by Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist
The holiday season is upon us and helping us to explore the celebrations, excitement, and meaning of this special time of year is a whole cast of children’s book characters. Elves, cats, porcupines and more are preparing for the holidays.
‘Twas the month before Christmas
When on many shelves
Not a creature was stirring
Except a wee elf….
“The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition” co-authored by Carol Aebersold, Christa Pitts and Chanda Bell, is a book that comes with a toy elf. After reading the story together the elf perches (with the help of parents) in surprising places every morning leading up to Christmas. The book explains to children that the elf is watching their behaviour for Santa. Yet the elf is also the perfect listener. It hears children’s hopes and dreams too - never interrupting or commenting judgementally. The book and elf spark children’s listening and speaking skills and the elf becomes magical for children as they seek and find the elf every day in unexpected places.
“That is Not My Elf” is a touch and feel board book by Usborne. A brightly coloured elf is pictured on each page with different textures. These textures entice babies and toddlers to explore the book with their hands, as well as their eyes, and ears as they listen to the simple text.
Eric Litwin’s “Pete the Cat” books have hit a chord with thousands of parents, children and educators. Pete the Cat stories emphasize beat and rhythm in their telling and each can be sung to a catchy tune. In “Pete the Cat Saves Christmas” Pete’s desire to help comes through as an uplifting message for children in this repeated refrain:
“And although I am small, at Christmas we give; so I’ll give it my all.”
Modernized versions of traditional poems and songs have special appeal to beginning readers. Familiar rhythm, words and storyline help children feel more confident that the words they are reading are correct. Repeated phrases in these stories also reinforce reading skills.
Author Helaine Becker and illustrator Werner Zimmerman have teamed up to create three modernized versions of traditional holiday songs. “Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol” is their newest book featuring a Canadian porcupine that is preparing for a holiday party. This same porcupine experiences a completely different adventure in “Dashing Through the Snow: A Canadian Jingle Bells” when he dashes through the snow in a rusty old Ski-Doo. In “A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: A Canadian Twelve Days of Christmas” Porcupine sits among pine needles when, “on the first day of Christmas, my true love gives to me a porcupine in a pine tree.”
Children who are a little older may appreciate “Walk this World at Christmastime” by Debbie Powell. Powell has created an advent calendar within a book. For the first 25 days of December children open a new flap in the book that reveals tidbits of information about festive holidays throughout the world. Pictures and words explore traditions in countries throughout North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. This is a great book for sparking children’s interests and conversations and for broadening children’s awareness of other peoples, cultures and geography.
Books and stories, whether traditional, revised or brand new, can be an important part of children’s preparations for Christmas, Hanukah, or any other special day. Reading with your child can cost nothing; yet it is a gift that will last a lifetime.