12 Days of Books 2017/18: Christmas in the Country

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Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode
2002, The Blue Sky Press

Day 12! 

Doing this series has been a lot of fun and has introduced me to some new and interesting books, many of which I will certainly revisit.  I think being the last day, however, is even more reason to finish with full festiveness, a little looking back, and a little looking forward.

 

Christmas in the Country is written by the prolific and varied Cynthia Rylant.  It is told from the point of view of someone who lived with her grandparents when she was a little girl. It basically just describes what Christmas was like for her then, from bringing home the tree to taking it down.

 

My favourite thing about this book is the extremely relatable details, such as how the mismatched and homemade ornaments remind her of her whole life, or how they always got a tree that was a little too big and so they had  to squeeze round it in the living room, but how it was the prettiest thing they had.
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Or how they put their wet boots and gloves near the stove to dry, and how the dogs all bark at the commotion of Christmas Day.IMG_7004IMG_7005 The overall impression is one of appreciation for the little details of life which we often take for granted as adults.  The natural, lively and expressive illustrations really enhance this.

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Another reason I wanted to recommend this book for today is that many people feel a bit gloomy after the holidays.  Even though my family will be leaving our tree up (and squeezing round it in the living room) for a while yet, and the time of “cocoa and blankets” will continue for months to come, there will be a time when we have to pack up the ornaments, and sweep up the fir needles.
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But this book, in the beginning and the end, reminds us of all the other things there are to look forward to in the year: “spring walks and summer tomatoes and fall apples,” and then Christmastime again!
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I hope your holidays were something special and your New Year continues to be so.

 

12 Days of Books 2017/18

 

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12 Days of Books 2017/18: Good King Wenceslas

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Good King Wenceslas by J. M. Neale, pictures by Arthur Gaskin, with an introduction by William Morris
1904, Village Press

It’s Day 11 and we are coming towards the end of the 12 Days.

Good King Wenceslas was written in the 19th century, and this book was made soon after, although this particular reprint is from 1904.  There is a short introduction by William Morris, and the illustrations are by Arthur Gaskin, who was part of the Arts and Crafts movement.  You can find an online version here.

This Christmas carol (if you haven’t heard it) is about a king who sees a poor peasant gathering wood in the snow on Saint Stephen’s Day.  The king is determined to personally bring the poor man  meat, wine, and wood, and so he and his page travel through the wintry weather to carry them to him.IMG_6958

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While the vocabulary might be a bit tricky and old-fashioned for younger readers, that doesn’t really matter as the story is quite straightforward.

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The best thing about this book is that, because it is influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, the entire design is beautiful and intentional.  Its typeface is designed to look like a medieval manuscript and has detailed illuminated letters and borders.  The pictures have a medieval quality and look to be engravings.  The simplicity and sincerity matches to tone of the song.IMG_6962IMG_6963

It’s important at this time of year to remember that caring for all those in need is not an extraneous act, but the most essential kind of justice.

With the seriously wintry and bitter weather we have been having this year, remember to look out for each other!

And bundle up if you go outside!

12 Days of Books 2017/18: The Tomten

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The Tomten adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
1990, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

It’s always difficult to go back to work or school after a holiday, especially when you have to get up in the dark. On Day 10  we have the story of the Tomten, who works all the winter night.

This version of The Tomten is another Swedish story, adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg.

Perhaps because it’s based on a poem, this is not a very plot-heavy book, but more  about mood, mystery, repetition, description, and atmosphere.

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The Tomten lives on an old farm.  Every night he goes through the farmyard and the house, speaking to the animals and looking after them.  To each animal he speaks a variation on a little poem about how Winters and Summers come and go.
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The whole mood is a little melancholy.  The Tomten seems a little lonely because he can’t speak to the humans in the house, and they will never see him, because he only comes out at night.IMG_6937IMG_6938The Tomten has seen many hundreds of  winters, so it makes sense that he would have a good perspective for the animals who are longing for summertime.  And he will carry on as long as there people at the farm for him to help.

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This is a lovely book with evocative prose, and especially beautiful pictures of the snowy farm lit by brilliantly bright moonlight and snowlight.

It certainly makes me feel better about getting up in the cold and dark!

Hot chocolate in my travel mug also helps.

12 Days of Books 2017/18: Merry Christmas, Strega Nona

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Merry Christmas, Strega Nona story and pictures by Tomie dePaola
1986, Scholastic Inc.

For many people Christmas is over by now.  We are going back to work tomorrow, and daily life will resume somewhat as usual.  However, it actually is only Day 9!  

Today is Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, part of Tomie dePaola’s series about an Italian grandmother/witch.

In this story Strega Nona is getting ready for Christmas.  She loves it so much that she refuses to use magic to help with the work, much to the chagrin of her helper, Big Anthony, who is constantly being sent on errands.IMG_6899


She always makes a big feast for everyone at Christmas, but this year Big Anthony tells her that he has forgotten all the preparations for it, and since Strega Nona is determined to stick to her principles and not use magic, there will be no feast.
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There follows a quite melancholy interlude as Strega Nona goes sadly to Mass, and comes sadly home.  This section is accompanied by some of the loveliest and most minimalist of the illustrations.IMG_6910IMG_6912
In the end it turns out that this was a surprise plan by Big Anthony so that everyone else could make the feast for Strega Nona this time.  Personally, this seems like a bit of mean trick on her, but thankfully she is quite happy about it.

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Strega Nona’s Christmas Feast

Codfish stew

Roasted peppers

Cookies

Fried pastry

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One of the best things about this book is the charming illustrations, which have a lovely, timeless folk-art feel.  I don’t know how authentic it is to southern Italian Christmas traditions, but it is nice to add to our international selection.

We never find out why exactly Strega Nona doesn’t want to use magic for her preparations, but it can be more rewarding sometimes to do things yourself, by hand, and put in the work for something worthwhile.

12 Days of Books 2017/18: Henry the Explorer

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Henry the Explorer by Mark Taylor, illustrations by Graham Booth
1966, Aladdin Books

Happy New Year all!

On Day 8 we have another boy named Henry and his dog.  This Henry (and his dog Laird Angus McAngus) read a book about explorers on the night of a blizzard.
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This naturally makes Henry want to go exploring too.  So he makes a bunch of flags, packs an explorer’s kit, and he and Angus head out into the snowy woods.

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Henry and Angus have some very exciting adventures while exploring.  They even meet a bear!  But they are gone so long that Henry’s mother sends out searchers to hunt for them.
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Fortunately, Henry and Angus manage to find their own way home by following the flags they had planted.


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IMG_6870Henry and Angus’s Explorer’s Kit

Sandwich — peanut butter

Bone for Angus

Ball of string

Apple

Orange

Flashlight

Whistle

Candy for gifts

Map

And flags

 

This is a cute little book.  The illustrations are very atmospheric and beautiful.  Henry and Angus are definitely an inspiring pair.

Winter is actually a very good time to go exploring.  There are no bugs, no undergrowth, and you won’t get too hot.  Just make sure you are dressed warmly and have an explorer’s kit.

Or if you’d rather not, you can stay in and read a book about exploring– that’s just as good.