What We’re Reading: I Love Christmas and Max’s Christmas

It is Wednesday again, and we have two quick Christmas-themed book recommendations today.

Baby and Toddler

from Catherine (Adventures with Kids)

I Love Christmas by Anna Walker

“My name is Ollie.
I love Christmas.”

ilovechristmasThis is a simple and charming story that describes what Ollie the zebra loves about Christmas – some of the things he loves are baking Christmas cake, watching Christmas lights and listening for Santa’s sleigh bells.  I Love Christmas has rhyming text and beautiful watercolour illustrations sure to catch your child’s eye.

This book provides a perfect chance to talk about the simple pleasures of Christmas.  You could complement the book by making a small album with photos of your child enjoying Christmas.

Preschool

from Megan (Simple Kids)

maxschristmasIn this family, we are huge fans of Rosemary Wells.  The Max and Ruby series of books are amongst the most-loved and often-read in our home library.  Our preschooler can recite from memory most every one of the classic stories written and illustrated by Wells.  It’s no surprise then that one of our family’s favorite Christmas books is Max’s Christmas.

Originally published in 1986, Max’s Christmas marked Wells’s transition from board books to picture books.  (You can read more about her writing career here.)  I love that the charming illustrations reflect the earliest visions Wells had for Max and Ruby.  This book was published long before the books inspired the animated series, and both the illustrations and simple text are truly vintage Rosemary Wells.

The plot line here is simple: Ruby helps Max prepare for bed on Christmas Eve.  Max has many, many questions for Ruby, and even the ever-patient Ruby resorts to “BECAUSE!” for an explanation.  My girls find the teeth-brushing scene particularly giggle-inducing, especially the part where Ruby has to remind Max to “Spit, Max!”

Precocious Max manages to stay up and catch Santa Claus in the act of delivering presents.  We find that jolly old Santa also eventually gets flustered by Max’s many questions.  As a parent, I like that the emphasis of the story is not necessarily on the gifts, but more on the anticipation that surrounds Christmas Eve.  Anyone with any experience with little ones can relate to the way a barrage of questions can frustrate even the most patient amongst us!

If you have a chance to check out a copy of Max’s Christmas before Christmas Eve, I am confident your family will enjoy a peek into the home of Max and Ruby this holiday season.

What We’re Listening To: Charlie Brown Christmas

charliebrownchristmas Photo by Kevin Dooley

Our music columnist Jennifer has some timely musical recommendations for us:

As seems appropriate for this month I’m going to recommend one of my favorite Christmas albums.

But first I want to say – I really love Christmas music! I like to pull out my holiday collection as soon as the season starts and listen throughout.  And when it comes to Christmas music I tend to gravitate toward that which makes me feel nostalgic.  I love classic tunes by classic artists; I can’t seem to get enough of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in various arrangements.

While the album I’ve chosen for this month doesn’t include that particular song, it’s one that I think will evoke memories of childhood for many of you.  If “Wha, wha, wha, wha” reminds you of the sound of an adult speaking, then you’ll know my December recommendation for you as the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

This album has the sounds of your favorite Peanuts characters combined with a lovely selection of jazzed up instrumental arrangements of some holiday classics.  I enjoy the combination of both vocal and instrumental songs; it seems to be the perfect low key mix that you can easily put on in the background of any holiday activity. In fact, I think last year this was the music we played during Christmas breakfast.  But no matter what the occasion, it’s great for both adults to sit back and soak in while children dance about.

We have the 2006 Remastered Version, which is the most recent release of the three available versions of the soundtrack
.  I honestly didn’t realize until researching this review that there were multiple versions available, and that some controversy surrounds them as to which deserves the title as best or authentic.

Our family has been blissfully ignorant of any other choices and satisfied with this version.  But if you prefer the unedited version as heard on the original 60s television show, it’s also currently available for purchase. You can listen to a sample from all three albums and read more about the controversy at amazon.com.

Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on television each December continues to be a tradition for many families, and if yours is one of those families then I’m sure you will smile as I do when that familiar music starts playing.

