(the following post contains affiliate links)
If you know me, then you’ll have guessed that the “all new” in the title of this post does not, in fact, refer to newly released books. In fact, once I went looking for links online, I realized that almost every single book I wanted to tell you about is out of print.
But don’t let that deter you! Fortunately, the internet makes searching for and purchasing used books very easy. You can follow the amazon links below, or you can search Abe Books or Powells. You could also do what I do: keep a list of authors to look for the next time you visit a used bookstore or thrift store.
So, what do I mean by all new? I mean that these are some of our favorite seasonal books, but I have never mentioned them on the blog before. You can find all of the Advent and Christmas books I have already recommended over here on one handy page.
Why so many books? Who has time for reading during this, one of the busiest months of the year? I love what Sarah Arthur has to say in Light Upon Light:
So the one time of year that we are given to pause and seek the One who seeks us becomes the one time of year that drives us nearly to self-extinction. And it is this season, of any, when we are least likely to pick up a book and read. Who has time for that? But it is a Word that has come to us, and words that tell the story of that Word from generation to generation.
First, lest you imagine that picture books are only for children, I recommend Lisbeth Zwerger’s version of The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann.
Zwerger is a prize-winning illustrator from Vienna. Her art is strange but lovely and is the perfect thoughtful foil for the disturbing whimsy and intelligence of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original Nutcracker tale. While I have shared this long picture book with my older children, I think this book would make a wonderful gift for any adult who appreciates art and literature.
The next book I’ll mention couldn’t be more different than Zwerger’s, but it is a new favorite in our house. Christmas For 10 by Cathryn Falwell is a counting Christmas book featuring multiple generations of an African-American family. My four-year-old loves it because she can count along, my older kids are drawn into it because of the bright cut-paper illustrations, and I love it for its depiction of ordinary Christmas fun like stringing popcorn and filling gift baskets. I am also grateful to have a Christmas book featuring a non-white family. Unfortunately, this is still very rare in Christmas picture books.
The Christmas Party by Adrienne Adams is more than a little unexpected (a Christmas book about a family of Easter egg-painting rabbits??), but it is a thrift store gem. I had never heard of Adrienne Adams before I picked up a used copy of this book, but her illustrations are so appealing.
And though I picked this one up for the pictures, the story is wonderful, too. It’s a bit of a Christmas coming-of-age tale, as the rabbit children turn the tables on their hardworking parents by surprising them with a memorable outdoor Christmas party. Adams’ illustrations of an egg-decorated Christmas tree and rabbit families sledding a snowy hill under a full moon are equally memorable.
Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant is my favorite kind of picture book. It is almost like a picture-book version of a literary memoir: Rylant’s recollection of a country Christmas from her childhood is spare and straightforward, yet the small memories seem to add up to so much more than is at first apparent. I could read this one over and over.
My children, on the other hand, much prefer The Worst Person’s Christmas by James Stevenson. I wasn’t even planning to mention this story of a truly awful Christmas curmudgeon, except that my kids have begged for it every night this week. When I refused to read it one more time, my oldest decided that she would read it out loud instead. Three pages in and my boys were howling.
Fortunately, the horrifying behavior of “the worst person in the world” can’t persist against the unrelenting cheer and kindness of his neighbors. His insults may be horrifying (to me) and hilarious (to my children), but the story has a sweet ending.
If you need a break from the picture books, I’ve been enjoying Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope. These Victorian short stories offer the best of an old-fashioned British Christmas with the usual concerns of nineteenth-century literature. These are stories of roast beef, plum pudding, property, and humorous misunderstandings neatly resolved by the end of Christmas Day.
I’ve always enjoyed classic British murder mysteries from the 1930s. A Christmas Party: A Seasonal Murder Mystery by Georgette Heyer is wickedly fun and clever. I recommend reading it near a roaring country house fire. However, I found that a small kitchen woodstove will do in a pinch.
Happy reading and blessed Advent.
Books are a year-round pleasure in this house.
I always have a bedside pile (okay, tower) of books I am currently reading, and I read aloud to my children (yes, even my twelve-year-old) nearly every day. But something happens to my book love when we feed the last of the porch pumpkins to the chickens and go in search of our Advent wreath.
It becomes an obsession.
Perhaps it’s the early darkness and cold and all those hours to fill indoors. Perhaps it’s the discipline of Advent observance. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of Christmas. Maybe it’s because I am buying so many books to give as gifts. Or, maybe it is for every one of these reasons.
However I account for it, our December days are marked by the turning of pages.
During Advent, my reading takes on a heightened focus. I don’t read anything “just because.” For instance, this is the month when I reread Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher.
