Christmas Around The World – Iran

Today, not only do we head to the Middle East, but we also step back in time, back some two thousand years ago, to the time of Jesus’ birth.

The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (2011)

For ages 6-9

I had heard of this Christmas picture book, but this year I decided, based on reviews, to get a copy and read it. Wow, what a great book! Not only are the illustrations by Ibatoulline simply stunning, but the simple story by the gifted Linda Sue Park (author of Newbery Award Winner A Single Shard) will take you not only back in time and immerse you in the Middle Eastern culture, but shed light on a part of the nativity story that is often a mystery to children (and adults):

Did you ever wonder what myrrh is? Where does it come from? What was it used for?

The story centers around a Middle Eastern man and his son whose livelihood is selling myrrh. The book not only describes the process of collecting and preparing myrrh, but talks about its many uses. I also love how Park weaves into the story a close-knit father-son relationship, as well as the mysterious appearance of the wisemen who seek out the myrrh dealer to purchase myrrh, before continuing on their voyage.

The book ends with:

I watch the three men mount their camels.

I watch them leave the marketplace

I watch as they ride into the desert

And I wonder about the baby.”

The Third Gift includes “Author’s Note” at the back of the book, which gives more historical details about the Biblical narrative and as well as the possible origins of the wisemen and further information about myrrh.

I highly recommend this book. It will grab younger children’s attention with it’s beautiful paintings in desert hues of gold, brown and orange, as well as shed new light and depth to the Christmas story, further in-bedding it in it’s cultural context and bringing it alive for little ones.

Newbery Medalist Park’s lean, well-paced story bridges the ordinary and the sacred to powerful effect.”-Publishers Weekly


Christmas Around The World – New Mexico

Christmas Around The World

Today, let’s leave snow drifts behind and head down to Northern New Mexico to a Hispanic community in the village of San Juan.

The Farolitos of Christmas by Rudolfo Anaya, illustrated by Edward Gonzales (1990)

For ages 5-9

Luz, is a young Hispanic girl, living with her mother and grandfather, during World War II. Her father was wounded in the war and is now recovering at a hospital. It’s a tradition in their village that the house with the brightest luminaries welcome the shepherds who come down the mountains on their way to church. They stop and sing in front of the house. Every year, Luz’s house is chosen thanks to her grandfather/s Luminaries. But, this year, her grandfather, who cuts the logs for the luminaries, is ill. There may not have be any luminaries or any shepherds singing. But Luz saves the day, when she comes up with a great alternative to the logs to light the way.

Anaya focuses on Luz’s relationship with her grandfather, as well as the close knit community of this small village. The natural beauty of Northern New Mexico is woven into the story as well – the tall peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the bare desert scape in winter, the glow of the setting sun and the bright starry nights.

Here’s an excerpt:

Abuelo held the matchbox. Luz and Reina carefully went from bag to bag and lit each candle. Soon a hundred farolitos shone brightly in the dusk.

Then the pastores came down the road. They stopped to look at the farolitos glowing in the dark.”

With stunning illustrations by Edward Gonzales and many traditions and Spanish words throughout the story, including a glossary of terms in the back, this is a great introduction to Hispanic Americans Christmas traditions.

Rudolfo Anaya, who was raised in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, is the author of the classic book, Bless Me, Ultima. His children’s books include Farolitos of Christmas, Farolitos for Abuelo, My Land Sings, Elegy on the Death of César Chávez, Roadrunner’s Dance, and The First Tortilla.

Christmas Around The World – Greece

Christmas Around the World – Greece

Today we head to Greece where Saint Nicolas was born and served as bishop of Myra.

December 6th is Saint Nicholas Day in many Western Christian countries. In the Netherlands, it is on December 5th and in Eastern Christian countries, December 19th is the feast of Saint Nicholas.

St. Nicholas is derived from Nicholas of Myra who was a bishop in 4th century Greece. Saint Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey.

When Nicholas was still young, both his parents died in an epidemic and left Nicholas a large inheritance. As a devout Christian, he felt called by God to use his inheritance to assist the poor and the needy around him. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. As a Bishop, he became know for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. December 6th marks the anniversary of his death on December 6th, 343 AD.

