I've been planning to do this post all month and life has just gotten in the way of my regular posting. I'm so sorry if it's too late for gift buying! File the ideas away for next year, perhaps. Or check the library, or buy locally. ;)
We have so very many winter and holiday-themed children's books. I did a list last year, and many of those books are still in our very frequent rotation. But I'm not going to duplicate any of them here. Except ... The Mitten. Which is, after all, Elisabeth's favorite.
The Tomten. This book is so, so lovely. Almost too lovely to describe. You know how there are "kid favorites" and "parent favorites"? This one is definitely both. The language (though translated from Swedish), is so gentle and subtle. The book is reassuring and sweet ... I love the way that the ever-turning wheel of the year is described: "Winters come and summers go, year follows year..." Elisabeth could hear this book many times every day, and I think I could easily oblige her.
Winter by Gerda Muller. A sweet wordless board book, one of a set of four (one for each season). James likes to read these to himself. He'll sit down, turn the pages, and "talk" to each one. I like to hear his version of the story much more than my own.
Winter by Eva-Maria Ott-Heidmann. Another wordless picture book, also one in a set of four, this series is newer to us than Gerda Muller's. The illustrations have a much different "feel" to them -- more magical, and more festival-oriented compared to the very dailiness of Gerda Muller's. Eva-Maria's Winter features little gnomes on every page and a visit from St. Nicholas, for example. I think I prefer Eva-Maria's just a little bit to Gerda Muller's. But being fortunate enough to have both is really enriching, I think. :)
Big Susan. This is new to Elisabeth this year, though it was on my book wish-list for her even before she was born. I have always loved dolls, doll houses, miniatures, museum dioramas, and everything of that nature. I'm thrilled that my daughter seems to be following in my footsteps with a love of miniatures. We are totally loving the description of the dolls' lives, and their perspective is charmingly, hilariously, and poignantly written. A big favorite!
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I love Robert Frost's simple, quiet poem. The illustrations here, by Susan Jeffers, are funny, surprising, and ultimately, depict the vastness of nature so quietly and humbly.
The Little Fir Tree. There are so many versions of the story of the little tree who becomes a Christmas tree. I have no idea what the origin of this story is; Hans Christian Andersen's darker version was the first I'd encountered, many years ago. But this sweet version by Margaret Wise Brown is my favorite. The tree, rather than being filled with envy or dissatisfaction, is portrayed much more positively, and I love the "new" words to familiar carols. (We have the Barbara Cooney illustrated version, although the Jim LaMarche one looks exquisite. He's a favorite illustrator of mine.)
The Snowman. I guess wordless board books seem to be a theme for us. This one, despite being a board book, is really above James's head, but Elisabeth loves the soft illustrations. Last year, when we pulled the books out and looked through this one for the first time of the year, she sat silently for a moment or two (this is a child who never stops talking), and then said, in a small voice, "Oh. That's sad." It is a very bittersweet little book. But so perfect at the same time.
Ollie's Ski Trip. I've been told before that this book is the origin of the characters King Winter and Mrs Thaw. Whether or not that's true, those characters live in our home in a big way. I love Elsa Beskow's illustrations so much, and Ollie's Ski Trip is so adorable. The idea of a secret wintery adventure is very, very appealing to me. Oh, and Elisabeth likes it, too. ;)
Christmas in Noisy Village. We have read this book probably hundreds of times, and Elisabeth never, ever grows tired of it. The simple pleasures and homemade traditions of the children of Noisy Village are so comforting and inspiring. And the children are so very much like real children. Sometimes they bicker and tease one another, but for the most part, they are loving and so full of joyful celebration of the season. I love this book -- and all the Noisy Village books.
The Nativity. This book is breathtakingly exquisite. It was Elisabeth's gift from St Nicholas this year, and I think at 5 1/2, she is just old enough to appreciate the amazing beauty of the pop-up scenes. James really cannot be allowed to handle it, so it's kept separate from the rest. Elisabeth spent a lot of time poring over the amazing scenes when she was sick in bed.
Night Tree. This is the story of a family who drives to a little forest outside of town each year on Christmas eve to decorate a live tree for the animals. I love the thoughtfulness of the family, their interactions with one another, and the fact that I come away from the book feeling energized: I can create simple, meaningful traditions for my family. I can step away from commercialism even for one night. You get the feeling that the family goes home and celebrates a "normal" Christmas with a "regular" tree, presents, and so on. But this experience, of preparing their gifts for the tree in the weeks leading up to Christmas eve, of going out together for a nighttime walk, all bundled up, to their regular spot, brings them together and holds them as a family in a very special way.
Owl Moon. Another book about a nighttime walk, by one of my favorite children's book authors. This is one of my husband's all-time favorites to read aloud. He and Elisabeth have had some very special, important times together reading and discussing this book. One night last winter, an owl alighted on a fence outside our suburban condo as he was coming home from a gig, and it moved him very deeply because of his experiences with Elisabeth and this book. It's one of my most cherished hopes that one day we can move outside of town where these experiences won't be so rare and fleeting. And that we can go owling one day.
White Snow, Bright Snow. I really just love the writing in this book. It's more of a mama favorite, but my wee ones do enjoy it. Well, because they just love to be read to, I think.
The Book of Christmas. With really unusual contributions from writers and poets like Ted Hughes, EE Cummings, Christina Rossetti, and Alison Uttley, this is not the typical Christmas anthology. It is definitely a Christmas anthology, however, and not a winter one. Each poem and story relates to the Christmas holiday (some are secular, and some are religious), not to other winter holidays or general snowy gaiety. Just so you know. For me, that in no way lowers its considerable esteem. ;)
The Mitten. Because Elisabeth loves it so much. And because who doesn't love Jan Brett?
And I could go on and on, and instead I am going to stop here. And maybe save a few for next year. ;)