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Children’s books and thoughts for the holidays

Time to head off to Santa’s workshop and see what Christmas books he and the elves have in mind for the kids.

First up is Carol Matney’s St. Nick’s Clique (Page Publishing, Inc. 2019, 25 pages). Matney, a North Carolinian I’ve known for nearly 30 years, whisks us off to the North Pole for a look at how Santa Claus teaches his reindeer to fly and how he names them for their personalities. Cupid, for example, receives his name because “I am happy when we all get along and are kind to each other, and we help one another.” The largest and strongest reindeer is “lightning fast” and so named Blitzen, from the German word for “fast.” At the end of this charming tale, we meet a little reindeer with a glowing red nose, and Santa wonders “if … somehow, someday, there might be some way to include him in St. Nick’s clique.” Watch for the sequel.

In The Muppet Christmas Carol: The Illustrated Holiday Classic (Insight Editions, 2019, 40 pages), Brooke Vitale and Luke Flowers blend Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol with a whole bunch of Muppets. Brooke Vitale’s writing — grownups will get a kick out of reading this one aloud — couple with the bright and humorous illustrations of Flowers to make The Muppet Christmas Carol a fun read for the little ones, especially for fans of the 1992 Muppets Christmas Carol movie.

Tony DiTerlizzi, who along with Holly Black gave young people The Spiderwick Chronicles, presents even younger readers with The Broken Ornament (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018, 48 pages). Here Jack disobeys his parents and breaks a treasured ornament that belonged to his mother’s grandmother. With his mother in tears in her bedroom, Jack encounters Tinsel, a Christmas fairy, who asks him what he wishes for. “I want the best Christmas ever!” Jack declares, and Tinsel loads him down with decorations, music, and presents. At the end of this celebration, Jack realizes he has to make it the best Christmas for his mother too, and comes up with sweet way to do so.

Now back to television land. In The Sesame Street Christmas Treasury (RP/Kids, 2018, 301 pages), we find a goofy but entertaining mix of characters from Sesame Street blended with Christmas poems, stories, and even recipes. If your little ones are fans of Oscar, Big Bird, and the Count, this one may be just right for a read-aloud.

Perhaps the most unusual of these books is Marlon Bundo’s Best Christmas Ever (Regnery Kids, 2019, 39 pages). Here we meet Marlon Bundo Pence, the BOTUS (Bunny of the United States), a creation of writer Charlotte Pence, daughter of Vice President Pence, and illustrator Karen Pence, his wife. First introduced in Marlon Bundo’s A Day In The Life Of The Vice President, in this book Marlon hops about the vice presidential home showing us the preparations for Christmas as he collects bits and pieces of various stuff to make an ornament for the tree. Incidentally, Marlon is a real bunny belonging to the Pence family.

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And now a return to a classic already mentioned: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Even if we’ve never read the book, we know the plot and characters of A Christmas Carol because we’ve seen some of the movies, more than two dozen of them. Embedded in our culture is Scrooge, the penny-pinching businessman whose “Bah, Humbug,” and very name became a part of our language. Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim are household names. We know the story: Scrooge’s solitude, greed, and contempt for Christmas; the visitations of the Three Spirits — ghosts of the Christmases past, present, and future —  to show Scrooge how far he has fallen from the right path; his conversion from miser to a man who “will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

In the opening of A Christmas Carol, when the suffering ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner, warns Scrooge that unless he changes he too will find in the afterlife:

“No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse,” Scrooge replies, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.” 

“Business,” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” 

Charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence: Good ideas all, but sadly lacking in our public forum these last few years. Instead, our mainstream media, online commentators, and many of our politicians from all parts of the political spectrum all too often seem committed to malevolence, spite, slander, and innuendo. 

During this time of year, Americans celebrate several holidays. Thanksgiving, a day set aside as a time for gratitude, is recently passed. There is Hanukkah, Hebrew for “dedication,” when Jews recollect the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. There is Christmas, when Christians honor the birth of Christ and many non-believers celebrate “good will toward men.” Finally, there is New Year’s Eve and Day, when all of us welcome the change in the calendar and hope for the future.

Perhaps this year, we will learn from Dickens and make our holiday season and that New Year a festival of charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence.

(Jeff Minick is a teacher and writer. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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