The most famous story from his life is said to be historical in its essence. It is the story of how Saint Nicholas rescued the three young maidens with gold for their dowries. To learn more about the life and stories of Saint Nicholas, as well as art and activities for children, go to St. Nicholas Center at

I would like to recommend a picture book about Saint Nicholas Day –

The Gift From Saint Nicolas by Dorothea Lachner, illustrated by Maja Dusikova (1994)

For ages 5-8

This book was originally published in German and translated into English by J. Alison James. The author, Dorothea Lachner, has written several books for children and for children’s radio programs in Germany and Austria. The illustrator Maja Dusikova was born in Piestany, Czechoslovakia, and now lives in Florence, Italy.

This story is about Saint Nicholas day in a small village in Europe.

The story begins:

It had been snowing for a over week. Day after Day, night after night. The wind has blown high snow mountains against the houses, and the village was white, and cold, and silent..”

The villagers in this little European village tried at first to clear the snow but as the snow kept falling, they finally gave up. Everyone was trapped in their homes and were all feeling lonely. It’s Saint Nicholas eve. Anna and Misha are worried that Saint Nicolas day will not be the same without Grandfather Gregor and all their friends.

Their wish this year is that Saint Nicholas would blow a path through the snow. But Saint Nicolas is a wise man and the gift he chooses for the villagers is far better than what Anna and Misha wished for. It leads to a joyful celebration!

I love that this Saint Nicholas gets around, not in a reindeer drawn sleigh, but on skis. But most of all, I love the message of the story, that often what we ask for and what we want is not actually what we need.

Christmas Around the World – The continent of Africa

Christmas Around the World – The continent of Africa

A Child Is Born by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Floyd Cooper (board book edition, 2003)

For ages 2-4

With Margaret Wise Brown’s (author of Goodnight Moon) poetic text and Floyd Cooper’s stunning paintings of the Nativity story, this is a perfect introduction to the Christmas story young children. This original story and illustrations are now available in board book format so your toddler or preschooler can look through the book on their own.

In A Child is Born, the Nativity story is set in Africa and the whole cast of characters from Jesus to the wisemen are African (or African Americans) and other ethnic origins. The paintings by Cooper of the infant, Jesus, are so realistic as he lies in the manger, you will want to reach out and pick up.

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations in The Blacker the Berry and a Coretta Scott King Honor for Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and I Have Heard of a Land. He is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He nows lives in Easton, Pennsylvania with his wife and children.

Here is an excerpt from the text by Margaret Wise Brown:

Come, wise men,

To worship

O Come to the barn

The sweetest of babies

Is here safe and warm

O Come, wild birds

Descend, gentle dove

And Angels from Heaven

To give him your love

The depiction of African angels announcing the birth of Jesus are simply stunning! With all the myriads of illustrated Nativity stories showing caucasian looking angels, this book is a breath of fresh air and a reminder that God is a God of diversity. I am reminded of the verse in Revelation 7:9:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”

This Christmas, let us join with all the nations of the world to worship Him – a foretaste, during this advent season, of what is to come: “O come, let us adore Him, Christi the Lord.

I encourage you to order a copy so your children can read it and reread it, but until then, here is a youtube reading of A Child is Born by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by Floyd Cooper:

Christmas Around The World – Japan

Christmas Around The World – Japan

Today we head to Japan:

Tree of Cranes by written and illustrated by Allen Say – (1991)

For ages 4-8

Set in Japan, a young boy and his mother dig up a small fir tree, decorate it with origami cranes and light candles as the mother recalls to her son her Christmas memories from her years in California.

I love the fact that both cultures are intertwined in this story. Throughout the story, the reader is balanced between the every day life on a cold winter’s day and a sense of anticipation that this is a very special day for the mother as she prepares a small Christmas celebration for her and her son.

This is my favorite section of the book:

Mama let me strike the matches. And when all the candles were lit, she fell silent. She was remembering. She was seeing another tree in a faraway place where she had been small like me.

Mama held me in her lap. The cranes turned slowly, flashing candlelight. There couldn’t be a tree more beautiful than mine, I thought. Not even in the place where Mama was born.

A great book for third culture kids, as they balance two or more cultures and remember Christmas’ in their passport country.

