The Twelve Worst Days of Christmas

The funniest Christmas story I use in class is by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. The story is about the trials of a new baby brother at Christmastime.

Poor Joy. Every Christmas tradition is ruined by Sam, her baby brother. Sam breaks ornaments, rips up wreaths, eats heads off of cookies and more. He’s the worst!

The story progresses just like the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas song that most of us try to sing along to.

The refrain builds as each new indignity is visited on the holiday preparations:

12 soggy cookies

11 wrecked surprises

10 headless monsters

9 drooly candy canes

8 legless reindeer

7 flattened snowmen

6 shredded cards

5 shattered ornaments

4 sticky stockings

3 wreath scraps

2 severed wings

and a stinky baby messing with the tree!

Joy has finally had enough and goes to bed on Christmas Eve without any Christmas spirit.

But the next day she hears something that changes it all, Sam says her name. Now she realizes that it isn’t nearly as bad as she thought.

12 Sam kissed cookies

11 re-wrapped presents

10 mended gingerbread

9 replacement candy canes

8 patches-up reindeer

7 rebuilt snowmen

6 cards’ confetti

5 taped up ornaments

4 unstuck stockings

3 wreath swags

2 reglued wings

And a lovely baby…

If you haven’t tried Bardhan-Quallen’s books, you definitely should. I don’t own nearly enough of them. You can see her website here.

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The Spider’s Gift

I know an awful lot of people who really don’t like spiders, and I’m one of them. We don’t want them in our houses, and some people done even want them in their yards (I don’t mind that, they help so much with bugs.) Today’s story is one of the most magical Christmas stories I’ve ever read and it’s all thanks to spiders.

This Ukrainian folktale is retold by Eric A. Kimmel. The story begins with a family too poor to have Christmas. The children insist that they can at least get a tree from the forest and decorate it with simple things like buttons. But after the tree warms up in their little house, a spider’s egg sac hatches and the tree is full of tiny little spiderlings.

Like most people would, Mama wants that tree taken outside immediately, but the children convince her to let it be in over night. They don’t want the spiders to freeze on Christmas Eve.

The family leaves for church and when they return, a miracle has happened. The webs of the tiny spiders are now pure silver strands and the buttons have turned to gold coins. The family’s kindness to the spiders was repaid a thousandfold, and they then choose to share the gift with the whole village. The whole story is full of the true meaning of Christmas.

Every year at school I put a tree in the library. I decorate it with old fashioned ornaments–I have a weakness for little wooden ornaments, and bead bells that I made based on my grandmother’s design. The finishing touch is my silver tinsel strands. Most of the kids have never seen it on a tree and are delighted to make the connection when I read the story with them.

Merry Un-Christmas

I’m sure we’ve all heard “I wish it was Christmas every day!” Or we’ve even said it ourselves. But would you really like it? Wouldn’t you get sick of it?

Yesterday I needed to fill out a class where the story wasn’t very long, so I pulled out this book from my stash. Noelle lives in Christmas City, Texmas and it really is Christmas every day–except for once a year on UnChristmas.

Noelle loves UnChristmas. She doesn’t have to open any presents, pose for pictures or eat a huge meal. She absolutely loves getting to go to school that one day a year.

My students thought this was hilarious and many of them admitted that they would get tired of having Christmas every day. Some were stubborn and insisted that they would love it no matter what, but I have my doubts.

The best part of the story for me was the bearded man who appeared with a big bag. The kids were sure it was Santa…but it’s the mailman!! He’s bringing all kinds of junk mail and magazines and he only comes once a year!

If for no other reason, read the book because David Catrow illustrated it. I have many “favorite” illustrators, but every book he lends his art to is instantly ramped up in hilarity.

Gingerbread Baby

I’ve been trying to help teachers out by using the same weekly theme they are teaching — ideally, reinforcing it with a related story. Today I was scrambling for a book about gingerbread men that was Christmas themed. Not as easy as you’d think, since my first choice of books was being read by the teachers to their classes today. I had set aside a book that worked out perfectly though.

Jan Brett’s books are a staple in elementary libraries. Brett is a wonderful storyteller and her illustrations add so much to the story, often foreshadowing the next part of the story.

I read the book Gingerbread Baby to two of the three classes, and they loved it, but the third class had just a guest reader who read Gingerbread Baby to them! I was scrambling because I had just checked out the second book about the Gingerbread Baby to another student. Thankfully, the teacher had a copy of Gingerbread Friends to loan me.

