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Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

It is a secret to no one who knows me, whether on social media or in real life, that I love Pope Francis.  So when I was offered the opportunity to review a picture book about him, I jumped at it.  I didn’t jump on the reviewing part quite as quickly as I should, for which mea culpa.  Read on to see what I thought–and know that while my review copy was free, I was not otherwise compensated for this review, and my opinion is, as always, my own!

I was hooked immediately by the title–Pope Francis:  Builder of Bridges.  You may know that one of the Holy Father’s titles, Pontiff, comes from the Latin pontifex, literally bridge-builder, and I have always thought it described Pope Francis especially well.

I love that the story starts with young Jorge Bergoglio, walking through Buenos Aires at his grandmother’s side, dreaming of playing soccer.  Since this is a children’s book, it makes sense to start with a child, someone young readers will relate to.

pope book 1

The book showcases events from Jorge’s Bergoglio’s life that shaped his future path, from his relationship with his faithful grandmother, his father’s example of hard work, his encounters with the poor in his city, to his decision to join the Jesuits.  It offers humanizing anecdotes, such as the movie nights he hosted for neighborhood kids.  The story continues through his election as Pope and after to some of the events that have happened since, such as his decision to wash the feet of prisoners, Muslims, and women on Holy Thursday and his writing of Laudate Si.

pope book 2

Visually this book is very appealing, with colorful illustrations that support the text, and accurate portrayals of the Pope.  I especially love the inside covers, which depict stained glass windows.

There are many details here for adults to appreciate too, like the glossary, the many direct quotations from the Pope with their sources provided, a timeline, and a bibliography.

Pope Francis: Builder of Bridge would be the perfect gift for any Catholic family.  I loved it and I am delighted to have it in my library!

Author:  Emma Otheguy

Illustrator:  Oliver Dominguez

Publisher:  Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Use the above link, or any link in this post, to purchase this book, and I will receive a small commission.

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It’s Christmas Eve!

In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.

The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!

Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.

Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.

As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.

It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.

We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.

the clown of god

This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.

jonathan toomey

The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.

The Other WIse Man

An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.

silver packages

The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.

small miracle

I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

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Beware!  Herein lie spoilers!

I’m not in the habit of writing movie reviews, but then I’m not in the habit of going to movies either.  John loves them, and occasionally he insists on taking me, but usually I’d rather spend date nights talking.  I go to the theatre for big events:  Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hobbit . . . the movies whose opening date you’ve known for months, the ones where your heart is pounding and you are a little bit breathless as the show finally begins.  Y’all, I had actual tears in my eyes when the theme music started.  This is serious stuff to me.

Why so serious? you ask.  Because I am, and have been, a certified Tolkien geek for most of my life, since I first read The Hobbit when I was about eight years old.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it–and its “sequel”–since.  I read it aloud to my children; I read The Lord of the Rings (yes, all 1,200 pages) aloud to my husband.  Pre-fire, I owned most of Tolkien’s books, including obscure works; I had the soundtracks of the animated versions of his books; I had encyclopedias and atlases of Middle Earth; I even had the War of the Rings board game.  In college, I wrote a term paper on Tolkien’s life; in grad school, I created an annotated bibliography of sources related to the languages he created.

So I’m not a casual fan, or someone who just discovered Tolkien because of Peter Jackson’s movies (which up until now I’ve mostly been pleased with).  And this is a family full of serious Tolkien fans.   We were so excited about this movie that we kept the kids out of school today so that we could go as early as possible.

the hobbitSo I hate that I was disappointed.

I was skeptical when Peter Jackson announced that he was making The Hobbit into a trilogy.  I knew he was going to have to make additions, but I expected that most of them would involve adding scenes from other Tolkien sources (like Gandalf’s meeting with Thorin in Bree, a scene in this movie) or expounding on things that are mentioned in the book but not fleshed out (like flashbacks to the fall of Dale and Erebor in the last one).  I did not expect him to flat-out MAKE THINGS UP.  His efforts to insert matters from The Lord of the Rings  into the first installment were irksome, requiring mischaracterization of the relationship between Saruman and Galdalf, and I groused about that then, but for the most part his tampering was minor enough to overlook.