Allen Say’s bright and colorful watercolor paintings throughout gives the reader a window into the family life of a Japanese home and the warm portrait of a mother and son relationship.

The only aspect of the book that bothered me was the fact that there is no mention of the Nativity story or any explanation as to the reason Christmas is celebrated, but I do like the beauty and magic of the lighted Christmas tree.

If you love this book, be sure to look for Grandfather’s Journey also by Allen Say, a beautiful picture of what homesicknesses is for third culture kids – always longing for the country you are not currently residing in. Grandfather’s Journey is a Caldecott Medal winner.

The Tree of Crane is also available on youtube if youdon’t own a copy:

Christmas Around The World – Australia

Christmas around the World – Australia

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox (1995)

For ages 4-7

Today we head down to Australia, where Christmas takes place in the heat of the summer. My parents lived in Adelaide, Australia where the Christmas eve service was held on the beach and Christmas day barbecues were the norm.

Wombat Divine is an amusing story about a young wombat who can’t wait to join this year’s Nativity play.

The story begins:

It was the week before Christmas.

Wombat loved Christmas.

He loved the carols and the candles,

The presents and the pudding,

But most of all he loved the Nativity play”

As various Australian animals were picked to play the different parts, Wombat never seemed to fit any of the roles, due to his size or various deficiencies. Just when Wombat begins to despair, Emu, the pageant director, comes up with the perfect part!

A great introduction to Australian animals for young children.

Mem Fox (Merrion Frances) is an Australian writer of children’s books and as well as a teacher specializing in literacy. Fox was born in Melbourne, Australia but grew up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where her parents served as missionaries. She has published over 35 books for children. Fox now lives in Adelaide, Australia. Possum Magic, her first picture book, is now one of the most recognised picture books in Australia and has sold over 3 million copies worldwide.

The illustrations by Kerry Argent are warm, bright, colorful, and amusing, and will make children laugh. A fun, light read the whole family will enjoy!

Its pleasures are infectious” Library Journal

I also love that the focus of this Christmas story is on the Nativity and putting on a Christmas pageant.

You can find the story being read aloud on this youtube video by an Australian narrator

Christmas Around the World – Russia

Christmas Around the Word – Russia

Papa Panov’s Special Day (adapted from the original by Leo Tolstoy, retold by Mig Holden and illustrated by Nathalie Vilain)

For ages 6-12+

Today, we head to a small village in Russia, on a very cold winter’s day…

Ok, ok, I know I keep saying that this book or that book is a favorite, but this book IS definitely at the top of my list. I have never listened to this story or read it aloud without tearing up. Let me put it this way: if I could only pick one Christmas book to read, this one would be it. There are several versions, but I love the text and simple illustrations of this edition.

An old, lonely shoemaker closes up his shop on Christmas Eve in a small village in Russia, makes a pot of coffee and reads the Christmas story. He falls asleep in his chair, and Jesus appears to him in a dream saying:

You have been wishing that you could see me, Papa Panov.” he said kindly, “then look for me tomorrow. It will be Christmas Day and I will visit you. But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am.

Throughout the day, various villagers and travelers pass by his house, and he reaches out and helps each and everyone of them despite his own loneliness and poverty – a place by the fire, a hot cup of coffee, a bowl of soup, a small pair of shoes to a baby… But as the sun begins to set and Jesus has not come, Papa Panov is disappointed. Where is Jesus? Why did he not come?

What happens that Christmas day is a beautiful reminder, through story, of what God calls us to do for “the least of these”.

This is the best version (that I could find) of the story on youtube if you have internet access:

Christmas Around The World – Italy

Christmas Around the World 2017 – Clown of God

I love Christmas picture books!

Reading Christmas books with my own children was one of my favorite Christmas memories from when our children were young. Every year in December, we would wrap up 24 Christmas books and number them 1-24. Every night, we would unwrap the book corresponding to that day, snuggle on the couch and read it aloud together as a family (below is a photo of my 2 daughters, Laura and Lindsay reading together – Christmas 2000 – Laura started reading at an early age and loved to read to her little sister and stuffed animals). I miss those days of sharing books with young children, so I want to share some of my favorites with you. For a longer list, see my blog post “Christmas in July” where I list and describe 24 Christmas picture books.My two daughters, Laura and Lindsay read together at Christmas in 2001

This year, I will highlight a few Christmas picture books set in other countries. There are so many great multicultural Christmas books out there. If you have a favorite book, especially one set in the country or area of the world where you currently live, please share it with others in the comments.