I think of this novel, set in snowy Scotland in the days leading up to Christmas, as my version of those sentimental holiday movies so many enjoy this time of year. It’s a great, warm, afghan of a novel, but it’s made of high-quality Scottish wool. Nothing cheap or slap-dash here. Pilcher’s story is full of love and sentiment but never sentimental. I am always so glad to pick it up again.
One of our favorite recent read-alouds would make a great stocking stuffer (it really is just the right size! and price!). It’s The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren, of Pippi Longstocking fame.
I bought this book after enjoying her picture book Christmas in Noisy Village (Picture Puffin) for years. The Children of Noisy Village features the same children but describes their activities not only at Christmas but all through the year on a traditional Swedish farm. It’s a chapter book, but the chapters are brief. It’s pretty much an ideal bedtime read.
I think anything Scandinavian is perfect for the Christmas season, but I am recommending this book because my two sons, one a reluctant reader and the other a reluctant reader and reluctant listener, both adored it. The storytelling is simple and so true to childhood. It’s all about food and games, special celebrations and traditions, childish friendships and milestones as momentous as being given the responsibility for shopping at the village store entirely on your own.
We finished the book weeks ago, but when my nine-year-old quoted one of the lines from the book last night at dinner, the boys and I were practically rolling on the floor with laughter.
I love to read through a daily Advent book and usually alternate between Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas and God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (Readers Edition). But there are so many wonderful, possibilities for a daily devotion. This would be the perfect time of year to begin one of my favorite books, Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season (The Crosswicks Journal, Book 3).
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name has exactly twenty-four stories from Old Testament beginning to the birth of Jesus and makes ideal Advent reading with small children. I have also enjoyed Ann Voskamp’s beautifully illustrated Advent devotional Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas with my older kids.
I know that for many, December begins with a Christmas tree. We won’t cut down our tree for a few weeks yet, but our anticipation begins when I pull out our collection of Christmas storybooks. I’ll gather those books from a shelf in the third floor-closet on Sunday afternoon (something that will require at least four trips up and down those narrow, old stairs) and tell you about a few of them next Saturday.
If you have small children or grandchildren, Advent is the perfect time of year to begin a Christmas picture book collection. I’ve included amazon affiliate links in this post, but one of my favorite sources for beautiful, meaningful holiday books is Chinaberry.
When my kids were small, I began buying two or three Christmas books each year (I found many of them at our local thrift store) and that collection is now my very favorite thing to pull out each year. Better even than the familiar tree ornaments made with macaroni and glitter.
Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is one of our favorite family books no matter the season. Over the summer, our family visited the original Wilder homestead in Malone, NY. I recently wrote about that visit (and so much more) for Art House America. You can read all about my harvest of memory right here.
No doubt most of you are not sitting under a foot of snow as we are here at Maplehurst, but early March days are still ideal reading days.
I’m reading mostly gardening books, which, I suppose, must mean that I am a very hopeful person. Or else that I am practiced in denial.
I have a stack of gardening books currently checked out from my library, including the coffee-table treasury Visions of Paradise by photographer Marina Schinz. It begins with these words:
To create a garden is to search for a better world. In our effort to improve on nature, we are guided by a vision of paradise. … This hope for the future is at the heart of all gardening.
I think this is true of gardening, but my late-winter prayer is that these words would be true in every area of my life. That my reading, my loving, my working – everything – be motivated by hope for the future.
The following post contains affiliate links. You can find all my book recommendations here.
My favorite book in that stack of gardening books is The Essential Earthman: Henry Mitchell on Gardening.
Henry Mitchell was a columnist for the Washington Post. This posthumous collection has been called “one of the great American gardening books,” and I absolutely agree. This is wonderful reading: informative, practical, hilarious, witty. In its own subtle way, it is brilliant.
Its appeal for gardeners is obvious, but as I read I decided the book was worthy of an even broader audience. Almost all of the pieces are wonderful examples of what newspaper opinion writing can be.
We can all learn something from Henry Mitchell. We might learn about planting peonies or which varieties of daffodil are the most glorious. Or, we might learn the subtle art of communicating one’s own strong opinions in the most disarming and entertaining way.
Dept. of Speculation (Vintage Contemporaries) by Jenny Offill is not like any other novel you have read. I am sure of that. It is more like one of those works of art that looks, from a distance, like a hyper-realist portrait but is, upon closer examination, found to be made up entirely of buttons or bottle caps.
From a distance, this is the story of a marriage that is falling apart. Now, I know that sounds entirely too depressing for late-winter, but the full arc of the story is hopeful and beautiful.
But close up? This is a strange collection of thoughts and facts and memories. I tend not to like experiments in fiction, James Joyce excepted, of course. But when an experiment works, it really, really works. And this one works.
There is nothing self-indulgent about Offill’s writing. Instead, she has found a new way to tell a familiar story, and the result is astonishing.
