Picture Books of Christmas Past

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-Republished with permission from Linus & Bubba Books.

As a child, part of the Christmas ritual for me and my siblings was snuggling up with the basket of Christmas books that came out with the decorations every year. The illustrations were so vivid, the books always smelled a little bit like cinnamon from being in a box with Christmas ornaments all year, and sometimes I just want to float back to when I was 7 years old, curled up with my stuffed Rudolph and wearing a slightly itchy Santa hat and reading about the Christmas robin, the ten little angels, and the town that forgot about Christmas!

1. The Christmas Robin by David Hately.

The Christmas Robin tells the story of a fat little pair of robins who are feasting on some crumbs left on a windowsill one December when the robin wife glances into the window, sees the Christmas tree, and realizes, as robin wives are wont to do, that if she is to compete with the other robin wives she must have some of that tinsel for their nest. She sends her long-suffering husband on a dangerous journey inside the house to steal some of the beautiful tinsel. He is in the Christmas tree when he is discovered by the family on Christmas morning! He begins to sing, probably begging them in bird-language to please spare him the same fate as the turkey in their kitchen, and they are utterly charmed. The next day the tree is thrown out, still covered in tinsel, and Mrs. Robin is able to decorate her hearts’ content while Mr. Robin no doubt visits a divorce lawyer. Just kidding, of course. Birds can’t visit lawyers. The illustrations are completely charming and to this day I am convinced that I need a live bird for my tree. Still trying to convince my husband on that one.

And I apologize for the snark. Despite loving this book, even as a kid I thought the story was a little silly. What moral shall I take away from it? Needy wives should demand jewelry from their husbands? If you are a good little WASP family you might get a real-live robin on Christmas morning? I don’t know… but I suppose every Christmas book isn’t required to have a lofty message. Some of them are just fun to read and pretty to look at, and that’s okay with me.

 

2. Ten Christmas Angels by Ann Rickets

The battered picture above is my own personal copy, very well-loved to the point of falling apart. Yes, it is a board book for chubby little fingers. The book follows the exploits of ten little Christmas angels who flitter around Earth doing good deeds, delivering treats, decorating trees in the forest, caring for cute little baby animals, etc. The illustrations are just BEYOND charming, and you get to learn how to count to ten as a bonus! I will never forget the last page, which shows all ten little cherubs descending a golden staircase to go celebrate Christmas in heaven. Pure magic!

3. The Lost Present by Angela Holroyd

 

This one took me a while to remember the name and then find it- history seems to have all but forgotten this little gem. The Lost Present tells the story of a family of mice whose slightly-backward and less-than-well-dressed country relatives come to stay for Christmas. Tilly, the young city mouse, has made a beautiful quilt for her mother as a Christmas gift but in the process of transporting it has lost it behind a dresser and now, calamity and woe, the cat is sleeping in the living room! She enlists the help of her country cousin Marmaduke, silly pants and all, and learns that there’s much more to him than meets the eye. She is eventually able to teach her brother to view Marmaduke in the same manner rather than avoiding him simply because he seems strange. What I most remember about this book is the ridiculous attention to detail in the illustrations. Everything is mouse-themed, and there is even a tiny replica of the slightly-creepy Whistler’s Mother painting (please tell me I’m not alone in thinking it’s creepy), the human face replaced with that of a mouse.

See? Creepy.

Weird, the things that stick with you! Anyway, this book is hard to find now because as far as I can tell it’s out of print, but if you can get a hold of a copy (and, of course, assuming you love picture books as much as I do) you will be disappointed neither with the quality of the illustration nor with the sweetness of the story.

4. The City That Forgot About Christmas by Mary Warren

This one is very special because it actually predates my childhood by a good 25 years or so- the book that we had growing up was actually the same copy that my mom read as a child. The City That Forgot About Christmas was later made into a cartoon, and it tells the story of Matthew, a jolly woodcarver who visits a town that has completely forgotten about Christmas. The inhabitants are just as you might expect- less perverse than Sodom and Gomorrah but certainly just as unpleasant, given to yelling at their children and brawling with each other. (You know, as people are prone to do when there is no Christmas to be found.) Matthew teaches the town about Christmas once again, and as he does so he begins to create a life-sized Nativity scene that will be ready on Christmas Eve. Inspired by his gentle, giving spirit, the townspeople join in and it becomes a joint project teaching the town about what Christmas means. Christmas Eve comes around and the Nativity scene is beautiful. Families are brought together to enjoy the scene and spend time together… and Matthew is nowhere to be found.

 

The plot is nothing new- mysterious stranger appears from nowhere and teaches the true meaning of Christmas and then disappears- but it’s sweet just the same, and if you celebrate Christmas for sake of celebrating Jesus then this would be a great pick for your kids if you can get a hold of it.

5. A Pussycat’s Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown.

Margaret Wise Brown is the author of Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, and she knows how to write beautiful, quiet stories perfect for snuggling down with your little snuggly wuggly. This one might win for most beautiful illustrations, by the talented Anne Mortimer. For the book’s title character, Christmas is experienced entirely through sensations like the smell of oranges and cinnamon, the rustle of wrapping paper, the warmth of a fire, and the mysterious spectacle of a tree in the living room. A Pussycat’s Christmas is a beautifully sensory experience that would make an excellent bedtime story for Christmas eve.

Nom nom nom.

What are your favorite childhood Christmas books? Did you read and love (or hate) any of these? Do you have any traditions involving Christmas books?

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