But not this time.  You know, I could overlook Azog not being actually dead in the first movie, but I can’t overlook the appearance of Bolg as well and orc after orc after hideously ugly orc in this one, especially not in freaking Imax 3-D.  THERE SHOULD BE NO ORCS IN THIS SECTION OF THE MOVIE.  They go back to the Misty Mountains and don’t reappear until the Battle of Five Armies.  Y’all, orcs are repulsive to look at and I’m tired of seeing them get their heads cut off.  I mean the thrill is totally gone.

You know what else shouldn’t be in this movie? Legolas.  Now. don’t get me wrong, I love Legolas.  And I was prepared to go along with his presence, because Thranduil IS his father, and he is a Mirkwood elf, so he was probably there.  So give him  a few lines or whatever, but don’t give him a huge subplot, complete with a love triangle.

Oh, and don’t create a “she-elf” to be one of the vertices of said love triangle, and have her be the one who enlightens Legolas on his duty to leave the safety of the forest against his father’s will in order to help stop the spreading darkness (which is not really even mentioned in this book but which is insisted upon over and over in the movie–by the elves, Gandalf, the orcs, and even Smaug).

So belatedly I should say that the first problem I have with this movie is it adds things that never happened.  More things than I’ve mentioned.  But enough said.

Second, just because a movie is fantasy doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be believable.  Believable, I mean, within the confines of its own universe.  So yes, dragons and elves and dwarves exist, but even awesome elves like Legolas cannot physically do the things he does in the crazy action sequences (SO many action sequences) in this movie.  After awhile you are just shaking your head.  Nor can Thorin constantly survive blasts of Smaug’s fiery breath.  Or people fall repeatedly from great heights and hop right up with no broken bones.

Third, wouldn’t you think that one of the pluses of turning a short book into three long movies is that at least nothing would need to be cut?  That you would get to see every beloved scene on screen?  Well, think again, Buster.  Because Mr. Jackson is so enamored of his manufactured subplots that he doesn’t have time for the things that ACTUALLY happened.  The weeks of weary travel through Mirkwood?  Five minutes, tops.   Bilbo’s time spent skulking in the halls of the woodelves?  We see plenty of Thranduil (and what an ass he is) and Legolas and Tauriel (aforesaid she-elf) but we have no idea what poor Bilbo is up to until he appears with the keys.  The weeks the dwarves spend on the Lonely Mountain before they get inside?  They arrive moments before the keyhole appeared.

Fourth, the Ring.   The chief importance of the Ring in The Hobbit is that it’s Bilbo’s little secret weapon–he’s invisible while he fights the spiders, he’s invisible in the elf king’s halls, he’s invisible while talking to Smaug.  The Ring is NOT yet exerting some malevolent influence over him, for one thing because Tolkien hadn’t thought of that yet (although he goes for a little revisionist history later himself), but more important, MUCH more important, because it takes years and years and years before the Ring even begins to affect Bilbo.  His ability to resist its evil effects is miraculous and a tribute to him and to hobbits in general, and Gandalf makes much of that in The Fellowship of the Ring (the book, I’m talking about here).   But in this movie he has to be constantly pulling it out and staring at it and hearing the words that he does not even know are inscribed in it inside his head–in the Black Speech, no less–and even tells a spider, “It’s mine!” (At least he didn’t say it was precious.)  And when he should be using it, he’s always TAKING IT OFF.  Like when he is standing a couple of feet away from the MOUTH OF A FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON.