I sometimes postpone writing these book recommendation posts because I worry that I haven’t read enough new, great books. I forget that the premise, when I began, was simply to tell you about the books on my shelves. Or, more accurately, the books taken off the shelves and left lying near beds and armchairs.
We’ve loved Mary Ann Hoberman’s picture book The Seven Silly Eaters for years, but this book has recently come off the shelf for round after round of reading. Elsa loves it, but my nearly-six and nearly-nine-year-old boys come like moths to a flame when they hear me reading it.
We are big fans of other Hoberman books, especially A House Is a House for Me and The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems, but The Seven Silly Eaters is special. It’s the rhyming story of a tired mother with seven picky-eaters for children, but, like all great picture books, it offers so much more. Every illustration tells a story of its own, and, I think, every family will find something of themselves in its pages.
Do you think your child is too old for picture books? Do you think you are too old for picture books? Then I recommend The Seven Silly Eaters as a very necessary corrective.
Happy reading, friends.
I sometimes worry that I have run out of books to recommend. Surely I’ve shown you every single book worth its shelf space in this old farmhouse?
But then I glance at my lap (there is almost always a book in my lap), and I realize that some of the books I love the most, some of the books I am so used to seeing, always at hand, are books I’ve never mentioned in this space.
Over the next few Saturdays, I will tell you about those books. They are the books I trip over on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. They are the books I find splayed and dusty underneath my little boy’s bed. Alas, they are the books most likely to sport ink or crayon marks from the budding baby-girl artiste.
They are rarely new or hip or trendy. I probably haven’t bothered to review them on Goodreads. But they are my constant companions.
And I hope you learn to love them, too.
(P.S. These posts contain affiliate links. Find all my book recommendations here.)
Quite a few of these special books are illustrated by Tasha Tudor. I have recommended one of her books before. It may be my favorite picture book I never read as a child. Recently, I pulled our copy of 1 Is One down from the shelf. I’m fairly certain I bought this book as a first birthday gift for my oldest (which means it’s been on our shelves for nearly a decade).
This is a counting book (1 is one duckling swimming in a dish, 2 is two sisters making a wish …), and every child deserves to learn their numbers by counting twinkling stars (18!) and baby birds (12!). It features Tasha’s signature watercolors, old-fashioned settings, and naturalistic details. I am pleased as punch to report that one-year-old Elsa now adores it. We never read it unless we read it three times through.
Tasha Tudor was a prolific illustrator, and her books are fairly easy to find at used bookstores and thrift shops. I still remember the pleasure of finding her edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses at the Printer’s Row Book Fair in Chicago.
Though she published her first picture book in the 1930s, Tasha and her books seem to come from a much earlier time. Apparently, she believed, only half-jokingly, that after dying she would return to her home in the 1830s, a strange sentiment I’m afraid I can relate with all too well. There is still a small part of my mind that believes, against my better judgement, that life would be so much better if I had twenty-two tiny buttons marching up my boots and was skilled with a button-hook (a romanticism inherited by my daughter who sighs deeply and says she wishes she were Amish every time she spies a little girl wrapped in bonnet and shawl).
These illustrations are like miniature worlds, and they are worlds I long to recreate. This may be why I spend so much time with two books written for adults: The Private World of Tasha Tudor by Tasha Tudor and Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin.
These large photography books take you inside the beautiful eddy in time that Tasha created at her Vermont farmhouse. Full of antique clothes and toys and cottage-garden flowers, these books prove that Tasha created her paintings from life. She dreamed it. She cultivated it. And then she painted it.
I do not actually own either of these books, but I have checked them out of my local library so many times that I really should buy both (but I might wait a few weeks since my birthday is June 23, ahem).
I especially love Tasha Tudor’s Garden. The writing is a bit too hero-worshipful, but I could live in the pictures.
Tasha’s ideas about plants are quirky and idiosyncratic, and I find that they give me permission to garden just as personally. I happen to love African violets, but their velvety leaves make Tasha shudder. I’ve always been skeptical of daylilies, so it’s a relief to read that Tasha finds them “raggedy.” And I have shamelessly copied the formula of her peony beds by planting a mass of peonies with lily bulbs to bloom after and edging the whole affair with purple verbena.
In researching this post, I discovered that Tasha illustrated a picture-book version of Psalm 23 (The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Twenty-third Psalm) and the Lord’s Prayer, or “Our Father” (Give Us This Day). It is possible that I purchased copies of each before finishing this post.
Life isn’t long enough to do all you could accomplish. And what a privilege even to be alive. In spite of all the pollutions and horrors, how beautiful this world is. Supposing you only saw the stars once every year. Think what you would think. The wonder of it!”
Let’s all spread a blanket on some fresh spring grass and read a book, shall we?
Not sure what to read? Let’s see if I can help you with that. Not only am I recommending a few of my favorite recent reads (books with this season very much in mind), but I am GIVING AWAY FREE BOOKS.
