The Library Girl Recommends // Advent-Christmas Reading Part 2

Last week, I made a little list of some of my favorite picture books for the Advent-Christmas season... today I bring you some not picture books that hit the spot for me this time of year. Here we go!

A Child's Christmas in Wales
If all you know of Dylan Thomas is "Do not go gentle into that good night", you're missing out. Originally recorded for radio, Thomas' piece captures a family's Christmas festivities from the perspective of a boy, familial warts and magic and snow fights and all. I have a copy that has a few illustrations by the glorious Trina Schart Hyman, and its wonderful.

Aiunindale - Silmarillion
I know this is not a Christmas story in the slightest, but please let me make an argument for why I love the creation story of Tolkien's great legendarium at this season.
At this season in the church year, we look to the incarnation of Christ. Somehow, we are supposed to try to wrap our puny human brains around the concept of the Creator of Worlds, God Himself, growing as a tiny fetus in a virgin womb, and being flesh-born. Just. Like. Us. Understanding this Mystery is not easily done -- if it is done at all. I find that reading fantasy has a unique power to strengthen my imagination, so that believing such Impossibilities is a little more possible.
It is very hard for me to read the story of how Ilúvatar created Eä, Arda and everything within through the song of the Ainur without weeping, for in its myth, I see reflected the Story we tell as Christians year-in and year-out, the great story of creation-fall-redemption that shapes our lives. And if that's not what Christmas is about... then I don't know what to tell you.

The Irrational Season 

This Advent season especially, this book has been helpful to me. Part of Madeleine L'Engle's Crosswick Journals, The Irrational Season contains her personal reflections on each season of the church year, starting, of course, with Advent. Like with The Aiunindale I discussed above, if you want to approach Christmas from a big picture perspective, L'Engle gets it. She always gets it. I love her.

And there we have it with my little list! I hope you'll go out and give at least one a try this Christmas! Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!


Endings and Beginnings IV // An Advent Perspective

"The night is far spent. The day is at hand." -Madeleine L'Engle, The Irrational Season

I love new beginnings so much that I'm currently aching for a button that will fast forward time to January 1st, that magical day when reading list are reset, goals re-evaluated ( and the resolve to meet them renewed) and the blank, empty calendar stretches in front of me full of possibility and excitement. I'm the same way with any new project or milestone... or even journals. I have a new notebook on standby when I get towards the end of an old one, but by that point I just want to be in  the new journal already, the old having lost its crispness in the long months of use.
As it is, I'm in this weird holding pattern that the last month of the year brings, Where I don't feel like I can start anything new yet -- reading lists, major library projects, big goals -- but I've just about finished everything else.

 And so I wait.

This time of year, it has been my habit to write on the same theme each year, as a sort of blog birthday ritual. When I began this blog, I had been closing down an old blog and starting afresh. It was also the end of a semester, and I was riding the high of post finals freedom. I wrote about endings and beginnings, and for two years after, reprised the theme, as every year I found myself at the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Then came last year - the first year I wouldn't be moving onto something new. I didn't write, because I didn't know how to write on a theme that didn't find myself living. Sometimes that that happens, and words simply fail.

Yet, as I saw December approaching this year, I knew I needed to pick up where I left off. Sometimes a thought grabs you and will not let you go even 5 years down the road. I'm still not going anywhere, and I've been struggling with viewing my daily work with fresh eyes, getting bogged down in discontent weekly as I see a path stretched out in front of me with no visible end in sight.
"No Endings or Beginnings for you!" it taunts.
So I've sought to find them elsewhere, even fabricating them as I set mini goals for myself.

As I was thinking towards how I'd mark the endings and beginnings of this year, Advent presented itself to me quite plainly. So plainly that I wondered how it didn't come to mind before. I've long loved marking time by the liturgical calendar, and the season of Advent in particular holds particular wonder for me.

