Let us take a collective breath and lay down our daily cares and national concerns and remember what the December holiday is about. The dark days end. Light is reborn. Here comes the sun. And, for many, the Son.
For so many reasons, these holidays are about the young — the just-born, the children. Now, more than ever, we want to nurture them, to help them grow smart and strong. Our child was a year old when I launched this site. We field-tested many of these books, movies and games on her. They don’t seem to have damaged her. I commend them to you as gifts for children you love. And for children who will get their gifts through local charities.
A boy in rural England builds a snowman. At midnight, as the boy looks out his window, the snowman lights up. The boy runs outside. He invites the snowman to tour his home. Then the snowman takes his hand. And off they fly, over England, over water, to the North Pole. There, Santa gives the boy a scarf. The boy and the snowman fly home. As the boy is going inside, the snowman waves — a wave of goodbye. The boy rushes into his arms and hugs him. The next morning, the snowman’s just a few lumps of coal and an old hat. Did that magical night really happen? The boy reaches into his pocket and finds the scarf. He drops to his knees and, almost as an offering, places it by the snowman’s hat. Fantastic story. Amazing animation. The most beautiful song. This 22-minute film is the very definition of perfection. For kids 3 and up. [I’m reminded that the book is just as exceptional, and ideal for kids 4 to 8.]
The Red Balloon
Pascal — an only child — is lonely. A red balloon follows him around and becomes his best friend. The balloon gets him in trouble at school. Boys gang up on Pascal and burst his balloon. Then a flock of balloons shows up and takes Pascal flying over Paris. For adults, that signifies the liberation of art and imagination. For kids, “The Red Balloon” is a film set in reality. And that is the magic of the movie — it hits kids at their level. A level where anything is possible. Where magic is afoot every day. For kids ages 3 to adult.
The Polar Express
Forget the movie, which was — I can’t resist — a trainwreck. Don’t fall for the fancy gift-boxed edition. Just get the book. Why? The illustrations, to be sure. But the story is even better: On Christmas Eve, a father tells his son that there’s no Santa Claus. Later that night, a train packed with children stops in front of a boy’s house. He hops on and travels to the North Pole, where Santa offers him the first toy of Christmas. The boy chooses a reindeer’s bell. On the way home, he loses it. How he finds it and what that means — that’s when you reach for the Kleenex. And when you and your child share a heightened sense of belief. For kids 4 and up.
A Christmas Carol
Not the 28,000-word original, the one that no one reads aloud to the end. This is the reader-and-kid-friendly 13,000-word edition that I abridged and Paige Peterson illustrated. Your kids won’t miss those 15,000 words. And neither will you.
The Book With No Pictures
A book for 5-to-8-year-old children.
A book for 5-to-8-year-old children with no pictures.
Blackie, The Horse Who Stood Still
Chris Cerf and Paige Peterson collaborated on a whimsical, mostly true, rhyming story about a horse that wouldn’t play the game: “Most colts are frisky but Blackie was not/ Blackie liked standing still!/ Yes, he liked it a lot!/“What’s the hurry?” thought Blackie. “There’s so much to see/Standing here in the shade of a juniper tree….” Peterson’s illustrations make this a book that kids will want to look at while a parent reads. Ages 6-12.
The Tales of Peter Rabbit
Beatrix Potter had been drawing greeting cards for art publishers to earn money for microscopes and slides and perhaps a printing press. In 1901 she turned to what she called “picture letters” — illustrated stories about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter, who lived with their mother in a sand bank under the root of a big fir tree…” For “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” she created extra drawings, added the mouse with the “large pea in her mouth,” the white cat “staring at some goldfish,” and printed Peter as a Christmas gift in 1901. The warmth of its reception from friends and family astounded her, so she made an edition for sale, price one shilling, plus tuppence postage. All who received it enthused.
I Want My Hat Back
Here’s the story: A bear has lost his hat. He asks other animals if they’ve seen it. He suddenly remembers that he has seen his hat — on a rabbit. In the next image, the bear is wearing his hat. End of story.
