Tag Archives: Christmas

Hester Saves Christmas – Susanna Hill’s 8th Annual Holiday Contest

Dust off the decorations. Strike up the band. Bake, bake, bake and bake some more (especially if it’s chocolate). It’s time for

Susanna Hill’s 8th Annual Holiday Contest!

The Contest:  Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as age 12 and under) about A Holiday Hero!  Your hero’s act of heroism can be on a grand scale or a small one – from saving Christmas to leaving a fresh-baked loaf of Challah bread for a homeless person to something like Gift Of The Magi where two people give up the thing most important to them to be sure someone they love has a good holiday.  Your hero can be obvious or unlikely.  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 250 words.  Entries are posted, or linked to, Susanna’s post. Grab some cocoa, scurry over & enjoy some wonderful holiday stories! You’ll be glad you did (and so will the writers, if you leave comments).

And now, for my 246-word entry…

Hester Saves Christmas

Hester loved jingling bells, the scent of sparkling pine trees, and the promise of present-filled stockings hung by Farmer O’Neill’s chimney. She especially loved stories of Santa and his reindeer.

“Mama, can I can pull Santa’s sleigh next year?” Hester asked.

“Flying reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh, Hester. And everyone knows Highland Cows can’t fly.”

But I can dream, thought Hester. And practice.

She hopped over heather and thistles.

“Ouch!”

She jumped across rocky streams…almost.

            SPLASH!

She trotted uphill, leapt, and…

tumbled down a steep slope.

            Moooo…

Hester kept trying…

and trying…

and trying…

but not quite succeeding.

As Christmas drew near, Hester turned her nose from pine trees and looked away from the chimney. She hung her shaggy head. Large tears fell, freezing like a glistening beard.

“A blizzard,” sighed Farmer O’Neill on Christmas Eve.  “No presents tomorrow. Santa’s reindeer can’t fly through this mess. Into the barn, girls.”

All but one shuffled into the warm barn.

Hester trudged through deep snowdrifts. She shivered in the blustery wind and slipped on icy paths until…

She heard a faint jingle-jingle. She scrambled and spied…

Santa in his sleigh with eight grounded reindeer stuck in a snow pile.

Hester pulled, tugged and led the reindeer, sleigh and Santa along the snowy trail.

The next morning, presents filled stockings.  Laughter rang like jingling bells across the farm.

“Merry Christmas, Hester,” Farmer O’Neill said.  “Wake up! Somehow Santa came!”

Hester yawned and wondered,

Can a cow hide Easter eggs?

 

 

PPBF – Gingerbread Christmas

If you asked anyone in my household the name of an author/illustrator who publishes Christmas stories, I’ve no doubt that any of them would immediately answer, “Jan Brett.” We had a small copy of her illustrated Twelve Days of Christmas (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1986) when my children were young. It was a holiday tradition to read the book each year, and I vividly recall the kids pointing out favorite details in the elaborate sidebars. Since then, we’ve read, and savored, so many of her other holiday classics. When I discovered her latest holiday story at the library, I knew I had to feature it as a Perfect Picture Book:

9780399170713_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Gingerbread Christmas

Written & Illustrated By: Jan Brett

Publisher/date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: Christmas, gingerbread, music, festivals

Opening: “Everyone in the village is talking about the Christmas Festival,” Matti told the Gingerbread Baby. “I can sing in my Gingerbread Band!” the Gingerbread Baby sang out.”

Brief Synopsis: Matti creates a Gingerbread Band to accompany the Gingerbread Baby. But when a hungry child decides that the music is not just sweet but would be tasty, too, both Matti and the Baby must use their wits to save the Band and the Baby.

Links to Resources:

  • Bake and decorate gingerbread. Find Jan Brett’s recipe here.
  • Make a gingerbread house. Jan Brett has an interactive Gingerbaby House design that can be decorated and printed on her website.
  • You also can color a Gingerbaby page.
  • Sing favorite holiday songs.

Why I Like this Book: This is a feel-good story for the holidays. I love Matti’s resourcefulness, and I especially love the sense of community as villagers and wild animals dance to the Band’s tunes. When one greedy youngster decides to eat the band, readers will learn how quickly greediness can spoil a treat that was being enjoyed by all.