Finally, and most important of all, Peter Jackson has missed the point of The Hobbit in every possible way.  It’s a children’s story that he wants to rewrite for an adult audience.  It’s a simple tale that he wants to make complicated.  It’s a standalone book that he wants to tie to the War of the Ring.  And at its heart, it’s BILBO’s story.  It’s the story of how a simple, stay-at-home hobbit left his comfortable fireside for an adventure he never knew he wanted  and discovered that there was more inside him than he and others guessed.    Bilbo is largely missing from the second installment, which plays partly like Thorin’s story and partly like a prelude of the evil to come.  His triumphant moments are passed over quickly or even taken away from him all together (the elves come to the rescue and finish killing off the spiders, his single-handed liberation of the dwarves from the eleven king requires more elvish assistance as well as help from the dwarves and Bard).  In the book the dwarves respect and rely upon Bilbo more and more as time goes on.  That’s important–central–and you don’t see it here.

If I had never read The Hobbit, I would have liked this movie.  It was fast-paced and exciting and visually appealing.  I thought the 3D was used to much better effect this time around–there were times where the characters looked REAL to me in a way I can’t exactly explain.  The spiders and Smaug were awesomely scary.  I liked Tauriel’s character.  But as someone who loves the book, I instead found myself constantly shaking my head, and thinking, “Did he really just do that? Really?”

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David Copperfield.

Gone with the Wind.

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The Lord of the Rings.

Dracula.

The Lords of Discipline.

The Hobbit.

The Dark is Rising series.

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The Chronicles of Narnia.

A Tale of Two Cities.

Little House on the Prairie.

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What do the above books have in common (besides being awesome, of course!)?

They are all books that I have read aloud in their entirety.  This might make you think I am a great mother, carrying on the bedtime reading well past the early childhood years.  You’d be wrong.

Because I did not read these books to my kids–I read them to my husband.

I don’t remember how it started, but way back when we were first married–maybe even before–I started reading aloud to John, sometimes at bedtime, often on long car trips (there were many in those days), and even just sitting in the living room, when we got so absorbed in a book we just didn’t want to stop.

I picked the books–favorites of mine that I wanted to share.  Sometimes I picked authors–like Dickens–that John was doubtful about, just so I could prove him wrong. 🙂

We continued this even after we had kids.  I can remember sitting out on the balcony of our last apartment, reading David Copperfield and feeling sad at the end of the nearly 1,000 pages, because we were going to miss the characters we had spent so much time with.

I remember sitting in the living room of our first house, reading Gone with the Wind by the light of the Christmas tree, and hearing little Emily in the hallway, listening in.  It was a great way to spend time together, doing something special without leaving the house, which would have required a babysitter.

What I can’t remember is exactly when we stopped, or why.  It was probably about ten years ago.  Maybe we got too busy, having four kids and lots of outside activities.  Maybe it was too noisy on car trips and we had to focus on amusing the kids instead of ourselves.  Maybe we were so tired at bedtime that we just fell asleep.  For sure, part of it was that Emily got old enough to babysit, and we were able from then until recently to leave the house whenever we wanted to spend time together without the kids.

But now that has changed.  The big boys are still at home, but not much.  They have active social lives that keep them out of the house most of the time on weekends.  If we want to be assured of a babysitter for a special occasion, like a wedding or an anniversary, we have to make a plan with them in advance (because we are not THOSE people, who expect their teenage kids to take care of their little siblings no matter what–we always ask.).

William is 11–old enough, in our opinion and his, to stay alone at home for an hour or two, in the daytime hours.  But he is not old enough to be responsible for seven-year-old Lorelei, day or night.

So we are spending more time at home in the evening than we have in years.  And it occurred to me that reading aloud would be a much nicer way to connect than playing on our separate computers all night.  I’ve been wanting to read Jane Eyre to John for some time.  Then Wuthering Heights.  I can’t wait!

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[UPDATE:  I’m embarrassed to admit that we couldn’t get through one chapter.  We can’t stay awake while reading in bed anymore.  However, I’ve gotten back into the reading aloud groove in order to help William with his school English assignments.  In the past year I’ve read him War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, and Unbroken.  And right now I’m reading The House with a Clock in Its Walls to the whole family.]

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If you are a parent, you KNOW that you understand exactly what I mean, right?  Your kid fixates on some favorite book–which you HATE–and he wants to hear it multiple times a day, sometimes chanting “Again, again!” right after you finish it, like a Teletubby.

