There’s a scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS in which Laura and Mary spend a magical morning etching pictures in the frosted windowpanes of their little cabin using Ma’s thimble. As a child I wanted to try that, but our windows were too well-insulated to gather frost. Imagine my delight, then, a couple of winters ago, to discover thick frost completely covering the old-fashioned windows of our detached garage. For several days back during that frosty cold spell, I was itching to take my thimble and do a little ice etching of my own. And that’s exactly what I did one day, using my keys, instead. Doesn’t it look magical?
Like window frost begging to be etched, good picture books invoke in me a nostalgic return to childhood and a reminder of the simple joys in life. When my children were younger, our days were enriched by reading picture books. What a treat it was to curl up together on the sofa with a stack of books. The joy we found in those books was not flashy or over the top, but simple and deep. We cheered on Mike Mulligan and Maryanne, from Virginia Lee Burton’s MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 1939), to dig a little faster and a little deeper, and afterwards, scurried outside do our own digging in the snow. And Sam McBratney’s GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU (Candlewick, 2005) evoked such warmth that we held our own matches to show how much we loved each other.
If you’re feeling downtrodden by the heavy-ness of life right now, may I suggest heading straight to your child’s book shelf? Or, better yet, with the Christmas season soon upon us, perhaps it’s time to take out that box of Christmas-themed picture books you have stored in the attic (if you are like me). Dust them off, and put them out so all can enjoy.
That’s what our family is doing this holiday season. Each night after dinner, starting on Thanksgiving, one family member will choose a book from the box to read-aloud to the rest of us. It will be our dessert!
As we read, I am certain that it won’t take long to feel that magical nostalgia, for picture books hold within their 32-pages, a much-needed reminder that our deepest joys are found in the simple pleasures of life.
Need help getting started? Here are a few of my Christmas favorites (old and new and in no particular order):
ANGELA AND THE BABY JESUS, written by Frank McCourt and illustrated by Raul Colon (Simon and Schuster, 2007)
MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, written by Mindy Baker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Zonderkidz, 2018)
WHO IS COMING TO OUR HOUSE, written by Joseph Slate and illlustrated by Ashley Wolff (G.P. Putnam’d Sons, 1988)
LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS, writtten by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland (Beaming Books, 2020)
THE SWEET SMELL OF CHRISTMAS, written by Patricia Scarry and illustrated by J.P. Miller (Golden Books, 1970)
SOMETHING FOR CHRISTMAS, written and illustrated by Palmer Brown (Harper and Row, 1958)
and of course…
GOODNIGHT, MANGER, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by the wonderful Jane Chapman (Zonderkidz, 2015)