Okay, let me just say right up front that I am a purist when it comes to Christmas books.
Every year the fall catalogs arrive from publishers packed with hundreds of brand new children’s titles for the holidays, and pretty soon my eyes start to glaze over and I need an insulin shot. Not to say that there aren’t a few gems in there, but man, they are hard to find.
This year–maybe because I’ve got a baby on the way–I’m spending a lot of time parsing the meaning of the holiday and what I want for it to be.
I want wonder.
I want genuine gestures of caring.
I want a pony. (Just kidding.)
Growing up in New England, Christmas is a nostalgic holiday, and I always find myself returning to books that evoke the best parts of it….the snow, the smell of good food, and the comfort of footie pajamas that zip up the front. For me, great books at Christmas are books that capture these qualities of familiarity, warmth, and seasonal ritual.
So here are three favorites–one new, one older, one very old– that get at the essence of what Christmas is in my neck of the woods.
Best wishes to everyone for a happy holiday.
CHRISTMAS POP UP by Robert Sabuda
0439845688; Orchard Books; October 2006; $12.99 mini HC
Speaking of little gems, this petite paper wonder from the engineering genius who brought us THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, WINTERS TALE, THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and THE CHRISTMAS ALPHABET is every bit as wonderful as its larger holiday cousins, but at a size that is perfect for little hands and stockings. Each letter of the word Christmas is illustrated on a page with an elegant little white pop-up on a color ground. I love Sabuda’s work for its design brilliance, and I never fail to be amazed when I turn the pages of his books. His Christmas titles perfectly capture the sense of enchantment we all want at the holidays. The closest thing to modern sculpture you will find in the pages of a book.
Bonus: Check out Mr. Sabuda’s wonderful webpage and try your hand at making your own pop-ups.
Also, catch Robert Sabuda & Matthew Reinhart’s visit on the Today Show this week.
STOPPING BY THE WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
0525467343; Dutton; September 2001; $16.99 HC
This beautiful children’s picture book edition of the Robert Frost poem, first published in 1978, perfectly captures the hush of snow blanketing the woods in a New England blizzard. New Hampshire illustrator Susan Jeffers’s luminous illustrations lend warmth to the poem and fill in the spare text with additional story elements, like feeding the birds and visiting family, that are comforting to young readers. It’s the perfect invitation to slow down and savor the simple pleasures of the season. The beautiful vellum cover and touches of additional color in small details of the pictures make this a seasonal book to be treasured year after year.
‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Clement Clark Moore, illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith
0395643740; Houghton Mifflin; October 1992; $5.95 PA
Nothing says Christmas like the granddaddy of all holiday poems. There are many, many editions of this classic available, but this is my all-time favorite. Originally published in 1912, this book has the loveliest illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith, a groundbreaking illustrator from the early part of the century, and a text design that feels like it just rolled off a letterpress. The best part? It’s so unabashedly red.
A note about editions: Houghton Mifflin just re-issued this book in 2005 with a different cover. If you really prefer the red one like me, you may have to look for it used.