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Christmas in France, c. 1930

From Noël for Jeanne-Marie by Françoise Seignobosc:

“Listen, Patapon,” says Jeanne-Marie. “Noël is the birthday of the little Jesus.”

“And there is something more about Noël. If you are very good, Father Noël brings you presents. He comes in the night. No one sees him, no one at all. I put my wooden shoes near the chimney and Father Noël fills them with presents. You will see, Patapon, you will see . . .”

Unfortunately, Patapon is Jeanne-Marie’s pet sheep, and sheep have no wooden shoes to place beside the chimney for Father Noël to fill with presents.

I love both the illustrations and the story in this simple picture book about a little French girl and her pet sheep. Ms. Seignobosc, a French-American author and illustrator who used the pen name of simply “Françoise”, wrote and illustrated over 40 picture books between the years of 1930 and 1960. I would suggest that if you find any of her books about Jeanne-Marie or any of her other lovely picture books that you snap them up. They are not only collector’s items, but they are also delightful, simple stories for reading with preschoolers and for the young at heart.

Take a look at this one about Biquette, the white goat with a lovely special-made coat.
Or Springtime for Jeanne-Marie, one of my favorites.
More from Springtime for Jeanne-Marie.
And here’s some information about another Francoise book, The Thank You Book.

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Christmas in Alaska, 1948


From The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill:

“When it was Christmastime, we had a tree in the school. . . We put popcorn strings on it and little chains made of green and red paper. That tree looked just beautiful.

It was supposed to have candles on it, but Miss Agnes said that spruce was too dry, the needles just falling off with a little sprinkling sound when you walked by it. We might set it on fire if we put candles on it.

Miss Agnes showed us some Christmas pictures from other countries, and those Christmas trees were just fat. Different from our skinny little trees. Our little skinny tree branches couldn’t even hold a candle, I don’t think.

Miss Agnes taught us a whole bunch of Christmas songs. Some we knew from the radio already. And we put on a play.”

Miss Agnes is the new teacher in a small Athabascan village in Alaska, and the narrator of the story is ten year old Fred, one of her pupils in the one-room schoolhouse. This 113 page book would make a good read aloud story for younger children or a good independent reading book for those who are confident enough to start reading chapter books by themselves. It’s a lovely story about a very special teacher, and the Christmas celebration that Miss Agnes has with her pupils and their parents is especially fun to read about.

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Recommended.

Christmas in New Jersey, c. 1988

From Ten Kids, No Pets by Ann M. Martin:

“Jan was sure she wouldn’t be able to sleep at all on Christmas Eve. The day had already been exciting, and so many more exciting things would happen while she was in bed. The tree had been trimmed several days earlier, but on Christmas Eve Mr. Rosso had turned on its lights for the first time. Jan had looked at her little tree standing in the corner of the living room in a haze of soft, glowing color and thought she’d never seen anything so beautiful.

Then Jan the rest had brought al of their presents out of secret hiding places and arranged them under the tree. They’d sung Christmas carols and had eggnog (Jan had spit hers out), and then Jan had set out a plate of cookies for Santa Claus.

Finally, Mrs. Rosso had said, ‘Time for bed, kids!’ and Jan hadn’t objected Santa would come only after she’d gone to sleep. Then he’d slide down the chimney and fill the twelve stockings and pile more presents under the tree. Before he left he’d stop to eat Jan’s snack. Oh, it was so exciting! How could Jan possibly fall asleep?”

I snagged a copy of this book, featuring a family with ten children, at the library book sale on Saturday afternoon. The children are very happy with their large family, but they long for a pet. I have a special affinity and understanding for this story since my eight children begged for a puppy or a kitten for years before we finally got one of each in one year when my resistance was especially low.

So much for “no pets.”

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Christmas in Ohio (?), c.1994

From Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake by Cynthia Rylant.