In Gingerbread Baby, Matti finally catches the Gingerbread Baby by building him a gingerbread house. In Gingerbread Friends, the gingerbread Baby is sad and lonely so he goes looking for friends. Matti surprises him by making an entire gingerbread community full of new friends.

There is a third book, but I don’t yet own Gingerbread Christmas.

I really enjoyed these books and I’m thinking I need to make it a point to read more of Brett’s titles. I also hope to fill in more of her titles.

The Gift Bringers

”Tis the season for celebrations of giving and receiving. In our house, we have Santa and his reindeer to thank for some of our presents, but not every family the world over celebrates like us. For an interesting look into other cultures and their traditions, I’ll be telling you a bit about The Christmas Gift Bringers.

An interesting article on Listverse got me thinking about the differences in our holiday traditions. While Santa Claus or Father Christmas is celebrated in many cultures, even his traditions vary from region to region.

The story is a framed story. We see a mouse family on Christmas Eve where one child doesn’t believe in Santa.

His father takes the family on a trip across the attic to read the history of Santa,

I love that they are reading the exact same book as me! The book tells them about the many Gift Bringers, such as Père Noël in France, Sinter Claus (and his controversial helper Black Peter) in Denmark, Christkindl in Germany, Befana in Italy and Baboushka in Russia. There are very interesting facts on each gift bringer, I had no idea that the name Kris Kringle is a misinterpretation of Christkindl.

The young mouse must have learned a lot too, because he promptly hangs his stocking and finds his Christmas spirit.

I really like that this book showcases the beauty of different traditions around the world. I like that many of the legends have mingled and overlapped, creating many common traditions for us to share with other families the world over.

Jake and Lily

Today is a special day for me, it’s my birthday! But, even more importantly, it’s my twin brother’s birthday. In honor of our shared big day, I found a book about a set of twins like us (kind of.)

Jerry Spinelli is an amazing writer, you may know him from Maniac McGee or Loser. Spinelli wrote this book in alternating chapters from each of the kids. The chapters often leave off in the middle of a sentence and the other twin picks up the thread of words. Jake and Lily are like many twins, being so close that they know what the other is thinking…but Jake and Lily have something more. They call it goombla. Goombla is the ability to sense when the other is in danger, or get a bruise from an injury sustained by their twin.

We’re not a regular boy and girl. We’re brother and sister. And we’re not regular brother and sister. We’re twins. And we’re not even regular twins. We’re special.

But then the kids turn 11. Their relationship begins to change. Jake is ready to hang out with a group of boys called the Death Rays and ditch Lily. Lily has no other friends to speak of and is lost, trying to comprehend this sudden change.

This book held a lot of meaning for me. My little brother (who is a few minutes younger and about a foot taller than me), was my best friend for a long time. I do remember the shift that separated us during our last year in high school. I remember feeling exactly like Lily does in this book, trying to force a kinship with her brother that just wasn’t there any longer.

Jake has new friends, but as he gets to be a part of their group, his way of thinking changes. The group is always searching for “goobers” and then they make fun of them. That isn’t unheard of, but one day they find what they call a Super Goober. The boys begin to talk to the boy, Ernie, gouging and digging at him with their words even though he doesn’t seem to notice.

At this point, I wasn’t sure I wanted Lily to get back to being friends with Jake. The Death Rays were so awful to Ernie, who was just a sweet kid. Thankfully, Jake and Lily’s grandpa has moved back to town and is able to offer Lily a shoulder to cry on. He also gives her motivation to move on. He explains that she is mourning the loss of Jake just as he mourned the death of his wife. While he empathizes with Lily, he also pushes her to create a life of her own.

As Lily finally begins to find herself, Jake is also facing the truth about who he has become. After a particularly mean stunt against Ernie, Jake must decide to cut ties with The Death Rays, or more specifically, Bump Stubbins, the leader. He must also find a way to make reparations to Ernie, who Jake called a Super Goober before he realized what a great friend Ernie could be.

The story has a good ending. Jake and Lily’s relationship has mended, but will never be the same. It isn’t about always being joined at the hip, it’s about always keeping the bond between twins, or any siblings, as strong as possible while still keeping your individuality.

Happy Birthday, little brother.

Happy Hanukkah!

Though I am a Christian, I love to learn about other religions and share their folktales with my students. In honor of tonight being the first night of Hanukkah, I am going to share an absolute favorite: Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.

