The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

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Title: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Premise:

This is the life story of a man named Claus (later known as Santa Claus).  It starts with his baby years, when he was abandoned near the forest and a kind-hearted nymph named Necile adopted him as her own.  Claus grew up in an enchanted forest, but when he reached adulthood, he took his place in the world of man.  From his home in the Laughing Valley, Claus spreads happiness to the children of the world by making and delivering toys.  This story talks about his life’s work and how a few common Christmas traditions came to be.

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished reading this for school.  The first time I read it was several years ago and I was quite taken with it back then.  Though the language is quaint and a little old-fashioned, by son thoroughly enjoyed the book and couldn’t wait until we could read the next chapter.

Baum’s story about Santa Claus is more than just a jolly old elf who likes to eat cookies.  His is an active and philanthropic man who makes it his life’s work to bring joy to others.  I like how Santa serves as a middleman between the world of mortals and immortals in this story, drawing the immortals into helping humanity.  I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this book again in a few years so I can read it with my younger girls.  I know they will love the story and I think this is a great family read-aloud!

I recommend The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to young readers, families and anyone else who wants to learn more about Santa’s history (at least according to Baum).

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Mystery in the Snow by Gertrude Chandler Warner

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Title: The Mystery in the Snow by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Notable: Book #32 in The Boxcar Children series

Premise:

The Alden children visit a ski resort with their grandfather and get to enter a winter event competition.  When it seems like the contest is being sabotaged, it’s up to the Alden children to figure out who is ruining it and why.

My thoughts:

You can count on The Boxcar Children for innocent and simple mystery stories for kids.  While there’s nothing profound in this book, it keeps kids engaged by presenting a mystery which they try to unravel.  When I was a kid I loved this series and it still holds somewhat of a magical, mystical quality for me.

The story itself is pretty simple.  The kids enter a contest which features skiing, ice skating, sledding, snow sculpture and ice sculpture.  Two teams compete and at the end they hold an awards ceremony.  From the beginning though, the competition seems to be experiencing an awful lot of misfortune, from a missing key to other peoples’ work being ruined.  This would be an especially appropriate story during the Christmas season, or for kids who enjoy outdoor winter activities.

I recommend The Mystery in the Snow to children who enjoy mysteries without any objectionable material.  It would also be suitable to read aloud to your family.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories by O. Henry

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Title: The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories by O. Henry

Premise:

This is a collection of short stories by O. Henry.  It includes “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Cop and the Anthem,” “Springtime à la Carte,” “The Green Door,” “After Twenty Years,” “The Furnished Room,” “The Pimienta Pancakes,” “The Last Leaf,” “The Voice of the City,” “While the Auto Waits,” “A Retrieved Reformation,” “A Municipal Report,” “A Newspaper Story,” “The Ransom of Red Chief,” “A Ghost of a Chance,” and “Makes the Whole World Kin.”

My thoughts:

I read this book specifically for “The Gift of the Magi,” a Christmas story.  The book is so short, though, that I decided to just go ahead and read the entire thing.  A couple of the stories were familiar to me (“The Last Leaf” in particular), though I can’t think of where I would have heard/read it before.  Overall, I really enjoyed the book.  Most of the stories were well-written, clever, heartfelt, and several had twist endings.  Henry’s writing is challenging to read, so you’ll want to keep a dictionary at hand.  You will certainly expand your vocabulary!

You should know that there are three instances of the n-word in this book.  I believe they are contained in only two stories, but in any instance where an African American is included in a story, they are talked of in a condescending way.  For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone younger than an adult.

I recommend The Gift of the Magi to adults who enjoy short stories.  Most of the stories in this volume are satisfying reads.

Possible Objections:

  • There is a general air of condescension towards African Americans
  • Outdated/offensive racial language (3 uses of the n-word)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Title: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Premise:

Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly old man who hates all things cheerful and unprofitable–including and especially Christmas!  Scrooge’s deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, sends three ghostly spirits to visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve.  Can they help him realize the error of his ways before it is too late and he suffers the same torturous fate as his partner?

My thoughts:

Initially I had thought I’d be able to read this book aloud with my 10-year-old son, but about halfway through the first chapter, I realized that his attention was waning.  The language was a bit complex for him and it just wasn’t holding his interest.  He doesn’t have much patience for stories which take a little while to get going.

I decided to read it by myself and it was a really nice story to complement all of the Christmas festivities going on around me.  The story didn’t propel itself forward for me, but it may have been partially due to the fact that I have a lot on my plate right now getting ready for Christmas, and my attention tends to wander to my to-do list.  My favorite aspect of the story is the way it makes you feel about Christmas–all the nostalgia and the appreciation for all of the wonderful things during this time of year.  Dickens’ story actually had an instrumental and lasting influence on our Western ideals about Christmas, the true meaning of the holiday and how we observe it today.

