Happy December, Bookwyrms! I haven’t done one of these in a while, and I don’t think I’ve ever done a December holiday-related post other than my year-end review. So, hop in the library sleigh and let’s go!
Jonah Winter. The Little Owl and the BIg Tree: A Christmas Story. Illus. Jeanette Winter. New York: Beach Lane Books, 2021.
This is a literal birds’-eye view of last year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, where workers discovered a Northern Saw-whet Owl they hadn’t realized was living in the tree when they cut it down (Saw-whet’s are the tiniest owls in the eastern U.S).
Luckily, the owl was only a bit shaken up, and after some time at a wildlife rescue center, she was returned to the wild.
It’s a sweet summary of the events, with bold, jazzy illustrations that pop with color — the nighttime forest scenes are my favorite, with the purple skies and stars like fireflies, floating down to hover around the tree.
Also, this line is great: “She now had a name: Rockefeller. She didn’t know anything about that, though. She knew about being an owl.”
Erin Guendelsberger. The Christmas Blessing. Illus. Gail Yerrill. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Wonderland, 2021.
As the subtitle says, this is a pretty unique Nativity story. Like the Little Owl story, it’s also from the animals’ point of view — only, they’re not immediately thrilled when the Christmas Star tells them to prepare the manger for important visitors. Nor do they immediately “work as one” as the Star asks them to.
It seems like a simple, slightly saccharine lesson about Being Good and Working Together, but under that surface, I noticed something very interesting. The Star tells the animals how much they have in common, and how they would want their own children cared for. Then she says this: “We all love our children and our families and our friends. Love is love, if you’re a goat, a pig, a horse, or hen” (emphasis mine).
Is it just me, or is that a subtle pro-LGBT+ statement? Is Guendelsberger making a point about how people of all genders and orientations should be welcomed in the Church, because we all reflect the love of God equally? Yeah, I’m going to make that my headcanon.
I think this story could apply to readers of other faiths, too, if you look at it as a more general statement about the inherent divine worth in every person.
Craig Manning. Home For the Holidays. Illus. Ernie Kwiat. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Wonderland, 2021.
Speaking of religious diversity, this new Sesame Street book is a lovely summary of what all faiths have in common this time of year. The words are very general, focusing on universal concepts like being with family, having fun and showing kindness to strangers, and focusing on giving as much as getting.
It’s the illustrations that show the specific traditions of the Fall and Winter months. I love the very timely image of Big Bird and his distant relatives baking cookies via video call.
As a very sweet holly berry on top, the book includes a glossary of the holidays typically celebrated between October and January, from Eid al-Fitr (which, it should be noted, is not tied to a specific Gregorian date or season; the Islamic calendar is based on the moon, so it can be any time of the solar year) to Chinese New Year.
Steven Davison and Carolyn Gardner. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before christmas: 13 Days of Christmas. Illus. Jerrod Maruyama. Los Angeles/New York: Disney Press, 2021.
Are you one of those people who’s still secretly celebrating Halloween? Are you looking for an occult version of The Twelve Days of Christmas? How about a near-fortnight full of tea leaves and star signs and fortune-telling and mysterious orbs and candles floating on bats’ wings? The lyrics are accompanied by chibi-like illustrations of Jack and Sally preparing for their Christmasween shenanigans.
I…kind of want to make a tarot tree now, covered in Lucky Charms (the marshmallow kind) and Pearls of Wisdom. Is the sea monster included?
Maudie Powell-Tuck. The Magical Christmas Store. Illus. Hoang Giang. Wilton, CT: Tiger Tales, 2021.
I wasn’t sure what to think of this one, at first. On first read, it gave me slight Little Match Girl vibes (albeit with a less fatal ending). A little boy wanders downtown on a snowy night, gazing longingly at the shoppers with their expensive packages. Benji’s family is having a very tough year and can’t even buy a tree or turkey, let alone presents.
Then, as he turns to go home, Benji is knocked over by a friendly polar bear hurrying to work…at a magical store that just appeared out of nowhere! Inside, Benji goes on train and roller coaster rides, passes through rooms full of magical metaphors, and finds symbolic gifts for his family, paying not with money but with songs and stories.
See, even though I knew this was a kids’ book and therefore not actually likely to have a bummer ending, I kept half-expecting an It Was All A Cruel Dream revelation. Instead, it turns out to be a story about how, sometimes, it really is LITERALLY the thought that counts. Don’t I feel Scroogey now?
Alexandra Alessandri. Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! Illus. Addy Rivera Sonda. Chicago: Albert Whitman & Co., 2020.
Finally, I was delighted to find this story set in Colombia, about a little girl with social anxiety (interpreted, as is typical, as “shyness”). Ava Gabriela wants to join in the fun on New Year’s Eve at her grandmother’s farm (my grandparents on my Dad’s side also had a farm, and I remember spending a very lovely New Year’s Eve playing with sparklers on the front porch with my cousins!), but she freezes up every time she has a chance to speak.
Even so, her cousins and elders make sure to include Ava Gabriela in every activity without pressuring her to do or say anything she doesn’t want to, WHICH I LOVE. Her parents initially encourage her to greet her family out loud, but they immediately ease up and validate her quietness. When she whispers, “Why am I so shy?” her mother hugs her and says “There’s nothing wrong with being shy. When you’re ready, your voice will come out and play.”
I also love that, even when Ava Gabriela starts speaking more, it’s not a totally linear process. Sometimes she shouts, but sometimes she whispers, and sometimes she still gets too nervous to speak. It’s not like BOOM she’s a chatterbox from then on.
And even though her family definitely cheers her on whenever she shouts or sings with them, it’s clear from their actions throughout the story that they would have fully included her in all the fun either way.
Happy start of the Fishmas Sea-son, Bookwyrms! What are some of your favorite holiday stories to read to the elf-lings (or to curl up with yourself, with a giant quilt and a mug of gingerbread cocoa)? What seasonal shenanigans do you have planned this month?
You can bet I’m going to be decked out in my mer-ry best on Instagram and Tiktok — I have two new FinFun tails to break in, don’t you know!
Speaking of which, I think I finally figured out how to turn my creative online adventures into a low-key (sea)side hustle.
I’ve re-started my Ko-fi account, but attached it to my Instagram, where there are definitely no overly-spicy elements. Just mermaid cosplays, holiday latte crawls, Sweet Valley obsessiveness, and even a bit of actual virtual busking (I’ve taken up the ukulele and am teaching myself classic siren songs — starting, naturally, with “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry”).
So! If you’re enjoying this fabulous one-woman show and feel so able/inclined, please feel free to drop a few sand dollars in the ko-fi tin! (mixed metaphors For The Win!)