Monday, December 11, 2006

Chirstmas books for children

Last year, Tammy and I talked about starting a new tradition for Christmas -- we'd go as a family to the bookstore and buy a special Christmas book that we can all enjoy together (as if we need more children's books....but that's a different subject).

We've not yet had the chance to pick out our book for this year, but I so enjoyed last year's book (now gracing our coffee table again after its long spring/summer/fall's nap), that I thought it worth commending to you: Mortimer's Christmas Manger. It's the story of a little mouse who comes out of his dark cold hole in the wall looking for a warm place to stay. He finds the family's manger scene -- and kicks out all the figures. Each day he comes back to find all the figures replaced, and kicks them out again. Finally, he overhears the parents reading the story of the birth of Jesus and he understands that the Nativity scene is there for -- the mouse gives the manger back to the little baby Jesus -- and he prays that Jesus would help him find a new home. And then, the book closes with the mouse finding the new Gingerbread house.

Now before you groan too much -- I am well aware that many Christian children's books are pretty corny -- and the story may sound like it's another festival of corn -- the mouse prays???. But somehow, this one works. Perhaps it's the high quality of art. I spend a lot of time looking at children's books -- I know high quality illustration from low quality. Illustrator Jane Chapman's work has a warmth and depth to it -- not like the lyrical beauty of Jan Brett's work, but more like the whimsical wonder of Felicia Bond. Also the story doesn't have the singsongy tired rhyme that characterizes second rate children's books (there are some authors that do the rythmic rhyme well -- think Dr Seuss, for example -- but often in imitators, it comes off poorly). The story is warmhearted and kind, without being syrupy. It just comes together as being right. We've found it to be a sweet funny little story (Sarah Grace howls at the illustrations of Mortimer schlepping the wise men out of the manger), and we've come back to it many times.

I did a little sniffing around about the author. Karma Wilson (who has several other books -- of which we have Frog in the Bog) has published several other volumes. In this online interview, she talks about her goals in writing:

First of all I want my writing to be nourishing. Not "messag-y" but substantial. I want it to do what it sets out to do. For instance, if it's a humorous book I want to really make kids laugh--not just the "cheap" and "easy" jokes, but jokes that make them think. Let's face it, if you write "fart" or "booger" you can make a kid laugh. I'd like them to laugh because they actually "get" a joke. In essence I would rather write a book like a turkey dinner with big side salad and rolls than a book like a McDonald's happy meal if that makes any sense. My kids like happy meals, but they like turkey dinners much more and are better off for them. The happy meal books might be "easier" on the writers and the kids, and they have their place, but they should be minimal part of a kid's book "diet".

I would also like my books to be wholesome. Call me sentimental, or eventrite, but kids get enough "harsh reality" on TV, in their music, even in commercials. Cynicism
and sarcasm reigns these days and I detest it. I was almost sucked into that view of life, and I feel obligated not to go there in my writing. I don't aim to write books that are "realistic" in a worldly sense. I want kids to have something above the "norm" to look to and hopefully to strive for. I also want to write more books that share my faith in God, who is the hope of my life. There are a lot of great Christian books, but
many of the Christian books written are one of two things, messag-y or solemn--and far too many are both. These books aren't like turkey dinners but more like tofu and
brussel sprout dinners. Sure they're very healthy, but how do you get a kid to eat it? I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with "messag-y or solemn", but it gets old after awhile, and then what's the point? Too many Christian books are "preaching to the choir". So I aim to share my faith in a way that's hopefully fun and even humorous while also sharing hope, faith and Love.

I love this analogy she makes to reading and nourishment -- do you want turkey dinners or do you want fries with that? To be nourishing, the content doesn't have to be obnoxious about faith or values -- it has to be organically a part of the work. I think she's accomplished this in Mortimer's Christmas Manger. Hats off to you Karma and Jane -- you've given us a fine addition to our library....

Now we have to figure out what book to find to top it this year -- any suggestions?

Soli Deo Gloria