I also wanted to share a couple of other musical tips for your holiday listening pleasure:

  • If you happen to have a Starbucks in your neighborhood and if you spend $15 this month at any participating store you will receive a free CD featuring Playing for Change, U2, Dave Matthews Band & John Legend.  For each CD distributed, Starbucks will also donate $1 to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS in Africa.  (visit What’s New in Stores for more details)  It’s a nice way to pick up some free tunes and give back at the same time.  Starbucks is also offering free weekly song downloads through the Pick of the Week program that is holiday inspired (available at participating locations).
  • Also, if you live in the US, be sure to explore Pandora internet radio to expand your holiday soundtrack by adding a new holiday inspired station.  Here are some Christmas music channel ideas from the Pandora blog.

I’d love to know what your favorite holiday songs/albums are. What do you keep coming back to year after year and what do your kids enjoy? Is there any album in particular you’re planning to add to your collection this year?

December 11th: Gift Guide Showcase

christmasgifts Photo by Zecheriah Judy

I am experiencing lots of technical difficulties this week – perhaps my internet connection finds it difficult to move quickly in the winter in the same way that I do?

This week’s Showcase will be short and sweet.  Though the most organized amongst have surely completed gift shopping, I know there may be a few in our community still working on tackling the gift list (including yours truly!).

Today, I’m showcasing some of the gift guides I’ve come across in the past few weeks. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will spur some inspiration either for this holiday season or for gift-giving the year ahead!

Playful Learning Gift Guide: Presents that Stand the Test of Time

No Time For Flash Cards: Our Favorites, Reader Favorites, and Books Every Home Needs

Imagination Soup: Educational Holiday Gift Guide

thelongthread: handmade GIFT GUIDE 2009

Make and Takes: DIY Holiday Gift Guide 2009

And Twins make 5: 2009 Holiday Gift Guide (complete with discount codes)

If your family is looking for frugal and/or homemade gift ideas, check out the Frugal Friday: Gifts for $10 or Less link-up going on today at Life as Mom!

Finally, my past two columns at Simple Mom may also inspire a gift idea or two: 10 Clutter-Free Gift Ideas for Kids and Handmade Gift Ideas for Tweens and Teens.

And, speaking of Simple Mom, today Tsh is sharing some delicious ideas for creating edible gifts!

I’m curious – am I the only one who hasn’t completed Christmas gift shopping? Also, have you found some gift guides that you think might be helpful for others in the SK community? Feel free to share the link in the comments!

What We’re Reading: Eve Bunting’s Night Tree

For What We’re Reading Wednesday, Amy of Let’s Explore and Early Bird Homeschool is reviewing a comforting selection from Eve Bunting:

nighttreeNight Tree by Eve Bunting is one of my favorite books.  There is just something about the story and illustrations that makes me feel cozy and warm – a perfect fit for this time of year!

Night Tree is the story of a family’s Christmas Eve tradition to go out into the woods, find “their” tree, and decorate it with popcorn chains, apples, tangerines, and other goodies for the animals.  They decorate the tree, drink hot cocoa from a thermos and sing Christmas carols by moonlight.  The story is told by a young boy, and my favorite part is the boy imagining the animals all around the tree enjoying their treats on Christmas Day.

Eve Bunting’s writing is beautiful and poetic, which makes this book even more enjoyable to read aloud:

It hasn’t snowed yet.  It’s so cold my breath hurts.  The sky is spattered with stars, and the moon, big as a basketball, slides in and out between the treetops.

My girls love this book as much as I do.  Each year after reading this story, they are inspired to fill the trees in our yard with treats for the birds.  Night Tree is a lovely, gentle book that celebrates nature, generosity, and family – it’s definitely a holiday favorite in our house!

What seasonal books are being enjoyed by your family this December?

Eight Simple Steps to a Meaningful Hanukkah

Hanukkah or Hanukah or Chanukah – however you spell it, it’s a perfect holiday for reflecting on parenting without fuss. This Jewish eight-day holiday, observed this year beginning at sundown on December 11, is ritually considered to be a minor festival.

Hanukkah’s proximity to Christmas on the calendar has inflated its significance and its reputation for eight days of gifts but at heart, this is a small holiday with a big idea: that thousands of years ago a group of Jews had only enough oil to light the Temple’s Eternal Light for one day, and God made a miracle happen. The oil lasted for exactly eight days – just long enough for a fleet of messengers to travel the distance to retrieve more oil. We light candles for eight nights to commemorate the miracle of the oil, and in that spirit I offer you eight activities for an enjoyable family Hanukkah. [Read more…]