Love You Forever
In 40 years, 15 million copies have been sold. It’s been widely translated. The story is simple. On the first spread, a mother –– in a long cotton nightgown, seated in a comfortable chair, with her cat looking on — sings to her new baby: “I’ll love you forever I’ll like you for always/ As long as I’m living/ My baby you’ll be.” At two, her little boy will pull food from shelves, flush her watch, drive her crazy. But at night the mother will sneak into his room and pick him up and rock him in her arms and sing those four lines. The boy will be 9, and impossible. But at night… A teenager, and worse. But at night…
What is Silverstein’s appeal? Simple: He’s not full of the mealy-mouth bullshit that used to pass for children’s books. Starting way back in the ‘60s — when “Ozzie and Harriet” values were finally starting to wither and die everywhere but in kids’ books — he talked to kids with respect. He thought they were smart. And creative. And they needed to be encouraged, not sedated. Here’s Silverstein’s message in 34 words: “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” He wrote “The Giving Tree.” “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” And more.
The master: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” “Matilda.” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” “The BFG.”
The Kid from Tomkinsville
The baseball novels of John R. Tunis are not only the best sports fiction for 10-to-14 year-olds ever written, they are among the best sports fiction — period. The baseball scenes are as exciting as great newspaper reports of hotly contested games. There are passages that take you inside the game of baseball, and then deeper, into the minds of the men who play it. Does it matter that this book is set in the late 1930s, and Joe DiMaggio is a feared opponent and Roy’s grandmother still uses coal in her oven? Not at all — anyone who loves baseball will be rooting for Roy so fervently that this might as well be non-fiction.
The gold standard in pop-up books. Who needs a computer game — these are interactive magic. (age 4 up)
If Eloise lived now…. (age 5 up)
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
So there’s this bus driver. With a small problem. “Hi!,” he says. “I’m the bus driver. Listen, I’ve got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” This is one persistent pigeon. He has lots of reasons why you should let him drive the bus. They are very funny — especially if you are a parent who has ever said no to a kid, and the kid has tried to get you to change your mind. For ages 3 to 5.
A Really Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson explains the planet’s history, with lucid stories of geology, biology, evolution and more. For kids 9 and up.
LeBron’s Dream Team: How Four Friends and I Brought a Championsip Home
NBA superstar Lebron James tells the story of how he made it — not as a basketball player, but as a black kid trying to make it alive to his high school graduation. The answer: family and a crew of terrific friends who honestly loved and cared for one another. For kids 12 and up.
A 16-year-old, forced to work in the Russian coal fields, makes a great escape.
Kabul Beauty School
A Michigan beautician goes to a war zone. Teenaged girls should find this inspiring.
The Queen’s Gambit
Some sex and drugs. But much more: a heroine. The “Rocky” of chess. 14 and up.
At 9, Beatrice was an illiterate child who lived with her parents and five brothers and sisters in a poor village in Uganda. Half a world away, kids at the Niantic Community Church in Nantic, Connecticut were looking for a cause. They heard about Heifer International, the group that gives farm animals to poor families in rural communities and teaches them how to care for them. Intrigued, they bought a goat. In 1991, a dozen goats were given to families in Beatrice’s village. Beatrice’s family got one of them. They named it Mugisa, which means “luck.” And so it was. The goat gave birth. And milk. That meant something to sell, which meant money — and, eventually, school for a little girl who wanted nothing more than to go to school.
Brain Quest Grade 1: 750 Questions and Answers to Challenge the Mind
For kids who think it’s fun to be smart. Age 6 and up.
Apples to Apples
It’s a word game. A card game. A talking game. It could be the most fun way to expand vocabulary and stretch imagination. Ideal for young lawyers-in-training. Age 9 and up.
Tic-tac-toe, four-in-a-row, with pieces of varying size that can cover smaller pieces and dramatically change the game. Age 5 and up.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
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