Christmas books for kids


Issue: "Humanity Under the Microscope," Dec. 8, 2001
The Teachers' Night Before Christmas
Steven L. Layne; illus. by James Rice
A valentine to hardworking, holiday-stressed teachers loosely based on the poem by Clement Moore.

Delightful illustrations humorously depict classrooms descending into chaos as Christmas draws near. Steven Layne's rhyming story pokes gentle fun at the holiday extravaganza of art projects, pageants, and room mother-run parties that leaves teachers exhausted: "The festive art projects, a yearly tradition, has ended as always in room demolition."

The Christmas Promise
Susan Bartoletti; illus. by David Christiana
A sweet story of a father's love for his daughter set during the Great Depression.

When a father loses his job and runs out of money, he and his daughter take to the rails, traveling from town to town, looking for work and avoiding the "bulls" (railroad police). When the weather turns cold, the father must leave his daughter with a kindly family. He promises to come back when he has a job-and he keeps that promise on Christmas Eve.

The Little Boy's Christmas Gift
John Speirs
Sumptuously illustrated book that tells the tale of the wise men as a cumulative story.

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A small boy wants to accompany the wise men to see the Christ child. They tell him he has no gift fit for the king. The boy secretly follows the caravan, which grows as nomads, herdsmen, olive growers, farmers, and more join in. The illustrations are in the style of Jan Van Eyck or Peter Breughel, and the text appears on pages decorated like an illuminated manuscript.

A Cowboy Christmas
Audrey Wood; illus. by Robert Florczak
A traditional story in which a fatherless boy helps save a cowboy's life and sets in motion momentous changes.

Every winter since Evan's father died, ranch hand Cully has come to help the boy and his ma take care of the ranch. When Cully doesn't show up by Christmas Eve, the boy knows something is wrong. He and his ma find the sick cowboy in the snow and nurse him back to health. Illustrated in the style of N.C. Wyeth.

One Wintry Night
Ruth Bell Graham; illus. by Richard Jesse Watson
Although this book is not new, it bears mentioning because it places the Christmas story in the context of the whole history of redemption.

Caught in a blizzard with a sprained ankle, a boy takes refuge in a mountain cabin where a kind older woman tells him the story of Christmas. She begins with creation and continues through Christ's resurrection. This simple retelling of the whole Bible is a good book for someone who wants to know its central point.

Linguist Deborah Tannen's book You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation brought her national attention. The book was neither scholarly nor self-helpish, but with plentiful examples showed that much miscommunication between men and women arises from different conversational styles. In her new book, I Only Say This Because I Love You, Ms. Tannen analyzes communication within families, especially among adult children and their parents, and adult siblings. Again she uses lots of examples of real conversations to show how we communicate with words but also with meta-messages that underlie words. Within families, she says, people use language to connect but also to control-and sometimes we misread intentions, hearing criticism where caring was intended. Ms. Tannen has a gift for picking apart conversations. Whether she's writing about parent-teen interaction, in-law issues, mother-daughter relationships, or sibling rivalry, she shows how gender, region, and history can contribute to misunderstanding. Sometimes relationships break down because of sinful communication, but sometimes we see sin or bad motives when the problem is really misunderstanding. As Christmas reunites families, those who feel alienated may benefit from Ms. Tannen's wonderful job of understanding misunderstandings.


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