Today, I will start off by sharing one of my family’s favorite books. This is takes place in Sorento, Italy:

The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola (1978)

For ages 4-7

This story is based on an ancient French legend, told and retold from oral tradition. It is the legend of an old Italian juggler who gives to Jesus his very best – his special talent for juggling.

As my husband,Tim, read this book aloud, my three children listened, wide-eyed and enraptured when he belted out the jugglers act:

First the red ball, then the orange,

next the yellow, blue, green, violet,

around and around they went until they looked like a rainbow…

And finally the sun in the heavens!, cried Giovanni,

the gold ball flew up, higher and higher.”

The illustrations by Tomie dePaola captures well the vibrant colors of the country and the energy of the juggler.

A beautiful reminder that God accepts our gifts, great or small, when they are offered to Him, with a sincere heart and a desire to please Him.

If you don’t own a copy, put it on your request list for next year! Or you can hear and see it read out on Youtube. I like this daddy-daughter read-aloud “The Clown of God | Read Aloud (FIAR)

Daddy Daughter Read Aloud 2,192 views”

Alice Dalgliesh – Part 6 of the Third Culture Kid Children’s Authors

Alice Dalgliesh – Part 6 in my series on Third Culture Kids children’s book authors

To continue (or get back to – I should say) my series on Third Culture Kid children’s authors, I would like to introduce you to Alice Dalgliesh (October 7, 1893 – June 11, 1979). If you use Sonlight Curriculum, you are already familiar with her Newbery Honor book, The Courage of Sarah Noble.
Continue reading

The Red Book – a book review

I recently moved from Indiana to Texas. I wanted to give a small token of my appreciation to a dear friend, fellow children’s book lover and wonderful storyteller. This is the book I chose for her:

The Red Book by Barbara Lehman, published in 2004, is a wordless book that is sure to draw in and spark the imagination of your child or children.

What I love aboutThe Red Book:

This book has simple watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations that will appeal to younger children, but still holds the attention of older school age kids. I love Lehman’s use of splashes of red through out her pastel square images.

The Red Book invites children to bridge the gap between cultures, between seasons, between gender – to soar (literally) to far away places through the power of imagination and story.

A wordless book can be shared without translation to children in other countries. (For list of other wordless books, see my blog post “12 wordless picture books”)

The Red Book will hold your child’s attention, inviting them to turn the page, join the little girl on a fantastical adventure story, filled with surprising twists and turns.

As with many great books, the story ends with suggestions of another adventure, another twist that makes the reader long for more.

Tip: ask your child what they think happens next –

The message of The Red Book will resonate with children and adults alike: storytelling and reading can instantly and magically transport us to other worlds unlike any other activity.

A 2005 Caldecott Honor book

Lehman’s story captures the magical possibility that exists every time readers open a book–if they allow it: they can leave the “real world” behind and, like the heroine, be transported by the helium of their imaginations.” – School Library Journal

Tips on how to read a wordless book:

Recently, on a Facebook page, a group of us were chatting about wordless books. One of the moms and a librarian from Maine, Jennifer Lewis, shared this with us:

I had always assumed one should make up a story to go with wordless picture books when sharing them with children. I always dreaded doing this and so generally avoided them altogether. When I attended a workshop on sharing wordless books with children, the very first point they made was: don’t narrate the story. Just don’t do it. The pictures are designed to tell the story themselves. Just turn the pages and examine the artwork with the children. Answer questions if they ask, but otherwise, let them explore each page for themselves and form the story in their own mind based on the pictures. Immediately after attending the workshop I took a pile of wordless picture books home for the library and tested them on my six-year-old without doing any narration, and guess what: he LOVED them! We “read” each book over and over and noticed new things on each page with each re-read. They are wonderful. My two new favorites are Journey and Quest by Aaron Becker. I would highly recommend giving them a try!”