Do I have your attention? Read to the end for all the details. And, as always, remember that I use affiliate links in each new edition of These Farmhouse Bookshelves. You can find more information about that right here.
Recently, my sister Kelli sent us this first book as a gift (yes, the same sister of photography fame). It’s a picture book, but it was pretty much my lifeline during those last few horribly brown pre-spring days. The kids love it, too.
And Then It’s Spring (Booklist Editor’s Choice. Books for Youth (Awards)) by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead is a gorgeous, award-winning, treasure of a book. I recommend it for kids and for any big people in your life who love spring or gardening or quietly humorous storytelling.
This is a far cry from captain-underpants and diary-of-a-wimpy-kid humor, but it had my own kids howling. And then breathing very quietly and asking questions about the seasons and how plants grow. So, pretty much a winner.
… it is still brown, but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown … – Julie Fogliano
I discovered this next writer, and her debut book, at the recent Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. This book may have been the very best thing about that festival (though I hesitate to quantify an experience that was full to overflowing with Very Good Things).
Things That Are by Amy Leach is not like anything you have ever read. I promise you that.
First, it is a beautiful book. Lovely to hold and with elegant, whimsical illustrations. A book-lover’s book.
Second, the writing is startling. Every single word is surprising and unanticipated. Hilarious and wise. Leach makes me laugh out loud and reminds me of the power words have to stab me straight through the heart. This book is a marvel.
What is it, exactly? It’s like a cross between a PBS nature documentary and Lewis Carroll. Except, so much better. So much wiser. Leach writes about nature – everything from panda bears and sea cucumbers to caterpillars and pea vines. She isn’t writing about people, except that she is. This is a book about the beautiful strangeness of our world and how much we can learn by taking a very close look at the creatures all around us.
Things That Are stretches the English language to its most delightful limits. This is nature writing as poetry, and each essay deserves to be read out loud.
Haywire personalities like peas, wobbly personalities with loose ends, iffy ends, result not from having no aim, no object in life, but from having an extrasensory object. What they want is beyond their powers of apprehension – until they hold it in their acute green wisps- so their manner is vagabond. The personality that longs only for perceptible things is down-to-earth, like a dung eater. But the teetery-pea kind send out aerial filaments to hound the yonder, tending every which way, guessing themselves into arabesques, for they are fixed on the imperceptible. – Amy Leach
Amy Leach sat right next to Fred Bahnson for one of my favorite panel presentations of the festival. I am also recommending his book Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. If you enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life then I’m sure you will appreciate Bahnson’s own memoir which explores the spiritual dimensions of the same subject (and if you haven’t read Kingsolver’s book please do go and rectify that).
In Bahnson’s words, this book is written from the perspective of a “pilgrim” and an “immersion journalist.” He tells his own stories, but he tells the stories of many others around the world who have discovered the sacredness of the dirt under our feet. This is a diverse bunch. There are mushroom-cultivating monks, metal-head, ex-con coffee roasters, maiz-growers in Mexico and Honduras, Pentecostal farmers, and Jewish growers of organic vegetables.
Gardeners and foodies will automatically appreciate this book, but I think it deserves a much wider audience. This book is also for all those interested in peacemaking and justice.
Beyond even that, this is a book about our spiritual origins. As Bahnson describes so eloquently, one of humanity’s oldest stories tells us something about ourselves that remains vitally important: we are the Adam who was created from the adamah. We are humans made of humus. Our spiritual and physical lives depend on the soil too many of us find it easy to ignore and abuse.
Our ecological problems are a result of having forgotten who we are – soil people, inspired by the breath of God. – Fred Bahnson
Now, on to the details you’ve been waiting for … free books.
The first giveaway is straight from me to you. I want to say thank you for reading these book recommendation posts, for sharing your own recommendations with me, and for clicking on those amazon affiliate links!
Also, I love Amy Leach’s book so much I want to share it with one of you. Leave a comment on this post, and you are automatically entered to win a copy. It will be very professional and unbiased and probably involve names in a hat.
The second giveaway is courtesy of Moody Publishers and my fellow writer Hannah Anderson. I’ve appreciated Hannah’s contributions at Pick Your Portion (we are both regular contributors there), and she has just written an eloquent and important book.
Conversations about women, the church, and identity tend to focus on roles or categories or accomplishments. I happen to think that those are very important topics of debate, and I love the books that shine new light on old conversations. But Anderson sets up camp somewhere else entirely, and we need that too. Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image explores a woman’s identity as first a person and an image bearer of a glorious God.
This is an inspiring, encouraging, beautifully written book. Again, leave a comment on this post, and I’ll stick your name in the hat for a chance to win your own copy.
I’ll leave comments open for a week. Leave your comment before Friday, May 9 at 11:59 pm.
Good luck and happy reading!