I recommend A Christmas Carol to kids in middle school and up, or to families to enjoy together during Christmas.  If you share it with younger kids, you’ll have to do some explaining about the more complex language.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

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Title: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Premise:

What will happen when the Christmas pageant is infiltrated by the Herdmans, the town’s most unruly and notorious kids?  Hilarity and the most unique retelling of the Nativity story you’ve ever witnessed!  Their unique take on the story ends up producing the best Christmas pageant the town has ever seen.

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished reading this book together for school and it was an absolute hoot!  We laughed so much at all of the Herdmans’ antics–Imogene as a hoop earring-wearing, cigar-smoking Mary, and Gladys as an Angel of the Lord who yells at the shepherds and stomps on their feet.  Though these kids may be lacking in the finer points of politeness, they latch right onto the Christmas story and internalize its true meaning.

If you’re really particular about not letting your kids read books with children who misbehave, this may not be the book for you.  The Herdmans smoke cigars, hit people, burn down a shed, steal and generally act “naughty.”  Their behavior isn’t glorified, though, so I’m not afraid of my kids following their example.

Throughout the book there’s a smattering of drawings which help bring extra life and humor to the story.  The picture of Imogene smoking in the ladies room while she’s dressed up as Mary is just priceless.

I recommend The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to children and families to enjoy together during Christmas.  It’s our family’s favorite Christmas read aloud!

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol by Harper & Almara

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Title: A Christmas Carol: A Graphic Novel by Benjamin Harper & Dono Sanchez-Almara

Premise:

This is a retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the form of a graphic novel.  A miserly old man named Scrooge is visited by three Christmas Spirits who show him the error of his ways, and what awaits him in the afterlife unless he changes.  Scrooge vows to be a better man and spends the rest of his life being kind and giving to others.

My thoughts:

I really like being able to read a graphic novel version of this story with my kids.  It’s an awesome way to introduce them to the story!  I was a bit unrealistic about my childrens’ ability to understand the original story by Dickens.  I started reading it with my son and he was looking lost, so we opted to read the graphic novel instead.

You should know going into it, that this is a very simple telling of the story.  The language is quite basic and the retelling really just sticks to the main meat of the story.  I thought the illustrations were really nice!  Marley’s ghost and the third Spirit might be a little alarming to small children, but I don’t think they’re too bad.

I recommend A Christmas Carol to children and families to enjoy together during Christmas.  It’s short enough to read in one sitting.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Title: The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien

Premise:

This book shares a series of letters written by Tolkien (as Father Christmas) to his children, chronicling the adventures at the North Pole each year.  The letters are nicely illustrated with Tolkien’s customary pen and ink drawings.

My thoughts:

This book was completely new to me and I fell in love with it!  Tolkien’s illustrations are simply charming and it’s interesting to see how his style, which I’m used to seeing in his LOTR books, comes through in these letters written to his children.

The letters themselves are simple enough for children, but still interesting for older readers.  It’s easy to imagine the antics going on at the North Pole with the elves, goblins and especially the North Polar Bear or N. P. B.  Who knew that Santa was faced with quite so many obstacles and shenanigans while getting ready to deliver presents to children all around the world?  I can’t wait to share this book with my kids–they are going to love it!

I recommend The Father Christmas Letters to children and families as a wonderful book to read during the holiday season.  You should be able to finish it in two or three leisurely sittings.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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Title: The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Premise:

Carol Bird is born on Christmas Day, a wonderful gift to the rest of her family.  Her health is rather poor and never improves throughout her childhood.  This Christmas, Carol makes it her mission to bring joy to someone else and chooses the Ruggles children who live in poverty in a small house behind her family’s mansion.  Carol and her family make grand preparations so that the Ruggles children can have a magical Christmas experience.

My thoughts:

I read this book some years ago and it’s one of my favorite Christmas stories.  I’ll warn you, it does end sadly.  The story is so sweet and old-fashioned, with charming drawings scattered throughout the book.  Carol uses her last Christmas to bring joy to other children, and I believe that’s a thought worth sharing during the Christmas season.

Really, you have to take the story at face value or you could get caught up in a discussion about why the Bird family doesn’t provide aid to the Ruggles family the rest of the year.  That’s a perfectly valid criticism of the story, but the story wasn’t really written as a manual on civic responsibility.  It’s just a feel-good Christmas story which keeps everything surface level.  The one redeeming point is Uncle Jack’s proclamation that should something happen to Carol, he vows to take the Ruggles family under his wing.  Thank heavens for Uncle Jack!

I recommend The Birds’ Christmas Carol as a touching story that’s perfect for the Christmas season.

Possible Objections:

  • In one scene the Ruggles children play “Deaf and Dumb Asylum”

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori