These Farmhouse Bookshelves: Advent Favorites

These Farmhouse Bookshelves: Advent Favorites

Autumn Light on the Mantelpiece


Ready or not the seasons are shifting.

Of course, we know in our heads that all time moves at the same speed, but our hearts simply will go on beating to some other, more mysterious, rhythm.

Sometimes the gap between those two experiences of time feels like a chasm. We stand on the edge, our hearts out of sync with the calendar, and we fear we will tumble, head over heels, into emptiness. But there are other days. Like Advent days. Then the gap between head-time and heart-time becomes a sacred place and a welcome retreat.

In the last November chapter of Roots and Sky, I wrote this:

I believe in sacred time. We may live in a world of Sunday-morning soccer games, Sunday-afternoon birthday parties, and twenty-four-hour shopping, but I believe there are days when eternity floods our time-bound existence. Days like a cup that runneth over. I also know that without some effort on my part, all time tends to look exactly the same, whether or not it is the same. Advent is beginning, and I want to set aside the days. To mark them off and probe their depths.

The primary way I do that, alone and together with my husband and children, is through books. If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that my archives are full of book recommendations for Advent and Christmas. I recently updated the page ( These Farmhouse Bookshelves) where you can explore all those links.

However, with Advent beginning on Sunday, and the first of December only days away, I thought a little roundup was in order. Here are several new-to-me titles and a shelf-full of old favorites.

And, for those of you who can’t think of Advent until after you’ve eaten your Thanksgiving turkey, here is my latest post at Grace Table. It’s a reflection on grief and gratitude and includes a recipe for the prettiest dish I placed on my holiday table last year. Enjoy!


My friend Kris Camealy has just published a beautiful new Advent devotional, Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of WaitingI read an advance copy months ago, but I am looking forward to reading it again, more slowly and prayerfully, through the month of December.

I have forgotten now who recommended to me Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany by Sarah Arthur. I’ve only skimmed the pages, but these words from the book jacket have me eager to dive in: “Readers are invited to experience Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany in its raw strangeness, stripped of sentiment ….” Those words remind me of Madeleine L’Engle’s description of Advent as The Irrational Season (another favorite book for this season).

Two devotionals I have always appreciated in the past are God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas from Paraclete Press and Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, a collection that includes selections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard, C.S. Lewis, and many others

During Advent, we aim to light the candles in our Advent wreath and read a special devotional each evening together. I say aim because, of course, there are nights when I call the whole thing off because all four of the kids insist on fighting over the candle snuffer. I have also learned (the hard way) not to expect my children to sit still for nightly readings without also giving them freshly-sharpened colored pencils and a Christmas coloring book like the Christmas Around the World Coloring Book by Dover.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann Voskamp has been a great companion to our Jesse Tree, but it would make an ideal daily devotional for a family even if you do not decorate a Jesse Tree. This is a substantial book with gorgeous illustrations. The language is rich and poetic enough to capture the attention of my older kids, but the readings are brief and linked to familiar Bible stories, so it works for younger children, too. If you only have very young children, I recommend using The Jesus Storybook Bible for your Advent devotions. There are exactly twenty-four stories from the beginning through to the wise men visiting the infant Jesus, making it perfect for introducing small children to the bigger story of Jesus’s birth during the month of December.

For years, I gave my children a new Advent or Christmas-themed picture book each Sunday of Advent. We now have an impressive collection, though I picked up most of the books during the year for twenty-five cents at a local thrift store. This does mean that our collection is less, well, curated than I might like. But a picture book we all love this time of year is Astrid Lindgren’s Christmas in Noisy VillageThis is a delightfully simple description of Christmas celebrations on three Swedish farms packed with young children.