“Mr. Putter loved to give Christmas presents. He started thinking about Christmas presents in July. He liked to think of what he could give to the grocer and to the librarian, and to the postman. Mr. Putter also had to think of what he could give to his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry. This was the hardest of all. He usually had to think about this all the way to December.
Mrs. Teaberry liked strange things. She liked coconuts made into monkey heads. She liked salt shakers that walked across the table. She liked little dresses for her teapots. Mr. Putter could live with monkey heads and walking salt shakers and dressed-up teapots. But Mr. Putter could not believe hat Mrs. Teaberry liked fruitcake. He could not believe that anyone liked fruitcake. . .
He thought Mrs. Teaberry should have a good cake for Christmas. . . And one night as he and Tabby sat dreaming at their snowy window, that is what he decided to gee Mrs. Teaberry for Christmas. Mr. Putter would bake her a Christmas cake. It would be a cinch.
The cake was not a cinch.”

This series of easy readers by Cynthia Rylant has the distinction of being about an elderly man and his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, and his cat Tabby. Most children’s books are about children. But I have seen lots of kids enjoy these simple stories about an old man and his simple joys and problems. I enjoy them, too. The other books in the series are:

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea
Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears
Mr. Putter and Tabby Fly the Plane
Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat
Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train
Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn
Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch
Mr. Putter and Tabby Feed the Fish
Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold
Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup
Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book
Mr. Putter and Tabby Make a Wish
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spin the Yarn
Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars
Mr. Putter and Tabby Run the Race
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the Beans
Mr. Putter and Tabby Clear the Decks
Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell
Mr. Putter & Tabby Dance the Dance

I wish I had all of these in my library, but at any rate I do have Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake–just in time to inspire me to bake something for Christmas.

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Christmas in Port William, Kentucky, 1954

From Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry:

“The night of the Christmas dance was starless. A few snowflakes were floating down out of the dark sky into the aura of electric light in front of Riverwood. I was moved to see the snowflakes melting in Clydie’s hair as I helped her out of her coat. She was wearing a light green dress with a full skirt that set off her figure, and I reached around her waist and gave her a little hug.

We protested and paid and went past Mrs. Fitz’s table into the darker room. The band already was playing and couples were dancing. Mindful that we were older than most, we took a table a little off to itself and yet where we had a good view of the floor. For a while we just watched. The boys were wearing their good suits. The girls were in party dresses, all dolled up. It was a pretty thing to see them dancing. The room was lighted by rows of shaded electric candles along the walls, an imitation log fire in the fireplace, and (so far) by a few lamps overhead that cast a soft glow onto the dance floor. Everybody (including, of course, me) had brought a pint or a half-pint stuck away in his pocket or in his date’s purse.”

Something happens at the Christmas dance that changes Mr. Jayber Crow, Port William’s resident barber and inveterate bachelor. He sees something that changes the direction of his life–in an unusual way. He makes a vow, and he spends the remainder of the book living out the consequences of that vow.

“Maybe I had begun my journey drunk and ended it crazy. Probably I was not the one to say. But though I felt the whole world shaken underfoot, though I foresaw nothing and feared everything, I felt strangely steadied in my mind, strangely elated and quiet.
The sky had lightened a little by the time I reached the top of the Port William hill. It was Sunday morning again.”

Jayber Crow is one of the best books I’ve ever read by a very talented author.

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Christmas in Antarctica, 1910


“The story in this book really happened on a voyage to Antarctica in 1910. The ship was called the Terra Nova. Her captain was Robert Scott, and Tom Crean, the sailor, was a member of the crew.”

This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Tom the Sailor who is too busy to decorate for Christmas. On a very full ship, nearing the coast of Antarctica, Tom must find a nesting place for his pet rabbit. After Tom finds a place for Little Rabbit,

“Everyone sat down around the long table in the big cabin. They ate . . . tomato soup, roast mutton, plum pudding, mince pies. Then they opened little parcels from their families. They played games and sang songs. They were a very long ways away from home, but it was a good Christmas party.”

After the Christmas party, Tom goes to check on Little Rabbit, and he finds a big surprise, “the best Christmas present ever!”

