Sharing Advent stories – Part 2

Recently we posted some suggestions of books to share with children during Advent and Christmas – here are some more.  I wonder which titles you might want to add to this list?

A Single Star: An anthology of Christmas poetry compiled by David Davis  978-0140308761 £4.81

I am so old that I grew up in a house without a TV. Our broadcasting input as children was Children’s Hour, offered at teatime every weekday. The thing that has stayed with me from this is the beautifully read serials offered by broadcaster David Davis (no relation to the politician of that name). One of my precious Christmas possessions is this anthology of Christmas poems he compiled. There is a marvellous contrast between children’s contributions (Thomas Boyle: Christmas to me was snow – but it never snowed, it always rained or was sunny …) and Clive Sansom’s sophisticated The Innkeeper’s Wife. ‘Who is it aimed at?’ asks Davis, in his introduction. ’Children, I think, as far as possible: either to read to themselves, or to be read to. Some of it may be above their heads, but not all. One can never tell.’

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden  978-0670062195  Still on Kindle

“This is a story about wishing.” So begins Rumer Godden’s The Story of Holly and Ivy, a tale of longing as an orphan girl, a doll in a toyshop window and a childless housewife wait for Christmas Day. The story unfolds to reveal an unlikely miracle bringing them together through ‘prickles’ or unexpected moments, moments any sensible person would either ignore or dismiss. But each of them is open to believing in a miracle and so their hopes are met in each other on Christmas morning.

This was my favourite book as a child, and I remember my grandmother reading it to me.  She read this as though she believed it could all be true, and so did I.  Today the pencil illustrations by Adrienne Adams in my 1958 edition remind me of drawings my Dad used to make for us as children, making this even more precious.

Amazing Peace.  A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou 978-1400065585  £8.89

This is one of the most beautiful modern poems to capture the call of Christmas for everyone; a reminder of how we might change our perspective and the future for all when we welcome the Peace of Christmas.  Written in 2005, Angelou’s cry to come the way of friendship is timeless and especially relevant today.  Although it might read more like a sermon than a poem and contains words that some would say are too grown-up for children, she dedicates the book to “all the children in all the world, who in order to grow healthily, need our love and poetry.”  In this poem she invites us to share these, for surely we cannot live without them.  The book is wonderfully illustrated with deeply textured images and you may also buy a copy with a CD of Angelou reading the poem.

The Worst Kids in the World by Barbara Robinson 978-0099427407  £1.45

‘The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty…’ Like all great books the opening line grabs the attention.

The story continues and tells how these children hijack the local church nativity play and bag all the best parts.  It’s funny, outrageous and extremely moving. It’s a book, now 40 years old, that I’ve read to many children as a serial,  but one where there have been cries at the end of each chapter, ‘Don’t stop, read another one.’

Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt and illustrated by Loren Long  978-0007261697

Frank McCourt tells a story about his mother, Angela, when she was six. His memoir Angela’s Ashes is a modern classic. As a child she felt sorry for the baby in the Christmas crib at the local church, he looked so cold and lonely. Angela then decides to take him home. Loren Long’s illustrations are wonderful. My favourite is Jesus tossed into the air as Angela finds the back gate locked, and has to throw him over the gate… ‘She threw and threw and he wouldn’t go over, till she threw the third time and over he went. Then the terrible thing happened….’

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey  by Susan  Wojciechowski  and illustrated by P L Lynch   978-1406360387 £6.54

The illustrations are beautiful ,with a brilliant  intense use of light and shade. This book tells the story of a woodcarver stricken with grief over the death of his wife and child. Transformation happens when a widow and her son ask him to carve a set of nativity figures. This book was awarded a Kate Greenaway medal.

A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith 978-0192727305  £5.99

Brian Wildsmith’s water colour illustrations are rich and sumptuous with shining gold on every page. The Christmas story is simply told by a girl, Rebecca. The story opens with the Annunciation which is put alongside the birth of a donkey in Nazareth. Nine month later Rebecca and the donkey make the journey to Bethlehem searching for the Holy Family.

The written language is sparse, but Brian Wildsmith is a master of visual language.  Every page of textured water colour and gold is a delight.

On Angel Wings by Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake, Illustrator 978-1405293150 £5.94

Two greats of children’s literature, both Children’s Laureates, co-operate here to give a retelling of the Christmas story from a young shepherd’s point of view. Quentin Blake’s wonderfully free illustration of a young boy left behind and eventually given a lift to the stable on ‘Angel wings’ is an imaginative leap of sheer delight. The memory of holding the child stays with the boy for the rest of his life and is told and retold to his children and grandchildren. This book also deals with the issues of how we believe and of how truth might be known. The last pages reminded me of the last part of the Godly Play Great Family story and of how imagination is key to our understanding of spirituality.

The Mystery of Holy Night by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This is a compilation of words and thoughts from the great German theologian who was executed in 1945. These Advent and Christmas thoughts come from sermons, meditations and letters he wrote as a pastor, chaplain and prisoner.  They are interspersed with illustrations by artists such as Giotto, Fra Angelica and others.  I would recommend this to older children and young adults who like to be challenged, those who want an opportunity for reflection and meditation.

The First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski  £6.52

The text is from the King James version of the Bible, one that is not often familiar to children today. But this is an opportunity to explore the use of words and poetic phrases that are part of our tradition. Jan Pienkowski brings the words alive with his spectacular illustrations, using his familiar style of intricate cut out silhouettes against multicoloured water coloured washes. The book is like an illuminated manuscript alive with ornamented capital letters and interwoven with designs from the natural world that link to the main silhouette illustration. There is so much here to just enjoy and wonder.

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