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Home Education Magazine

November-December 1999 - Articles

For Reading Out Loud: Holiday Stories and How to Choose Them - Marty Layne

The months of November and December bring holidays that celebrate the importance of love, family, and the rebirth of light. At our house, reading stories out loud is a big part of our holiday tradition. I love Christmas stories. I love the magic, the warmth, and the re-affirmation of love that fill the stories of this season: stories that celebrate the birth of new hope born in the midst of darkness. We've collected a lot of Christmas stories that we read out loud again and again, year after year. The ritual of reading these stories at the same time each year has given our children a sense of security.

Reading seasonal stories year after year can be one way to give shape and meaning to your family's holiday rituals. Let me tell you some of the criteria I use to choose books to read out loud and share some of my favorite Christmas stories with you based on those criteria.

I look for a positive family image in the books I read out loud. One of my all-time favorite stories about a family is contained in two books - Ida Early Comes Over the Mountains and Christmas With Ida Early by Robert Burch. The story begins with Ida, who is "as close to six feet as seven," asking for work at the Sutton's house. The story takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia during the tail end of the Great Depression. Aunt Ernestine, whom Randal, the oldest son, thinks of as "a battleship," has been helping the family since the children's mother died the previous spring, but she is not used to children. When Ida comes to the door "fresh as ragweed" to ask for work, the father offers her the job of taking care of the family. The youngest children, twins Clay and Dewey, are quite intrigued with Ida. Ida is an unusual character not only for her height but for her skills. Rather than walking to a peg and hanging up her sweater, "she held the sweater over her head, twirled it around twice, and let it go. It sailed to the corner, landing neatly on the hat rack."

Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book. I thought of it often when my children were small and they asked me to do something with them when I wanted to finish some household task.

Dewey said happily, "Guess what, Aunt Ernestine? Ida Early's going to read us the funny papers!"

"No, she's not! Ida's going to wash the dishes." Aunt Ernestine sounded very sure of it.

"Of course I am," said Ida, sitting down between Clay and Dewey. "But first we'll just have a look at Orphan Annie."

"Oh, boy!" said Dewey. "We like Little Orphan Annie."

After Ida read the strip to them, Clay said, "We like Dick Tracy, too."

"Well ain't that a jolly coincidence?" said Ida. "So do I! In fact, I like 'em all!"

"So do we!" said Clay. "Let's read some more."

Ida started reading Dick Tracy to them, but Aunt Ernestine interrupted them. "The comic strips will wait; the dishes won't."

"Oh, no, ma'am," said Ida Early. "It's the other way around. If the funnies are not read they're liable to disappear - somebody will throw 'em out or burn them up or something. But dirty dishes? Why I ain't never known Them to get away!"

Christmas with Ida Early continues the story and again, Ida demonstrates that what's important is what is in one's heart not in one's appearance. Ida is one unique character I'd sure like to meet. This book is appropriate for ages 5 and up. You can certainly read it to a younger child, especially if you also have older children.

It's difficult to give hard and fast rules about how old a child should be before reading a certain book out loud. The main thing to watch for in any child is enjoyment of the story. What is interesting to some children might be boring or too complex for others. If you find that you have chosen a book that none of your children like, stop reading it. Don't make them sit still just because you haven't finished yet. There is no value in making them listen when they've had enough or don't like the story. Reading out loud needs to be a pleasurable experience.

As well as positive family images, I look for books that have a positive child image. The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden is about a little orphan girl who decides that she's going to find a grandmother this Christmas. It's lovely story of both a doll and a little girl. You can find this book in an illustrated version or as a short chapter book. Because our daughter's name is Holly, this was a favorite at our house. This story is for children four and up.

I also look for books that are funny. Jack Kent's The Twelve Days of Christmas is an example of illustrative humor. This is a picture book for ages three and up that describes in illustrations what it would be like to receive all those gifts in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. Morris's Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells is another funny story that we enjoyed. Morris is the youngest of five children. On Christmas morning his siblings let each other play with their presents, but Morris is not allowed to because he is too small. Morris then finds a special present under the tree - a disappearing bag. I won't tell you the end; it will spoil the surprise!

Excitement is something that keeps children's interest alive in a longer read-aloud story. Warton's Christmas Eve Adventure by Russell E. Erickson is filled with excitement as Warton, the toad, helps a mole find his way home on the day before Christmas. As Warton and the mole search for his destination, they disturb a hibernating bear. I find the warmth and general tone of regard and concern for others delightful. There are other stories about this toad and his brother, Morton, by the same author - Toad for Tuesday being the first one in the series. Look for them in your library.

I'll limit myself to just one more book - Oliver and Amanda's Christmas by Jean van Leeuwen - for it's realistic portrayal of what Christmas can be like in a family. I especially enjoyed the story about Oliver and his huge Christmas list and his search for a stocking large enough to hold all the things he has asked for. Oliver and Amanda's Christmas is part of a series of early reading books about this brother and sister by Jean van Leeuwen. It can be read to three year olds and up. One advantage of reading beginning reader books to your little children is that when they are ready to read, these stories will be familiar.

Explore your library's holiday collections of children's books. You'll find many others that you will enjoy. The ones that become particular favorites are the ones to purchase so that you and your children can read them again and again. Second hand shops, garage sales, and even library discard sales can be great places to find holiday and other children's books at very reasonable prices. And of course, new books from book stores make great presents. Happy holiday reading.
1999, Marty Layne

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