I love, too, Jan’s folksy illustrations, especially the side frames, that are as integral to this new Christmas tale as they are to Jan Brett’s many other books.

A Note about Craft:

What better combination than sweet gingerbread and sweet music! The band plays a march as, you guessed it, they march to the bandstand. They next play a “snappy” tune – as snappy as the gingerbread my mother baked. Their playing is described as “sweet” – a perfect adverb to describe music fit for the holidays. I love how these descriptors could as easily be descriptions of cookies on a platter as music played on a stage.

The turning point arrives when one greedy, or perhaps just observant and hungry, young girl calls a cookie a cookie and declares that she wants one. Immediately, “everyone” wants a “piece of gingerbread for myself.” Adults will recognize how one person’s vocalization is enough to put an idea into the heads of “everyone.” This could lead to some interesting discussions about thinking for oneself; being a leader rather than a follower; and even, perhaps, sticking up for the poor gingerbread instruments that had been trying so hard to entertain the crowd.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Christmas Boot

It’s that time of year again! Yep, time to visit that local bookstore and pretend to search for a gift for “that special someone” while really checking out the new holiday picture books. For the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring holiday titles, because they are, truly, Perfect Picture Books:

9780803741348_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Christmas Boot

Written By: Lisa Wheeler

Illustrated By: Jerry Pinkney

Publisher/date: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group)/2016 (an earlier version of this book was published by Mitten Press/2006)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Christmas, Santa Claus, poverty, wishes, giving and receiving, loneliness, the elderly

Opening: “Deep in the forest on Christmas morning, Hannah Greyweather gathered bundles of kindling wood. For her, this day was no different from any other. As she went about her chores, she chatted to the forest, she talked to the mountains, but mostly she spoke to herself.”

Brief Synopsis: When a lonely, elderly woman finds a boot in the forest, she wishes for its mate and other things to ease her difficult life. But when the rightful owner of the boot appears, Hannah gratefully gives up her treasures and asks for only one thing that she truly desires.

Links to Resources:

The holidays are a season of joy. For the poor or lonely, though, they are difficult times, especially when accompanied by cold and snowy weather.

  • Make a holiday card or send a letter to an elderly or homebound person.
  • Bake and decorate boot and mitten-shaped cookies and share them.
  • Donate warm clothing or gently-used toys or books to those in need.

Think about what’s at the top of your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa list. Why do you want it? Think about what’s really important to you and your family.

Why I Like this Book:

Tis the season of giving and receiving. The Christmas Boot asks the important question, what do you “truly desire”, ie, what is most important.  Hannah answers that what she truly wants is someone to talk to – not the large, fancy house, “fabulous foods” and “fluffy feather bed” that had appeared when she wished for them. Somehow, these “didn’t seem fully right”; they “didn’t seem to ‘fit’”. I love how Hannah rejects material comforts that aren’t true necessities and seeks, instead, companionship.

Mr. Pinkney’s gorgeous, homey, old-fashioned illustrations, the folktale feeling of the illustrations and text, and the inclusion of holiday magic make this a book that will become a holiday classic. The message of asking what’s most important and the focus on a poor, lonely, elderly woman make this a book that deserves to become a classic.

A Note about Craft:

The Christmas Boot is a modern folktale. But Ms. Wheeler doesn’t start this tale in classic “once upon a time” fashion. Instead, her opening paragraph jumps right in to Hannah Greyweather’s gritty life. It sets the scene and prepares us for what is to come: we immediately learn the who, what, where of the story and the central problem to be solved: the main character is lonely.

And who is the main character? Unlike many picture books, the main character here is an elderly woman. Hannah easily could have been a young “matchstick girl” or shepherd. Featuring an elderly, lonely woman brings another dimension to the story, focusing on the oft-forgotten elderly for whom a holiday may be a day “no different from any other.”

Finally, I love that Ms. Wheeler has chosen a character name that brings to mind other traditions: Hannah is a popular Jewish name, and Greyweather could easily be an American Indian name.

The Christmas Boot received starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly. View the book trailer here. And for an interview with Ms. Wheeler, including the story behind this story and its republication, see Picture Book Builders.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!