Last year, we read a strange little novel called The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. You may know Sophie’s World, also written by this former professor of philosophy from Norway. Some of the strangeness may come from Gaarder’s philosophical bent, and some of it may simply be the little things that can be lost in translation, but the result is a curious, compelling Advent mystery that my kids and I both loved. The story follows the opening of a magical Advent calendar, and so it is already divided into chapters readymade for daily Advent reading. The central mystery involves a journey back through history to the very day and place of the Christ Child’s birth. It reads like following a thread back to that particular momentous day, and the result is that I felt much more solidly connected to the very first Christmas as an actual historical event.

This year, our readaloud chapter book is Winterfrost by Michelle Houts. We are one chapter in, and the kids are already hooked by this tale of Christmas magic on an isolated Danish farm.

Though our seasonal books have spilled over from shelves to piles on the windowsills, I have added one more new book to our Advent collection this year. It is Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season by Heidi Haverkamp. Designed for small group discussion, I think this one will also work well for families, especially if you plan to read it alongside The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I’d love to hear about your own favorite Advent and Christmas books in the comments.

Advent (Second Monday)

Kris Camealy is an encourager with a gift for friendship. Though we have yet to meet in person, I am already blessed to call her friend.

Also, this lady knows how to get things done. At least, that’s how it looks from where I sit. I have no idea how she manages to write and create and teach and organize (and cook!) the way she does, but she inspires me.

I think her reflection will inspire you, too, though it is her vulnerability, even her weakness, that shines so beautifully in this piece.


snowy fence


Stay Awake


In the middle of the busiest shopping weekend of the year, with the steady lure of distractions and temptations streaming into my inbox, I fight to be present—to pay attention.

The Saturday before Advent, I listen to a scripture reading on my phone while warming Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner.  The recorded voice reads a passage from the 13th chapter of the book of Mark. As I listen to Jesus’s words to his disciples urging them to “stay awake,” I am struck by the insistence with which He speaks this message.

“Be on guard,” He says. “Stay Awake.”

Meanwhile all I can think about is how tired I am.  I turn the page on the calendar; how is it December already?  I seem to enter the season of Advent every year like this — unprepared, tired, and teetering on anxious.  The sun slips away by five pm, and the premature darkness leaves me sagging well before dinner.  I shuffle through the evening routine with one eye on the clock, anticipating crawling into bed.

Stay awake, Christ urges. For you do not know when the master of the house will come…lest he come suddenly and find you asleep (Mark 13:36).

Advent comes with an unbearable weight bearing down, the expectation of Christ coming. I wonder if Mary was able to stay awake in the waiting? How long a journey it was to Bethlehem, to stable, to the floor of a crude barn, where she spilled the Glory of the World into the soiled hay at the feet of livestock.

Stay awake — five days after hearing them, these words refuse to leave me. Advent comes every year at a pre-determined time, marked on virtually every calendar available. I know exactly when it will begin. I know when it will end.  But Christ’s urgency to his disciples reminds me that I don’t really know what I think I know.

The season of Advent offers an opportunity to learn to prepare, to remain awake, even when the temptation to hibernate presses in.  Wakefulness requires a conscious effort to be present, even in my weariness.

After dinner I close up the kitchen. I’ve scuttled the kids all off to their beds. I find a quiet spot at the edge of the sofa and sit for the first time in a couple of hours. I light the candle on the table beside me and sit still in the dim, flickering light while the dishwasher hums busy in the background.

Recounting Mary’s journey to the stable, in the dark of a waiting world, Advent invites me to hold on.  I’m reminded to ready my heart for the King’s coming.

Stay awake, He urges. Pay attention. Be present.


As a sequin-wearing, homeschooling mother of four, Kris is passionate about Jesus, people and words. Her heart beats to share the hard but glorious truth about  life in Christ. She’s been known to take gratuitous pictures of her culinary creations, causing mouths to water all across Instagram. Once upon a time, she ran 10 miles for Compassion International, a ministry for which she serves as an advocate. Kris is the author of Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement and the follow up Companion Workbook.

You can read more from Kris at

Kris Camealy author pic


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