After five kids, you had better believe I have done my share of reading to children.  And I know how to condense a story and rush my way through a hated book. I honestly don’t get how some of this stuff makes it into print.

But books that parents love to read and kids hate to listen to are no better, are they?  I’m thinking about all the beautifully illustrated hardback poetic bedtime story books I’ve bought over the years that, frankly, bored my kids to death.  I’d look at them longingly, sitting ignored on the shelf, but Emily was the only one of my children who would put up with listening to baby literature.

Emily is a book addict like me, and she was born that way.  Before she could walk, we could sit her in front of her shelf in the bookcase, and she would pull out every book, one at a time, and actually look at each picture (not throw them behind her for fun, like the rest of my kids).  You could occupy her for an hour that way.  And because she was the first child, and the only one for three years, we read to her all the time.  I can recite the entire Dr. Seuss ABC book from memory (you probably can too, so I know you aren’t impressed) and large parts of other children’s books as well, thanks to Emily.

There wasn’t as much time to read to Jake and Teddy.  Most of our reading happened at bedtime.  They were actually really cooperative about listening to what I would consider “improving” books, like treasures from my beloved Eloise Wilkin collection like Prayers for Children and My Little Golden Book about God.  They had a book about the Parables of Jesus that they loved.  They asked over and over again to hear the one about “the man in the ditch.”

I am embarrassed to admit how little I have read to Lorelei and William by comparison.  I don’t mean I never read to them, but it wasn’t daily, not even at bedtime.  Maybe it makes up for it some that Emily likes to read to them.  Since we moved here, I read bedtime stories to Lorelei most nights, usually the books she herself has picked out from her school library.  She especially loves the Pee Wee Scout chapter books.

What children’s books do I like?  I could write post after post on this topic (Ah!  There’s an idea!).  I’m not a fan of sappy tearjerkers like I’ll Love You Forever.  Make of that what you will.  I also loathe gimmicky retreads like If You Give a Moose a Muffin.  There was an awesomely hysterical article posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago about horrible children’s books, which I did not repost because of the Bad Word in the title.  But I agreed with almost all of it.  Except I do think the Amelia Bedelia series is amusing.  My new favorite children’s book isn’t exactly for children.  But I digress.

Let me share just a few that my kids like and that I don’t mind reading over and over:

I first heard Owl Babies on Reading Rainbow.  We bought the board book and Jake and Teddy loved it.  We changed the three owls’ names to Emily, Jake, and Teddy.  I never tired of reading it and they never tired of hearing it.  The underlying message–that Mommy ALWAYS comes back–is organic, not tiresome and preachy.

More More More Said the Baby is a feast of bright colors and baby love.  It’s multicultural without screaming “Hey, look at how diverse these characters are!”  It only has a few words on every page!  What more could you ask for?

I think Red Red Red came to us via Imagination Library.  As if it weren’t enough that someone surnamed Gorbachev would write a book with that title, it’s a lovely book.  I had to read it to Lorelei every night for months so I know.  I just love the moment at the end where everyone finds out what is red.  What a great reminder to enjoy the little things in life.

Doesn’t EVERYONE love Frog and Toad?  I didn’t appreciate them nearly as much as a child as I have come to as a grownup.  These books teach friendship by showing it, not preaching about it.  Can you tell I hate preachy children’s books?  And they are funny, too.

Will you share your favorite picture books with me in the comments?

 

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William (age 10) hit me with a couple of difficult topics right in a row the other night.  This post is part one.

Many parents struggle with how to talk to their children about where babies come from.  When I was growing up, I had many friends whose parents completely ignored this essential topic, leaving them to be instructed God only knows by who, how, or when.  Lucky for them they got to go to Girl Scout camp with me.  No joke, I drew a diagram and labelled female body parts–they had never even been taught the proper names.

I was raised to call things by their right names.  And when I was four, and my little sister was on the way, my mother showed me pictures of birth, which fascinated me.  I remember getting in trouble for telling a friend how babies got out of stomachs.  Her mother had told her they were all cut out (much less rare nowadays, sadly, but not in the early seventies) and she was upset with me for telling her the truth.  I remember being puzzled as to why this mother, who was by profession a nurse, would lie about this.

