It’s that time of year again. When we pull out all the cheesy, corny Christmas books and songs. The ones that make us cringe, cry or cheer and not always for joy.
But I’ll save the ones to avoid for another day.
Today I’m feeling sentimental and I want to share some of my favourites from my years of teaching. These are the books that worked – year after year – as read (or sing) out aloud stories to a wide range of children.
At the top of the list is Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present by John Burningham.
It’s quite a long, repetitive story but the story hooks the kids (& me) in every single time.
Father Christmas has finished his Christmas run and has tucked the reindeer into bed. As he climbs tiredly into his own bed, he sees that that there is still one present left in his sack!
It’s for Harvey Slumfenburger who lives at the top of the Roly Poly Mountain (which is far, far away).
The thing you need to know about Harvey is that he is poor. Very poor. And the only present he gets each year is the one from Father Christmas.
So, of course, Father Christmas has to get the present to Harvey Slumfenburger, come rain, hail or shine.
This is a story about overcoming adversity and the merits of perserverence and determination. It highlights the sacrifice AND ultimate joy of giving and generosity.
So from the sublime to the ridiculous!
Rolf Harris. Six White Boomers.
Do I need to say anymore?
Except I love this song. It is so kitsch, so retro and beautifully illustrated by Bruce Whatley (think Diary of a Wombat). But most importantly it is fun and very Australian.
When I was teaching I would often read books that could help me lead a discussion about an issue that was worrying the class.
At this time of the year most children have been rehearsing for class concerts, end of year dance, gymnastics and choir extravaganzas. It is exciting and exhausting for everyone concerned.
It can also be a very anxious time with performance jitters creating ‘funny tummies’ and sleepless nights.
I found One Little Angel by Ruth Brown to be perfect for this particular Christmas problem. A little girl who is too shy to go on a stage at her school concert and hides in the wings.
Naturally she discovers that going onto stage is scary, but worth it for the applause, the belonging and the great feeling of overcoming personal adversity!
The Twelve Days of Christmas is gorgeous, detailed and sumptious.
And if you’re feeling brave enough – a great book to sing our loud with gusto!
Another sing our loud, but this time with feeling – is The Little Drummer Boy.
This particular Christmas song is my personal favourite. It creates a bitter sweet sensation. I have been known to sing this book with my classes – with tears rolling down my face and a huge smile on my lips!
The illustrations and version in Ezra Jack Keats book hit just the write spot if you can find this old editon in a second-hand bookshop.
An oldie, but a goodie is Pat Hutchins The Silver Christmas Tree.
A simple story of friendships, surprises and belonging. All wrapped up in the magical beauty of Christmas.
My final choice is not a traditional Christmas story.
But it’s a book I always read at this time of the year to my older classes so it comes to mind whenever I think of an Australian Christmas.
It is Tim Winton’s The Deep.
Anyone who has read Winton’s adult novels will know of his fascination with the sea and his abilty to turn a beautiful phrase. This particular story is perfectly complemented by the lovely sea-green illustrations by Karen Louise.
Once again we have a story of overcoming personal adversity and belonging as we follow young Jess as she works through her fear of the deep, the deep, the deep.
Reading this book aloud to a group of preschoolers was always a magical experience for me. They would start off fidgety and unsure about the style of the book. But within a few pages the only sound in the room was my voice and the rustle of the turning pages as 20 children (and a couple of assistants!) held their breaths.
The ending was a joyous release and celebration of the Australian summer.
There’s not much more to say after all that, except…
Merry Christmas and happy reading.
- A Christmas Carol | Charles Dickens
- A Christmas Tree and a Wedding | Fyodor Dostoevsky
- The Heavenly Christmas Tree | Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Little Dog and the Christmas Wish | Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher
- Christmas Eve at Warwingie | Mary Gaunt
- A Digger’s Christmas | Mary Gaunt
- Tea and Sugar Christmas | Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen
- The Twelve Days of Christmas Island | Teresa Lagrange
- Harriet Clare #6 Christmas Fair | Louise Park
- The Tailor of Gloucester | Beatrix Potter
- A Maigret Christmas | Georges Simenon
- Christmas at High Rising | Angela Thirkell
- My favourite Christmas-themed illustrated picture books for children