Book Chat

TBT: Christmas Eve Traditions

I have such fond memories of reading picture books as the days led up to Christmas (even when I was much too “old” for picture books), but Christmas Eve was always special.  My parents would read our two favorite books every single Christmas Eve: The Little Golden Book Story of Christmas and The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas.

I’ve toned down my children’s lit consumption considerably since I’m not working in a school library anymore, but it’s hard to resist adding to my Christmas book collection around this time of year. THIS year, however, I didn’t get out any of the holiday decorations or books since we’ve been packing all month.

I miss the tradition of reading a book a day, so here’s some throwback Thursday action: a look at my current Christmas collection, each one a favorite! I updated my descriptions from past blog posts, many from the first couple years of blogging… talk about a trip down memory lane!

Christmas Reading

Big Susan, written and illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones

The Amateur Librarian // Christmas Reading

Sam gave me this book for Christmas in 2010, which definitely fulfills all of my qualifications for a satisfying nostalgic read.  Dolls that come to life on Christmas Eve, interacting with kindly creator Big Susan, and Christmas morning surprises.  Plus beautiful drawn illustrations.

The Christmas Cat, written by Efner Tudor Holmes and illustrated by Tasha Tudor

The Amateur Librarian // Christmas Reading

My grandmother was a children’s librarian for many years, and one of my favorite parts of visiting was her huge trunk of children’s books in the basement.  When she moved to a smaller living space, I inherited most of her old children’s books.  Many of them signed by the author (& illustrator), as this one is!  A sweet story of a family at Christmas time, with a little cat thrown in.  Such a treat.  Library binding, of course.

Christmas Day in the Morning, written by Pearl S. Buck and illustrated by Mark Buehner

The Amateur Librarian // Christmas Reading

I remember reading this story some time, somewhere, a long time ago.  It’s the story of a 15-year-old boy who doesn’t know what to get his father for Christmas, but after overhearing how his father hates to wake him up for chores on the farm each morning, he decides to wake up three hours early on Christmas morning to do the milking for him.  I remember it being touching in a solid kind of way, not too sweet.  And I didn’t realize that it was written by Pearl S. Buck, who wrote The Good Earth, so that makes sense; The Good Earth is wonderful but it is anything but sweet.  I still tear up re-reading this story each year.


The Christmas Magic, written by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by Jon Muth

The Amateur Librarian // Christmas Reading

I spotted this picture book during a Thanksgiving visit with family in Stone Harbor, NJ in 2009. The illustrations caught my eye, and the text that I briefly read seemed sweet and beautiful, and it stuck in my mind for over a year before buying it for myself. In 2010 I wrote this on the blog:

We were visiting family in New Jersey for Thanksgiving 2009.  My Uncle Dave was so altered by cancer, but the visit was so wonderful.  So much has changed from that Thanksgiving to this Thanksgiving, and this book is my own quiet dedication to my Uncle Dave, who passed away this March.  I think he would have liked this book.  And now, this book will always be part of our collection, and when we have children I will remember why I chose this book, and I am making a promise now to tell them all about my Uncle Dave when I read it aloud.  So, I think it was a good choice.

A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor, by Truman Capote

I remember reading A Christmas Memory when I was pretty young.  And then I actually found the short story in A Family Christmas (mentioned below).  I had no idea it was written by Truman Capote.  So I had to find a copy just for that story.  In searching, I found this version which contains two other stories that I’d never read.  They’re all so poignant and so well crafted… I’m glad I finally found the other two to round out the collection. Especially after reading Capote by Gerald Clarke, I’ve had a new appreciation for Truman Capote’s short stories.

In 2010 I wrote this (still makes me giggle!):

I read it aloud to Sam the other day and made it all the way to the last page, but I made Sam finish reading it because my voice kept breaking.  Just beautiful.  I forgot it was sad!  (At the end, Sam asked, “What happened?  Did she die?”  Sigh… sometimes men and women seem to be on different wavelengths entirely)

A Family Christmas, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Straight from 2010:

Sam bought this for me our first Christmas together.  It’s an eclectic collection of poems, songs, stories, and letters from here to there to yesteryear.  My favorite: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  Bravo, Sam.

The Friendly Beasts, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

The Amateur Librarian // Christmas Reading

The Friendly Beasts became one of my very favorite holiday songs when I heard Sufjan Stevens’ version of it on his album Songs for Christmas.  So when I saw that one of my favorite childhood artists Tomie dePaola (remember Strega Nona?) illustrated a book with these lyrics as the text, it was a no brainer.

The Jolly Christmas Postman, written and illustrated by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Another gift from Sam in 2010 (he knows my obsessions well!).  I still have my well-worn original Jolly Postman in my regular children’s book collection, and I was delighted with this new version!  The same great storybook characters, with new letters and cards and games to explore in the envelopes on each page.

Santa Calls, written and illustrated by William Joyce

The Amateur Librarian // Christmas Reading

I love William Joyce and his artwork (he’s the creator behind Wilbur Robinson and the movie Meet the Robinsons). His illustrations are so quirky and vintage-feeling, almost steampunk.  So is this story.


The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Jan Brett

The Amateur Librarian // Christmas Reading

You’ve probably read and loved Jan Brett and her Scandinavian folk tales (my favorites: The Mitten and The Hat, which are great for read alouds).  But aside from her imaginative stories, her artwork really takes the cake.  Each page is filled with exquisite detail, often including tiny stories in the borders.  Love it!  So when you want a traditional story, or the words of a song illustrated, Jan Brett is a pretty surefire way to go.

The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas, written by Madeleine L’Engle and illustrated by Carl Cassler

Another PBS find.  In 2011 I was on quite a L’Engle kick, and I jumped on this short story as soon as I found it, a prequel to the Austin Chronicles featuring Vicky, only seven years old, as the narrator.  The Austin family does a special Christmas activity each of the twenty-four days leading up to the 25th, but this year is different because Mother is expecting a baby to come at any time.  Really sweet, and such a realistic depiction of family life, like always–conflicting emotions, interesting characters, parents who don’t talk down to their children or coddle them.  Love L’engle, always!

What-a-Mess and the Cat Next Door, written by Frank Muir and illustrated by Joseph Wright

The original What-a-Mess books were given to me by my Grandpop long before I remember, and every one of them (What-a-Mess, What-a-Mess the Good, & Prince What-a-Mess) were of the read-it-again-for-the-thousandth-time sort of book.  The characters are hilarious, and the illustrations are out-of-this-world funny and bizarre.  So for Christmas, What-a-Mess the puppy is tricked by the neighbor’s cat into replacing the family’s Christmas tree with the oak tree in the front yard.  Oh, is it funny.  And the illustrations are a trip.  Love this book.



Winter Lights: A Season in Poems and Quilts, by Anna Hines

Beautiful, beautiful.  The quilts are really stunning, modern and colorful and abstract but evocative.  This picture book would be great in the classroom because the poems cover all the winter holidays, from Chanukah to winter solstice to Kwanzaa.  I’m glad I snapped it up for my collection!


Merry Christmas Eve!


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