When I was seven, my mother took the occasion of my aunt expecting to read me a book entitled Where Do Babies Come From?  It was a simple book with artistic illustrations in soft colors (I hate the cartoony sex ed books that are popular these days).  I remember being extremely skeptical and asking her to show me exactly where it really said the part about how babies are made!

I admired my mother’s approach and saw no reason to deviate from it in the raising of my own kids.  I wanted them to be informed, and I also wanted them to be comfortable asking us anything.  So when Emily was little, I picked up my very own copy of the previously mentioned book at the used bookstore.  Then I waited.  I had always heard that you shouldn’t give kids more information than they were ready for, and to follow their cues.  With two brothers arriving in quick succession, Emily knew plenty about pregnancy at a young age.  Finally, when she was seven, she asked me what the daddy had to do with it.  Voila, I pulled out the book and read it to her.  Then I let her read it again herself.

The hysterical sequel to this was when her Daddy came home, and she was so excited that the first thing she did was to share this information with him, and then demanded that he read her the book as well.  He was horrified but hid it well.  Then she asked us. “Did YOU do that?”

I don’t have as clear a memory of talking to Jake and Teddy–Jake says that Emily actually told him surreptitiously at some point–but I know I read them that same book, and taught them the right words, and answered all their questions.  I recall Jake saying something like, “Well, you must have done it three times, since you have three children.”

This approach was a success with my three big kids.  True, occasionally someone would holler, “Penis!” while standing in line at the grocery store.  And I have been amazed at some of the questions they asked me, without any embarrassment.  But today, they are not shy about saying anything in front of me, which can be disconcerting but is better than the alternative.

So now we come to William.  He’s ten–will be eleven in March–so you would think we would have had this talk by now, right?  I kept waiting for him to ask me the questions that would start us down the path to the conversation.  But here’s the thing about William–besides being extremely innocent for his age (he’s homeschooled and doesn’t have close contact with any other little boys except his cousin) he also doesn’t pick things up unless they concern the topics he is vitally interested in–at the moment, xenomorphs, transformers, Godzilla, and animals.  He knows just about everything there is to know about those subjects.  I have frequently heard him refer to animals mating, and I wondered what he thought that entailed.  I assumed he probably knew a lot–how could he not, in a houseful of teenagers with their computers and movies and uncensored conversations–even though we had never had an official talk.

Because William is so oblivious we often carry on discussions right in front of him and assume he is not paying attention.  So the other night John and I were working and I asked a question that involved the very young mother of a client, who was married to a boy who was not the father of our client.  William wasn’t even in the office but he heard me and started asking questions.  “How could her husband not be her baby’s father?” he asked me.  I said, “Well, she was married, but she had a boyfriend at the same time.”  He mulled this over for a moment and then said, “People don’t mate like animals, do they?  I mean, you just have a baby with someone if you spend a lot of time with them, right?”

I could just feel John cringing at his desk and knew I wasn’t going to have any help in this conversation!  I said, “Actually, people do mate.”  “How?” said William.  Buying time, I asked him, “How do you think animals mate?” “I don’t really know,” he responded. “I know they have to be near each other, and bugs have to actually be touching each other.”

So here’s where I should have been able to reach for my trusty book, right?  Oh wait.

Right.  The book was in the house.  The house that BURNED DOWN.  Damn it.

Flying solo, I started with the part about each parent having a seed that will make the baby and that the seeds have to get together.  “How?” was the natural next question.  So trying to sound completely at ease, I briefly described the process.  “Really?”  he said.  “That sounds disgusting.”

“It sounds strange,” I said.  “I didn’t believe it myself when I first heard it.  But it’s really not disgusting, it’s nice.  It’s something people want to do when they love each other.”

“I still think it sounds disgusting,” he said.  Then he turned to John to continue his discussion of the Cloverfield monster.

