Raising Richmond: Readin’ around the Christmas tree

Ever since my son was born, we’ve made it a little family tradition to give him a specially chosen book for Christmas. In honor of that, I thought I’d share a few of my current favorites in the world of children’s books—some holiday-related, some not, but all absolutely delightful. Hopefully they’ll give you that last bit of inspiration you need when finishing up your shopping for the little ones in your life.

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Ever since my son JR was born in the fall of 2008, we’ve given him a specially chosen book each Christmas. My husband’s parents did this for him growing up, so it made sense to keep it going with our little boy–a Catrow Family Tradition, if you will.

We always write a note inside wishing him Merry Christmas and noting the year—not a super creative idea, but sweet nonetheless. What’s more, we’ve found that these books hold JR’s attention and interest much longer than the toys he attacks on Christmas morning.

(And, ok, I also love any excuse to spend an embarrassing amount of time sorting through the children’s sections of bookstores mumbling to myself, sometimes gasping with joy…possibly weeping at times. I’m a former English major who used to teach elementary school, what do you want from me?)

In honor of our little tradition, I thought I’d share a few of my current favorites in the world of children’s books—-some holiday-related, some not, but all delightful. Maybe they’ll inspire you to start you own annual book-giving tradition with your kids. Or at the very least, they’ll give you that last bit of inspiration you need when finishing up your shopping for the little ones in your life.

Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley

Turn the pages and the “Big Green Monster” grows, feature by feature. As the book goes on, readers tell (and by “tell” I mean “shout”, if they are anything like my son) each part of the monster to “Go away!” until he disappears completely. It’s a simple concept with bold (but not too scary) illustrations and has already been helpful when talking to JR about how to approach his fears and anxieties.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

An oldie but SUCH a goodie, this Caldecott winner is…oh it’s just perfect. The gentle language and pace, the collaged illustrations–they work together to capture the magic that is a snow day for a little boy named Peter (and all kids, really).

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker

Look, I love Chicka Chicka Boom Boom as much as the next person, but you could go mad with it running on an endless loop in your brain (WHICH IT WILL). LMNO Peas is an adorable alternative. Kids are taken through the alphabet by a posse of peas sharing their variety of hobbies and interests, each corresponding to a different letter. JR has a hard time pulling himself away from the book’s detailed illustrations, and I have a hard time not cutting them out and putting them into a charming gallery display of frames on the wall in our hallway. See? Cross-generational appeal! You can’t go wrong.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean

As you probably surmised from the title of this book, Pete the Cat loves his white shoes. And you know what? He keeps on loving his shoes even when they turn red, blue, brown, and so on, after a few missteps when he’s out and about around town. Pete’s message of “it’s all good” is something we all need to hear from time to time. Be warned: you will read this approximately 23,000 times. But honestly? You won’t mind it a bit. (You can also download a song version of the book over at the publisher’s website. Trust me, you need to do this; your kids will lose their damn minds over it.)

I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow

“I like myself. I’m glad I’m me.
There’s no one else I’d rather be.”

I think we all want our children to be able to say that about themselves, no? Those opening lines combined with illustrations that sent us (mainly me) into a serious giggle fit, and I was sold with the first reading. Bonus: kids will be so into the funny rhymes and pictures they won’t even realize they’re learning a valuable lesson! Stealth character building is my favorite part of parenting.

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

Mo Willems is probably best known for his books about Knuffle Bunny and that stubborn Pigeon, but his Gerald & Piggie series deserves some serious love, too. This one is my favorite because it addresses a big challenge for kids: doing the right thing, even when it means giving up something you really, really want.

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner

Nothing deep about this one. It’s just a fun, beautifully illustrated book in which a boy offers up his theory as to why snowmen always look a little bit different the next day. It’s is our pick for JR this Christmas, and I cannot wait to read it to him. I have a feeling it’s going to be a year-round favorite…for both of us.

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What are you reading your kids these days? Any good holiday gifts of the bookish variety in the works? I’d love to know what’s missing from our library.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is managing editor of RVAFamily. When she’s not oversharing her parenting struggles and successes, you can find her raising a preschool-aged boy and watching 90s television shows.

6 comments on Raising Richmond: Readin’ around the Christmas tree

  1. Kristi on said:

    Thanks for the new book ideas!

    Our kids get books at every holiday and birthday — my favorite gifts to give! Each one is getting a stack of books, but one is my absolute favorite and I know they will love it — Press Here by Herve Tullet. The book begins with a yellow dot and the instructions, “Press Here.” As you turn the pages, the instructions continue and the dot changes to blue, to red, to lots of blue and red and yellow dots. You get instructions to tip the book to the left and on the next page spread, all the dots are to one side. Then you tip back to the right and the dots move again. You get the idea. I’d heard about it, then saw it at B&N and read the whole thing right there. Love it!!!

    I’ll share my other books here, because I love getting book suggestions, so maybe others will too…

    For the 2-year-old: Kiss Good Night (Amy Hest), Bear Snores On (Karma Wilson), and Good Night, Gorilla (Peggy Rathmann).

    For the 5-year-old: Otis (Loren Long), Little Blue Truck (Alice Shertle), and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst). Plus, a special anniversary edition of The Polar Express.

  2. Valerie on said:

    I LOVE Press Here. Totally forgot that one!

  3. A must-give is “A Wish for Wings that Work” (about Opus the penguin). I read it every Christmas Eve before bed.

  4. KarenM on said:

    Love Pete the Cat! My husband read it to our daughter’s class. So cute to hear all the kiddos yelling, “Goodness, No!” over and over!

  5. Jennifer C. on said:

    Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed is probably my favorite older-kid Christmas book. My kids’ preschool did Go Away, Green Monster as a play, and it was hysterical. The Gossie books are great. My boys love Mo Willems, too…there’s a Knuffle Bunny play up in DC soon.

  6. Caroline on said:

    Have you read Not a Box? The only words in the book are “it’s not a box” but it tells a story through the pictures. It’s a great one for creativity and making up your own story. Plus if you are super fun (which I am not. Maybe a boy would appreciate this more?) you can make your own “not a box” creations.

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