It’s really late now, after the feast of the Presentation so the Christmas season is gone no matter how you stretch the definition. But I wanted to write a bit about the books the kids got for Christmas and Epiphany. Perhaps it’s just as well that I’m only getting to it now because I can fill in a little about which have been favorites.
[Sorry about the Amazon buttons. I really prefer the look of the images without the “buy now” buttons; but they take twice as long to cut and paste into the blog as the pre-made button. And yes, we do get a little bit of money for the Bettinelli book fund if you buy after clicking through from one of our links. Thank you for supporting our book addiction]
I’ve already packed away the Christmas books so I can’t remember all the new ones we got. I know we did enjoy these two:
The Donkey’s Dream—we didn’t get to read it more than a few times before the Christmas book were packed away; but I love the way the book delves into traditional Marian imagery. The kids might not understand it all; but boy did they get it.
Joy to the World Tomie de Paola, a great collection of some of his best Christmas stories. It duplicates a couple we already have but it’s nice to have them all in one volume. And Sophie really loved the story of Los Posadas, though it was the way that you love a roller coaster or a haunted house, a delicious scare with the devils paired with the reassurance of the familiar Biblical Nativity Story characters.
Georgia O’Keeffe by Georgia O’Keeffe This isn’t a children’s picture book, strictly speaking, but I believe in giving kids books with real art and it is entirely suitable for young children. We’d checked this one out from the library last fall and the girls loved it and I loved it. Even Ben liked looking at the pictures. Georgia O’Keeffe is one of my favorite painters so I love being able to share her with my children. I saw an exhibit of her work at the Dallas Museum of Art many years ago and I still treasure that experience among all my experiences of looking at paintings. There is something marvelous about Georgia.
What is truly wonderful about this book, which I didn’t realize the first time we had it, is that it is a book by Georgia and not one about her. Consider these notes from her Acknowledgements for the original edition:
I wish to thank William Einstein, a painter, who died some years ago, for urging me in the early thirties to write about my painting.
He went away and I forgot about it until Virgina Robertson found the writing a few years ago and encouraged me to continue.
Juan Hamilton has helped me with this book for the last three years and has taken care of many details, from collecting the paintings and arranging the photography to working with the color proofs and layout.
I love that the text is all Georgia’s own words about her art rather than some art critic’s explanation. It is a delightful window into her own thoughts about the paintings and is so fresh and vibrant. Bella loved when I read it to her. She wouldn’t let me stop but kept begging for more and more and more. She said the words helped her to see the pictures and to understand them.
It’s a big book, large full-color panels. Luscious. This copy is an ex-library copy with that nice durable library binding. I don’t feel so worried about the kids paging through it because it’s already stood up to quite a bit and it isn’t new and crisp.
Emily by Michael Bedard pictures by Barbara Cooney
This is a sweet little story about a girl who meets Emily Dickinson. Even though Bella has no previous acquaintance with Dickinson, she loves this picture book. Of course, she’s already predisposed to love everything by Barbara Cooney. Reading this book along with A Snow Story has prompted Bella to begin asking, “What’s a poem?” She thought she knew but both of these books present very metaphorical definitions of poetry, which puzzle her because she is still a very concrete thinker in many ways. Some day soon I need to use this book as a launch pad to get us into more Dickinson. I think Bella would like that very much.
Emma by Wendy Kesselman illustrated by Barbara Cooney A story about a 72 year old grandmother who takes up painting when her family present her with a picture of her childhood village that doesn’t match up with her memory. I love the lesson that it is never too late to learn a new skill. Bella, Ben an Sophie, all seem to like this book. Recently they’ve been playing at being artists and I think this fits into that game nicely.
Joan of Arc: The Lily Maid by Margaret Hodges illustrated by Robert Rayevsky, a beautiful version of the story of a medieval saint. I love the medieval feel of the illustrations. It’s fun for us because I was able to point out that the girls’ beloved St Therese once dressed up as St Joan. So far she hasn’t become a part of Bella and Sophie’s playing; but I’m sure that day will come.
Saints Lives and Illuminations by Ruth Sanderson. This volume focuses on saints from the first centuries of the Church. (It does include Constantine, who is considered a saint by the Orthodox churches but not, I believe, by Catholics.) Many of these saints don’t make it into children’s saints books very often, so it’s a nice mix. Includes St Nicholas, St Lawrence, St Helen, St Ephraim, St Catherine of Alexandra, St Benedict and Scholastica, St Mary of Egypt, and many of the Irish saints. I love it. The illustrations are gorgeous and it’s a book worth lingering over.
Psalms for Young Children by Marie-Hélène Delval. I was of two minds about this book. On the one hand I know from personal experience that children are able to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the psalms without any need to translate them into simpler language. My children do listen as I pray the psalms and I can tell that the psalms speak to them. They speak to their hearts even if they don’t understand all the words. On the other hand, I do like the simple paraphrases of one or two main ideas from each psalm. They choose verses that speak to children’s various needs in prayer and I think provide a nice entryway for children into making their prayer into a real conversation with God, expressing their fears and desires, vocalizing their praise and petitions, in short the full range of human emotion and experience. So I would say that this book is not a substitute for introducing children to the richness of the book of psalms, the Church’s universal prayer; but a good supplement to such an introduction. Just as when teaching Shakespeare, I might have children read a simplified prose version first before diving into Shakespearian language, I see these versions as a way to highlight some of the main themes of the psalms in a plain, everyday language any child can understand.
The Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen illustrated by Kevin Hawkes A sweet story about a lion who loves story time at the library. Indirectly it’s also a story about rules, especially about the times when it is necessary to break the rules. Also about admitting you are wrong and seeing the good in people who are different. The pictures are magical, reminiscent of Robert McClosky’s Make Way for Ducklings. Ben, Sophie, and Bella all love it and request it; but it seems to especially speak to Ben.
Little Blue Truck, this book was one I picked up at Target on a whim to fill out the gift roster for Ben and Anthony but we have all come to love it. One of those rare books that has a rhyme and rhythm that is delicious to read, with plenty of fun animal sounds. It’s the story of two trucks: a friendly little blue truck who befriends all of the animals, and a too-busy, stuck-up dump truck. The dump gets stuck in the mud and Blue gets stuck while trying to help get him out. Then all the animals who couldn’t be bothered to help the rude Dump come to Blue’s aid. Despite their collaborative effort, the animals can’t budge the trucks until the little green toad saves the day. A perfect book for my truck-crazy boy.
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed board book by Eileen Christelow. Ben loves to jump on my bed while chanting, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!” So this board book was a no-brainer.
Shark vs. Train I’m not a huge fan; but I seem to be the exception. Ben and Sophie and Bella all seem to like this one. Ben and Sophie more so than Bella.
Rose of Lima by Mary Fabyan Windeatt
Actually not a picture book but a chapter book. Rose is my confirmation saint; but sadly this is the first book I’ve ever read about her. Bella and I loved it and it gave us much to talk about and think about. Today Bella was pretending to make a stations of the cross int he back yard just as Rose used to do in her garden. It has fired Bella’s imagination and that is the best sign of a book that has done it’s job. I’ve been inspired to dust off a full-length biography of Rose that has been on my shelf for years. It was interesting too how much Rose’s life was an imitation of St Catherine of Siena. I’m still slowly nibbling away at Sigrid Undset’s biography of Catherine and so was able to appreciate that aspect of Rose’s story even more. I’m finally really seeing the influence of my patron saint in my life, though it took having daughters who name their toy camels Rose and Lima before I really appreciated the first canonized saint of the new world.