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The gifts continue to flow in from so many generous and thoughtful people, from friends and strangers alike.   Today I want to share two that touched me especially because of their link to my past.

When I was in the first grade, my mother had a Christmas party for me and all the girls in my class.  This became an annual event, anticipated by my classmates just as much as by me, that we called “The Cookie Party.”   Each girl was given a piece of hot-cross-bun dough to knead, add nuts or candied fruit to, and shape, and while my mother baked these, we decorated sugar cookies–three per girl–with some trying to make them pretty and others piling on as much icing as possible!  This party took place each year until I graduated from St. Joseph School.

So when Emily started at St. Joseph, it felt right to revive this tradition.  I even got my mother to run the party.  Things had changed, though.  Growing up with two brothers, Emily was closer to the boys in her class than the girls.  So we had to invite the boys too.  Boys added another dimension–flour flew through the air, dough was pounded more vigorously.  Also, people seem busier these days.  They don’t R.S.V.P., and they don’t bring their kids to every party to which they are invited.  Eventually we began inviting just those children who kept returning year after year.  And they did enjoy and look forward to the annual event.

The cookie party was labor intensive and messy!  When William started kindergarten, I had a new idea for a Christmas party–a Christmas bedtime story party.  Kids would come in their pajamas, and listen to some Christmas stories.  Then I would serve hot chocolate and sugar cookies–decorated in advance!  The children got to take home their Christmas mugs as party favors.  I did this party for William for three years, and then last year when Lorelei was in kindergarten I did it for her.

This brings us to another tradition–the Christmas book tradition.  This one, too, has its roots in my childhood.  Like many children, we were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve.  At first, it was whatever present under the tree struck our fancy.  Later it evolved to being a certain present–a book–my mother would have ready for us so we could read it before bed as we tried to fall asleep (never so hard as when you are a child on Christmas Eve!).  I had a book for Emily to unwrap on her first Christmas Eve–an alphabet book by Steven Kellogg–but by her second Christmas I had decided the book should be a Christmas book.  I gave her “The Clown of God” by Tomie de Paola–who became one of my favorite children’s authors.

With five children receiving a Christmas story book every Christmas Eve, our collection of special books grew.  We had a large box of very special Christmas books that we brought out at the beginning of each December and read throughout the month.  They were in the garage with the Christmas decorations, and now they are ashes.

“The Clown of God” remains my all-time favorite.  Here are some others I recall:  “The Silver Package,” “We Were There,” “Who’s Coming to Our House,” “The Other Wise Man,” “A Christmas Miracle,” “The Cat in the Manger,” and so many more.

The other day we received a card from the family of a little girl who was in Lorelei’s class last year and attended the party.  Little Gracie herself had the idea to send us Barnes and Noble gift cards to help replace the books that were lost.  I still have not cried a river over all this, but this is the kind of gift that brings tears to my eyes.

And here’s another:  one of the people who attended my cookie parties, starting when she came to St. Joseph in 5th grade, was my friend Katrice.  We became close in high school, we were in each other’s weddings, and she and her husband are devoted godparents to our oldest son.

When we were planning our wedding, Katrice’s dad was starting a photography business and trying to build up a portfolio.  He offered to do our pictures for the cost of the film.  He printed all the pictures and then gave us the negatives to keep and to have larger prints made of the ones we wanted to frame and for our album–an album made for me by my high school roommate.  We were very pleased with his work, and in addition to the album full of 8 X 10s we had several photos framed around the house.

Well, those are ashes too now.  The negatives are in a supposedly fireproof box buried in the ashes of what used to be our office, and we may or may not be able to find them out–it took about 8 hours for John to find the rings that were in his jewelry box in our bedroom.  So imagine how exciting it was when Katrice arrived at my house the other day, bearing her dad’s portfolio with five 8 X 10s from my wedding, including the one of the entire wedding party!  She brought a frame for that one, and put it on a table angled toward the front door, so that in her words, “Everyone can see this is John and Leslie’s house when they come in.”  It was the very first family photo to be displayed in our new home.

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