Eric Kimmel is the storyteller behind this story starring the Jewish folk-trickster, Hershel of Ostropol. Kimmel created this story from his imagination but stays true to the culture that Hershel comes from.

One cold winter night, Hershel comes to a village that should be celebrating the first night of Hanukkah, but isn’t. Hershel learns that fierce goblins haunt the old synagogue and torment any who try to celebrate the festival.

Hershel is quick to offer his help, though the tasks ahead will be difficult. He must light the candles in the menorah each night of Hanukkah and on the eighth night, the king of the goblins must light the candles.

Hershel faces some pretty scary goblins,

but he is able to outsmart them with simple tricks and by turning their greed against them. On the final night, he sits in the dark as he awaits the king of the goblins.

Hershel outsmarts him quickly and is able to return Hanukkah to the people of the village.

I have wondered if the goblins in this story are the Jewish equivalent of Christian devils. The illustrations certainly don’t hurt that theory. The kids and I have discussed the idea of this as well as other similarities to the religions they practice. One I try to point out is the shammes candle lights all the other candles on the menorah. Many students are reminded of the Advent candles at Christian churches, where one candle is used to light all the others.

I am not trying to teach religion but I am trying to teach cultural awareness. It is easier to be open to new experiences when you can draw parallels to your own life. Early exposure may make all the difference to these kids some day.

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

You may know Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas as a movie made by the Jim Henson Studios, but before it started cute and cuddly Muppets, it was a book written by Russell Hoban.

I love Russell Hoban’s books, most notably the Frances series. This story is the perfect Christmas tale with a plot reminiscent of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi.

In Jug-Band Christmas, we meet Emmet and Ma, who is a widow. They struggle to get buy, Emmet with odd jobs and Ma with washing. This year, both feel a real need to get a “real” gift for the other. Then they get their chance, a talent show paying out $50 for first prize.

If you have read The Gift of the Magi, you know that the young couple is in a similar situation. The woman has beautiful long hair and the man a pocket watch. Both decide to sacrifice their prized possession for the other. But the hair combs paid for with the pawned watch are useless since she cut her hair to buy a watch fob.

Emmet decides to use his mother’s washtub to make a washtub bass for a jug-band with his friends. He wants to buy Ma a piano. Ma pawns Emmet’s toolbox to buy material for a dress to perform in. She wants to buy Emmet a guitar.

Sadly, neither Emmet or Ma win the prize money, and now they have no ways to earn money to get by on. As they walk home in surprisingly high spirits, they begin to sing and play their instruments. The sound of their music carries over to a fancy club. The owner of the club offers them regular work and pay to play for his club.

This story is so wonderful. I would really like to see the movie. It’s one of the few Muppet movies I haven’t seen. It makes my heart feel warm and fuzzy just like a little otter Muppet.

Gwyneth Mamlok wishlist

I’ve recently discovered a fellow WordPress blogger who enjoys vintage books. The Taft Hotel features some great books that I’ve never seen before. A colorful series from the 60s that caught my eye is the Candy books.

The final Candy book is called Candy and the Rocking Horse but I could not find the English cover.

The colors alone are enough to have me drooling over these books. Over at The Taft Hotel, Susannah Straughan tells us that she grew up with these books in Great Britain, but the author is very obscure today. She could not find a biographical blurb in 2013 and I can’t find one in 2017. Mamlok did quite a few books and eventually went into greeting cards. Her art is prolific and can easily be found on a Google search. I just wish I could find those books! Internet Archive does not have any of her books and I can’t buy them on Thrift Books. I wonder if eBay, Etsy or half.com would have them. If you find a copy, let me know!

“How to” for kids

It’s that time of year when kids start plotting and planning how they’ll catch Santa Clause. Well, the good news is, I have a book that will teach them how to do it!

Jean Reagan is the author behind this fun how-to series. She not only gives kids ideas of how to catch Santa, but what to do with him after you’ve got him.

I am very excited because I finally got the whole set of how-to books.

I suggest reading How To Get Your Teacher Ready the first few days of the school year. How To Babysit a Grandpa and How To Babysit a Grandma are perfect for Grandparents Day. I will be reading How To Raise a Mom for Mothers Day and maybe I’ll do How To Surprise a Dad at the same time, since we aren’t in school for Fathers Day. That book is nice because it says there are many reasons to surprise a Dad, so not just on his holiday.

I wonder if Reagan will add to the series? A baby type book? Or maybe pets?