Consider giving the gift of books
They say Christmas is for children, but you and I know differently. Nevertheless, I have included more books for young readers this year, in hopes that readers will use the opportunity to encourage the young among us to share some special time with a good book.
In The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story author Gloria Houston and illustrator Barbara Cooney have crafted a gentle tale about a time when life could be difficult (Picture Puffins, 1996; $6.99).
Rising above the deprivations in a time of war, Ruthie and her mother venture out on snowy Christmas Eve to find the balsam tree that Ruthie and her father had picked out before he went off to fight. On their way, they sing a few, less familiar carols that prompt the townspeople to declare that the angels visited their homes.
In I’ll be Home for Christmas, the title comes from a postcard sent from Toot’s family reunion in Scotland. You’ll love the illustrations of the little pig all decked out in his tartan. As usual, Toot is off on an adventure while his best friend, Puddle, is left to do all of the work.
Back in Woodcock Hollow, Puddle makes a paper chain (could this inspire a project for your family?) and contends with the inevitable tangle of Christmas lights. Toot encounters unexpected delays and is only able to keep his promise to be home with the help of an unexpected friend (Little, Brown, 2008; $6.99).
Weaving the Rainbow, a gorgeously illustrated picture book about how a weaver does her work, is written by George Ella Lyon. The watercolors created by Stephanie Anderson capture the careful nurturing that goes into raising sheep, and follow the process of transforming their shaggy, white coats into a richly colored tapestry (Athenaeum Books, 2004; $17.99).
Next is a fun read for teens. Chomp by Carl Hiaasen features a group of characters with outrageous names. The protagonist is Wahoo Cray, the son of a Florida animal wrangler who is often called to remove dangerous snakes and other creatures that have been released into the Everglades.
Derek Badger is a "reality TV" star who is filming an episode of his survival show and who wants to be filmed wrestling alligators and boa constrictors. The Crays have just what is needed in Alice the chicken-eating alligator and Beulah the Burmese python.
Obviously, the reader is well-prepared for the outlandish antics of this cast of reptilian and human characters, the plot twists are mostly the result of Badger’s idiotic ego and complete lack of understanding of the facts of the natural world. You’ll never watch "reality TV" in the same way after reading (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012; $8.99.)
The author of Light from a Distant Star, Mary McGarry Morris, gives the adult reader an exact portrait of the adolescent torture of knowing things you can’t tell the adults and at the same time not understanding many of the events you witness.
"Life was changing all around Nellie, and no one was doing anything about it. Her family was coming undone. Or at least that’s what it felt like," to 13-year-old Nellie. She’s precocious and naïve at the same time.
Her little brother is a target for bullies, her older sister has been coming home after curfew, smelling of pot. Nellie’s parents are having trouble making ends meet, and might have to sell the family business.
As a source of additional income, Nellie’s mom has rented out an apartment attached to the house. This is where the trouble starts. When a homeless drifter named Max begins to show interest in the tenant, Dollie, the adults become very suspicious, to the point of accusing him of a violent crime. But Nellie knows he’s not a bad guy (Crown Publishers, 2011; $25).
In the nonfiction vein, we have David McCullough’s biography of the Wright Brothers, simply titled The Wright Brothers (Simon and Schuster, 2015; $30). McCullough captures the depth of character and breadth of learning the boys from Dayton, Ohio, often hid from the casual observer.
Did you know that Wilbur demonstrated his airplane for European royalty? Did you know that Orville was seriously injured in a crash? Did you know that the initial flight occurred at Kill Devil Hills, not at Kitty Hawk? Many, many more revelations await.
So, give the gift of these or other books and create a quiet moment, with or without the children.
Palma is an adjunct associate professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester. She has a master of science degree in education from Nazareth College and master of arts in theology from St. Bernard’s Institute.