At Advent, the Church year begins its cycle again, and we prepare to begin living the story of Jesus from the beginning, etching it deeper on our hearts with each passing year. But then, just as soon as its begun, the brakes are put on, and we are told to wait. In four weeks - four short weeks as compared to the hundreds of years Israel waited - we relive the waiting. The waiting of the Patriarchs, the Prophets,  John the Baptist, and sweet Mary are all remembered as we light a candle each week. And as they waited for great lengths in preparation for the coming of God-in-flesh, so we practice our own preparation for his return. We still our hearts in the winter's darkness, when the world is cold and dead around, and we wait.

We await the end of time, the end of the world as we know it, but we do not wait in dread, or fear, as one might think. With our eyes fixed on the manger, being drawn to the cross, we wait in hope and expectation as we sing "Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free." We await the light that will break through the darkness at last, and by Christmas day our candles and homes and trees will all reflect that, as everything glows with warm, wondrous light.

In the beautiful sort of paradox that only God can devise, we are beginning, ending and in the middle all at once in this season.
And so I find comfort for my days.

Come Lord Jesus.
Amen and Amen.

year one
year two
year three

The Library Girl Recommends // Advent-Christmas Reading Pt. 1

Between Christmas Around the World with my library kiddos, and book club Christmas luncheon, my Readers Advisory picker has been centered around Christmas books lately. Thus, I bring you a meager offering of some books that I gravitate towards this time of year. We'll do this in two parts; today: picture books. (Please note that the ratings are merely for fun, and have no consistant scale.)

Emma's Christmas 
(Irene Trivas)
Set aside everything you've learned about the symbolism in the classic Christmas song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and imagine for a moment a story in which a besotted young lover really is  giving loads of highly unorthodox presents. That's Emma's Christmas. Emma is a farmer's daughter, and her true love is a Prince who just happened to see her on the first day of Christmas, and fell in love at first sight. Madness ensues. Emma plays hard to get and the gifts begin. Oh, and just in case you're wondering, the gifts are cumulative. Lets have a homeschool moment and incorporate some math into our Christmas break, shall we? 
Anyway, the story is cute, the watercolor illustrations are delightful, and Emma has a nice (and slightly subversive) answer to the courting Prince. I give this book 3 out of 5 Candy Canes for good clean fun.

Christmas Tapestry
(Patricia Polacco)
Polacco is a favorite of mine, and if you know anything about her, you'll know she's the queen of heartwarming stories. This one is no exception. Take one unhappy preacher's kid, two holocaust survivors, and a gorgeous quilt, and you've got the recipe for a story in which Everything Happens for A Reason. I give this one 10 out of 5 handstitched handkerchiefs for a good cry.  

Little Drummer Boy
(Ezra Jack Keats)
It's just an illustrated version of the song. The text isn't changed in the slightest, and the pa-rum-pum-pum-pum's are even intact. But oh, are the illustrations beautiful. Keats infuses the eponymous little boy with such warmth of color and emotion that looking at the illustrations is akin to a meditation on the saints icons of old. Visible in the boy's face through out the book are wonder as he follows the wise men to the Baby, sorrow at his empty hands in comparison to the rich gifts, humility as he presents himself to God incarnate, openness as he offers what gifts he has, and joy as he plays his drum to the glory of God. A solid 5 out of 5 drumsticks for a Christmas meditation in the form of a kids book. 

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree
(Gloria Houston, ill. Barabara Cooney)
This one has had a tender place in my heart ever since I first heard it at a English department Christmas party at Bryan. Though the Adirondacks are mountains of my homestate and childhood, Appalachia became dear to me while I was going to school in East Tennessee. In addition, having spent the season immersed in Appalachian hymns and carols for choir, this book is high up on my list this year. This story's themes of giving and sacrifice and longing and waiting makes it a perfect Christmas book. Like Polacco's Christmas Tapestry this one is tearjerker, as little Ruthie's dad is away at war, and she and her mother prepare for Christmas without him, especially hard as this is they year they are supposed to provide the tree for the church, a tree that Ruthie and her dad picked specially that summer. I'll let you find out what happens, but don't say I didn't warn you! Cooney's illustrations are among some of her best (though, lets be honest here. I've never seen a bad book from her!) and Ruthie's special angel gown is the stuff of little girls' dreams. A fafillion perfect Christmas trees for this classic. 

Stick around this week or next (depending on stuff) for part 2: Not Picture Books.