember seeing it on TV when I was growing up. (I know it's showing my age a bit to admit that it starred Johnny Whitaker--Jody from Family Affair!)

The 30-minute live-action version was a bit sad to me, but this little storybook is a very sweet telling of the story about a reluctant angel who feels out of place among all the older, 'perfect' angels. I think this book really speaks to the heart of children to see that when we give what is most important to us over to God, he can make something amazing and beautiful from it.

Is there a holiday program from your childhood that you remember/love still?

25 Stories of Advent--Dec. 5

"And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold,
from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."
                                                                  (Stories from the Bible, North-South Books, 2002, p. 88)

As we read through the Nativity story for the month of December, it can be a challenge to find a storybook that features each of the components of the Biblical account of the coming of the Christ child.

Tonight we'll be reading about how Mary praised God when Elizabeth said that Mary was blessed among women because she believed God and was the one chosen to give birth to the Messiah. Her song of praise is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, but it isn't highlighted in many of the children's accounts of the Christmas story.

So our book for this evening isn't a specifically Christmas book. I picked it up because it had this particular passage that I was looking for, but I can see that our family will have many great storytimes around this book.

Stories from the Bible is a re-telling of stories from throughout scripture. It's translated from the original German storybook (which was adapted from the King James Version of the Bible), so some of the language is uncommon, but I think that adds to the awe-someness of the stories. Stories from the Bible is illustrated by award-wining artist Lisbeth Zwerger.

We'll also be reading a book that I found at Dollar Tree, of all places. The Birth of Jesus by Larry Carney is a sweet rhyming re-telling of the Christmas story (my kindergartner especially likes rhymes as he's been learning about them in school recently.) I appreciate how, in very few words, the story tells all of the essential aspects of Jesus' birth. The illustrations even accurately portray the wisemen visiting Jesus in his home, not in the manger.

A bonus with this book is the read-along CD that comes with it. The CD also contains a number of very traditional children's songs such as Go Tell it on the Mountain, Jesus Loves the Little Children, Oh How I Love Jesus. I've been lamenting the fact that our kids don't learn these classics at church anymore, so I like that I can expose the boys to them this way. If this book isn't currently available at Dollar Tree, you can find it on Amazon.com.

What song from your childhood do you want to pass along to the next generation?

25 Stories of Advent--December 4

Today's book is another of the collections that we'll turn to several times during Advent. The Nativity Story by Geraldine McCaughrean is one of my favorites. In our family Advent tradition, we take a closer look at each person mentioned in the accounts in Matthew and Luke.

Zechariah, Elizabeth, John...are important to the Nativity story, but are seldom highlighted in children's Christmas books. This volume features passages about each of them. Tonight we'll be reading about Elizabeth:

Mary laid her hands on her cousin's stomach...It was like a magnet sensing north. It was like a weathercock turning in the wind. It was like the oceans tugged to and fro by the moon. The child in Elizabeth's womb, sensing the closeness of Mary's baby, turned in his watery world and reached out a hand. (The Nativity Story, McCaughrean, Lion Children's, 2007. pg 18.)

What has been the highlight of your Advent so far?

25 Stories of Advent--December 3

Today's first book is a classic; you might have had a copy when you were a child. The Christmas Story by Jane Werner is a sweet re-telling of the familiar story in Luke in the child-friendly format of a Little Golden Book. The timeless illustrations by Eloise Wilkins add to the traditional feeling that will make this book a keepsake. I found our copy at a local toy shop. It can be ordered online as well.

Our second book is a newer, original story by Lisa Tawn Bergren. God Gave Us Christmas  is told as Mama Bear's answer to Little Cub's question, "Who 'vented Christmas?"

Mama Bear and Little Cub venture out into winter where Mama Bear shows her cub God at work in the Northern Lights explaining that Jesus is the Light of the World. As they continue their exploration Little Cub sees other aspects of God's nature and hears Mama Bears explanation that leads Little Cub to the realization that "Jesus is the best present of all." God Gave Us Christmas, (Waterbrook Press, 2006).

What's your favorite Christmas book?

25 Stories of Advent--December 2

Our Advent celebration got off to a good start last night. I loved how they looked forward to it all day. Things do change some as they get older. Bug had an activity at school and I had a different meeting and wasn't going to be home at bedtime, so we ended up doing it before he and I had to leave.

There was the usual squabble over who got to open the door on the "Christmas house" (our Advent calendar). The little one doesn't quite get the "He'll do it tonight, you'll do it tomorrow" concept. My goal is to ultimately have two ornaments behind each door so they both get to pull one out and hang it on the tree each night. (Ultimately I want to have two of everything so they'll have their own set.)

Story time is the perfect addition to the process; you can tell they really don't want it to end. I love being able to tell the Nativity story in a dozen (or two) different ways between now and Christmas. Whatever else they may or many not understand about the Bible, they'll know the significance behind Christmas.

I left a new bedtime story that I picked up after Christmas last year. Waiting for Christmas: A Story about the Advent Calendar by Kathleen Long Bostrom (Zondervan, 2009) explains how Advent calendars might have come about and gives a nice story about waiting for something important. It includes an Advent calendar and stickers to start your own marking off the days until Christmas. It's even available as an eBook if you want to get started with it right away and don't have easy access to a Christian bookstore.

Tonight we'll be reading from The Lion Book of 5-Minute Christmas Stories. Told by John Goodwin (Lion Children's, 2007). This is another of the collections that we'll return to several times. Each of the ten chapters creates a short story around one person or situation described in the Nativity story.

For example, tonight's story is a first-person account of Mary's visit by Gabriel and her conversation with her mother afterward. It takes some literary license, but I think it's a nice way to help the boys understand that the people we read about in the Bible existed beyond the brief glimpses of them that we see there.

What's on your Advent agenda today?

25 Stories of Advent--December 1

We'll start our family Advent tradition this evening with Christmas is Here by Wendy Brawer (2008, Kregel). While it's a lift-the-flap board book that could be considered too young for my boys, I like that it tells little excerpts of the Nativity story on each spread along with a couple of questions that get the kids more engaged in the story. It also comes with a CD that has a specific song that corresponds to each part of the story. That's another layer we'll be adding this year.

Tonight we'll read just the first page about the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. Then we'll turn to the back of the book and open the relevant flap on the Nativity picture. The numbers are mixed up throughout the picture which makes it more fun for them to find the right one. We'll alternate which boy gets to open the flap each day.

Parable.com has this book on sale right now, (I think Barnes and Noble carries it too)!

What are you reading tonight?
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