The end papers tell a little, but not all, of what happened to Tom Crean and his ship and his expedition after the Christmas of 1910. Crean went with Captain Scott overland toward the South Pole, but he was sent back before reaching the pole. On the way back, he saved the life of fellow explorer, Edward Evans, who was afflicted with snow blindness and scurvy. Crean trekked 56 kilometers alone, through the snow and just ahead of a blizzard, to get help for Evans.

The men of Scott’s expedition who went on toward the South Pole arrived to find that Roald Amundsen had reached the South Pole ahead on them. This part of the story is not in the picture book: all of the men of Scott’s polar expedition who reached the South Pole died on the way back. Crean was one of the 11-man search party that found their remains.

After all of that tragedy and adventure, Crean returned to Antarctica withe Shackleton expedition of 1914. He again performed heroic feats, being one of the three men who accompanied Shackleton as he sailed 800 miles through Antarctic seas and then hiked 48 kilometers across a glacier to obtain rescue for the rest of the men of the party who were left on Elephant Island.

Crean retired to Ireland. “He put his medals and his sword in a box … and that was that. He was a very humble man.” (Wikipedia, Tom Crean) I rather doubt that Little Rabbit and his progeny suffered such a happy fate, but the story in this picture book doesn’t deal with Little Rabbit’s later life.

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Christmas in Holland, 1943

A Dutch family celebrates Christmas/St. Nicholas Day during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands:

St. Nicholas told Pieterbaas to look in the bag and see what was in it. To everyone’s amusement, Pieterbaas pulled out six chocolate bars! They were small bars, but they might have been of gold. Chocolate had been unknown in Holland for the past three years. Now Betsy believed more than ever in St. Nicholas’ magic!

St. Nicholas sat at the table and had supper with the family. Mother had added to the meal a sauce of the mushrooms Joris had picked, so that there would be enough food for everyone.

Betsy exclaimed that she had never before eaten with St. Nicholas. “Are you going to see my Daddy,” she asked.

St. Nicholas was struggling with the soup; he seemed to have difficulty finding his mouth through the beard. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Of course, I don’t forget people.”

“And what will you bring him?” asked Betsy. “Bread pudding?” Bread pudding seemed to be a family joke at the stationmaster’s house.

“No, I’m going to bring him good news of his girls. He’ll like that best,” said St. Nicholas. Koba and Betsy nodded. That seemed reasonable. ~The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum

Christmas in Northeast China, 1940

David Michell was born in China, the son of Australian Christian missionaries working with the China Inland Mission. He was at Chefoo School, away from his parents, when the Japanese took the students and staff there captive. He spent part of the war in an internment camp, the same camp where Olympic runner Eric Liddell was held. This Christmas, described in a letter to the students’ parents, was just before the Japanese took over the area in 1941.

From A Boy’s War by David Michell:

“Just before Christmas the well-known story of Scrooge once again delighted youthful eyes and ears and prepared the way for the Spirit of Christmas 1940. On Christmas Eve little messengers went round the compound or to the houses of other friends carrying bulging bags, waste paper [baskets], or even laundry baskets full of gifts, while others with dolls’ prams filled them with gay packages and wheeled them off. Meanwhile a bevy of artists from the Girls’ House transformed our dining room into a Christmas bower, where red and green and silver glowed in the soft lights from the tree.

Just as supper was over a Chinese school visited us and filled the hall with their hearty singing while our children looked on in solemn amazement. . . . That night a package found its way on to the foot of each bed, not quite burning a hole through the covers in the few short hours till Christmas Day in the morning. That morning began at 6:30, and instead of the clanging of a gong, church bells relayed by a gramophone echoed down the passages. Breakfast was followed by family prayers round the table, and again the soft lights on the tree shed their radiance over a scene which you would love to have looked upon. Our hearts bowed in worship as we sang of the One who came, ‘A little Child to earth, long ago’ from the knowledge of whom comes all peace and joy and love.”

