On December 3rd I co-chaired and presented at the Michigan Library Association's Summer Reading Program Workshop. It was pleasant to be thinking of summer during the Winter, especially in Michigan. The weather's cold, but our thoughts are warm. With the holidays just around the corner, I thought it might be nice to begin the theme of One World One Story with a blog about Christmas books which take place in different parts of the world. Reading each one of these stories again, bring to mind how each culture adds to the Christmas story and bring a whole new perspective on the meaning of the season. Without further delay, I present the top five Christmas stories from around the world that have inspired me and children in my story times.
1. Befana Anne Rockwell This is an older title and not as colorful as Tomie de Paola's book but it is a treasure just the same. The story is beautifully told. The story takes place on Christmas eve when Befana has visitors to her home asking for directions to Bethlehem. Who are these visitors? None other than the Three Wisemen and a shepherd. Befana is invited to go to Bethlehem to see the new born King, but she refuses to go. When the sky is lit up with stars and angelic singing fills the air, Befana runs to find the new born babe. Does she find him? Readers will be satisfied with the ending of the old woman who just wants to see Baby Jesus. As a side note, the folklore originates in Italy and in the Italian version this is an epiphany story. Befana is sure to fly into the hearts of little ones during the Christmas seasons. Black and white illustrations with red borders are ornate and are perfectly paired with the text.
2. The Give-Away Ray Buckley This is an interesting choice for Christmas because it speaks of the Christian story of a savior in an American Indian traditional style. Although the story may not be part of the traditions of Native Americans, the artwork in the book captures the symbol and designs that are familiar to many tribes. Buckley weaves the story effortlessly to demonstrate that for the tribes creation, humanity, animals and God are all connected to each other. A must read for the holidays.
3. Marta and the Manger Straw A Christmas Tradition From Poland Virginia Kroll A lovely story that speaks to children of all ages about the importance of sharing good fortune with others. According to Polish costumes, taking a straw from the manger is considered to bring blessings though out the next year. Marta takes a straw and shares it with fellow villagers who have experienced hard times. When Marta and her mother experience their own hardships, they find that Marta's kindness is returned to her in the way of aid from family and friends.
4. The Spider's Gift : A Ukranian Christmas Story Eric A. Kimmel Did you know that spiders are considered good luck in the Ukrain? Kimmel's story begins with Katrusya finding out that there will be no Christmas at their home because of hard times. With a little prodding and convincing, Christmas is on again with the agreement that homemade gifts and a Christmas tree would be enough to bring in the holiday cheer. After finding the perfect tree, and decorating it Katrusya and her family awake to hear her mother screams! The Christmas tree is covered with spiders and their silky web. The tree has to go! Again, Katrusya wins the argument to keep the tree. After the family returns from church on Christmas Eve, they discover a wonderful surprise. The silky spiders' webs on their Christmas tree has become beautiful silver. The buttons and star on the tree has turned gold. The family decides to share their miracle and new found wealth with the villagers. Definitely one to keep on the shelves.
5. The Legend of the Christmas Rose retold by Ellin Greene A classic old tale from Sweden that details how the Christmas Rose came to bloom in the middle of winter. According to the folklore a poor family who has been banished from the village due to the father's crime of stealing a cow, witnesses the beauty of a beautiful garden that appears only on Christmas and only in the Goinge Forest. The abbot at the Ovid Cloister begs to see the garden and is allowed to on one condition: that the father is pardoned of his crime which would allow the family to return to live in the village. The abbot agrees to the condition and brings along with him a lay brother who can not see through the eyes of faith. This a wonderful tale of a cold heart warming up to the possibilities of Christmas miracles.
Of course by the time Summer Reading programs begin these Christmas tales will be a memory. Having said that, it is an enjoyable trip to go around the world at this time fo yer. I just may repeat it next year.