Living · Picture Books

Convertibles and Cocoa: A California Christmas Post (with Picture Books)

Winter in Southern California is a bit of a joke. (And right now, huge swaths are burning as wildfires rage, which is no joke at all.) I saw two convertibles with their tops down today, December 18. It was 70 degrees and gorgeous.
As a person who grew up in the mountains and then lived in the Midwest for eight years, I’ve seen enough snow, frankly, but my kids haven’t. So we put inflatable snowmen in our yard, hang plastic icicles from the eaves, and read picture books about winter.
There’s something kind of wonderful about a season of stillness. In my imagination, if not my zip code, winter involves immobility enforced by nature, as if the whole world is telling us to stop for a bit—rest, chat, drink something warm and comforting, and regroup.
(I get a similar feeling whenever the power goes out. What can I say? I’m an opportunist.)
But winter is lovely. It’s the icing on the cake of the year, and an invitation to reflect on what has happened in the last year, and what we want to happen in the coming year. The Roman god Janus, from whose name we get January, has two faces—one looking back and one looking forward. So I try to pause and honor that transition, even where the flowers bloom year round and people wear flip-flops in December.
And here are a few of my favorite snowy books, that we read to remember.
      Winter’s Child, by Angela McAllister, breathtakingly illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.   A story of a boy whose grandmother is weakened by the long winter, but who is having so much fun playing in the snow, he wishes it would stay forever—so it does, until he learns about the importance of cycles (Apollo’s creed leaps to mind: Nothing in excess).

 Jack Frost by William Joyce. Joyce’s genius, to my mind, lies in his ability to adapt his work for many media. His Guardians of Childhood series includes novels, picture books, and films, and this one tells the back story of Jack Frost, in all his celestial and icy splendor. Light abounds, and in the winter, it sparkles like magic.
         Santa Claus by Mauri Kunnas, the Finnish author who weaves so much culture and history in to his children’s books.  This is a picture of the title page, not the cover, because I wanted the Aurora, but his books are full of detail and visual jokes. This is Santa’s back story and sort of a Behind-the-Scenes look at the whole Yule season. And yes, this is the same Mauri Kunnas who gave us the spectacular Canine Kalevala, which I regard as one of the greatest literary  achievements of the 20th century. 😊
     Merry Christmas, Matty Mouse, by Nancy Walker-Guye, illustrated by Nora Hilb. This might be the sweetest Christmas story you read this year. It’s about a mouse who bakes cookies at school to give to his mommy, but he gives most of them to hungry friends on the way home. A sweet lesson about generosity and bounty, we read it every year.  And I cry every year. In a good way.
That’s it for this year. Unless I’m compelled by an unpredicted force to write on Christmas Day, I’m taking next week off, and I’ll see you in 2018. May the turning of the year bring light and luck and love to you all.

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