The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman

The blurb says that this story is “set in 1949 and tak[es] inspiration from E.B. White’s Stuart Little.” The mouse hero Stuart Little is certainly mentioned repeatedly and is an important role model for the mice in the story. However, even though she is not mentioned, the human fictional heroine Little Orphan Annie certainly must have been lurking in the background as an influence for the author of this orphan tale. Kirkus Reviews says the story is surely a tribute to Paul Gallico’s The Abandoned, a story I’m not familiar with although I know the author (The Poseidon Adventure, Mrs. ‘arris Goes to Paris). The plot also echoed Aesop’s fable of The Lion and the Mouse. So it’s a story of many sources and influences.

Cherry Street Children’s Home is the domicile of about thirty some odd orphans, including ten year old Caro McKay. Caro is not very pretty, and she has a severely scarred right hand from the house fire that took her mother’s life. Caro knows that her mother’s death was her fault, and she tries every day to make up for her cowardice in not saving her mother from the fire by being “too good, too studious, too obedient, too nice.” The orphanage director, Mrs. George, depends on Caro to keep the peace and to be a good influence on the other orphans.

Meanwhile, in “mouse territory” behind the baseboards and under the floors, a whole colony of mice forage for food, care for their families, watch for predators, and steal art. Art has become very important to this particular mouse colony, and the postage stamps that the Official Art Thief takes from the orphanage director’s desk adorn the walls of mouse territory and bring to the mice a sense of wonder.

When Mary Mouse, art thief, and Caro McKay, model orphan, meet, they immediately form a bond that transcends their inability to communicate completely. And when Caro helps Mary escape from the dreaded predator Gallico the cat, then Mary knows that she must return the favor by helping Caro, even though Caro doesn’t know the danger she faces.

I thought this story was a delight. The point of view alternates between that of Caro and her mouse friends, and both vantage points feel spot on and give the reader a different perspective on events in the story. The plot moves along at a good clip, but each development fits into a pleasing whole as Caro discovers her true self in terms of “a new story, a true story.” The villains get their just deserts, and the book ends with lasting friendships and more stories. What more could one ask for?

The Orphan and the Mouse would be an excellent read aloud book. Fans of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little, Beverly Cleary’s Ralph S. Mouse, or Kate diCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux should enjoy this book as another tale in that same classic tradition.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

Sonya Hartnett’s Children of the King feeds into some of my fondest fascinations:

British history, especially kings and queens and all that jazz.

World War II stories about child evacuees.

Crumbling castles and the ghosts that inhabit them.

Old English houses full of old stuff.

Mysteries of history.

Homeschooling and storytelling.

Themes of courage and small victories and war and peace.

Cecily and Jeremy and their mother have come to the north of England to live with their Uncle Peregrine while London is under siege from Hitler’s bombers. Since Uncle Peregrine live in a big manor house, they decide that it would be only fair for them to take in an extra child evacuee from London. So May comes to live with them. But when Cecily and May find two mysterious boys hiding in the nearby ruins of Snow Castle, they beg Uncle Peregrine to tell them the history of the castle. And he does, even though “its story is as hard as winter” and “cruel” and “scary” and “long”. “Unfit for childish ears.”

Aye, there’s the rub. Although this novel had me enthralled as an adult with my particular fascinations and interests, and although I think it might very well have engaged my interest as a middle school or high school student, it may also very well be “unfit for childish ears.” The horror and unfairness and violence of war are a major topic for discussion, as it surely was in those times when war was so very near and terrible. The adults in the story are not perfect and neither are the children. All of them make annoying, and sometimes stupid or even dangerous, choices. And the history story part of the novel is meant as a mirror or an analogy for the events that are taking place in England in 1940 as war calls for sacrifices that are unfair and horrific and as even children are caught up in a quest for power and dominion that isn’t their fault or their responsibility.

I really loved this book, but you might want to take Charlotte’s review as well as my reservations under consideration before you read it or recommend it to your favorite young reader. I wish I could discuss the history mystery that forms a part of this book with you, but that would be a spoiler, sort of. Suffice it to say that particular slice of history is one of my fascinations, too.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.