From The Book Shelf: December 2018

Each month I spotlight two books guaranteed to delight readers and provide fun activities to further extend the meaning of each reading experience. With so many wonderful titles available, this is no easy task! I bring a 35-year teaching career, literacy expertise, and a passion for creating joyful readers and writers to every column I write. I certainly hope you enjoy this month’s picks as much as I do.

Christmas Nostalgia

What is nostalgia?

It is an emotional state of longing for the past that cuts across cultures, time periods, and ages.  This sentimental desire to return to a former time and place (whether in thought or in fact), perceived to be better or simpler, can be triggered by sights, smells, sounds, and tastes. A particular song can instantly transport you to a childhood home, or a familiar smell like baked apple pies can place you back in Grandma’s kitchen in a split second. Photos of the “good ole days” posted on Facebook (Throwback Thursdays) evidence the power of nostalgia and the human need for belonging, security, and purpose.

Why does nostalgia peak around Christmas?

We define ourselves in part by how connected we are to others, and these relationships are heightened by nostalgia—which helps explain why commercials, billboards, and all forms of marketing around the holidays center on relationships. People travel great distances and make significant sacrifices in order to be with those they love on Christmas. And if it is not possible to be present, nostalgic memories can be a psychological substitute for the real thing, as in the quintessential holiday nostalgic song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Little known fact:  In December 1965, after having completed the longest orbit around earth to date, U.S. astronauts requested that NASA pipe in this Bing Crosby classic.

“I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love,

Even more than I usually do,

And although I know it’s a long road back,

I promise you:

I’ll be home for Christmas!

You can count on me.

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love light gleams.

I’ll be home for Christmas,

If only in my dreams.” ~Lyricist Kim Gannon, 1943

Ways Nostalgia Can Improve Your Life:

  1. You feel more connected to others.
  2. You cope with making life changes.
  3. You have a brighter outlook on the future.
  4. It reminds you of how meaningful life is.

(Source:  elitedaily)

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.” ~Doug Larson

The Jolly Christmas Postman

A lively, witty, and charming interactive picture book that is perfect for the holidays. Janet and Allan Ahlberg most assuredly had a fabulous time creating this wildly imaginative, rhyming multi-genre text! As The Jolly Christmas Postman makes his rounds on Christmas Eve, he delivers letters, postcards, board games and more to/from beloved fairytale and nursery rhyme characters. At the end of his route, stranded in the snow and darkness, he receives a magical surprise. This book is a gem filled with humor, gorgeous illustrations, and favorite childhood characters. With all of the technology available today (e.g., text messages, e-mails, tweets, etc.), it is refreshing to return to a time when people communicated by handwritten letters, delivered to your home by a postman you knew by name.


Caldecott medalist Peter Spier details the preparations for, celebration of, and aftermath of, Christmas in this classic wordless picture book. From making cards, visiting Santa at the mall, purchasing a wreath, decorating the tree, and shopping for food, Spier showcases the “behind the scenes” work required for the perfect Christmas. He proves that a picture is worth a thousand words, as readers take in every detail of the excitement of Christmas Day Eve, from the bustle of activity early morning to eating dinner with the extended family. The illustrations of the “other side” of Christmas Day are spot on, too—dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, tired parents amid the clutter after the children are in bed, piles of trash at the street corner, empty tree lots, and return lines at the mall. Peter Spier’s Christmas is a fabulous holiday feast for the eyes!

Extension Activities

Christmas Timeline

Spier’s Christmas shows in great detail the before, during, and after Christmas Day celebration of one New England family. While there may be many similarities between the experiences depicted in the illustrations and your family’s holiday traditions, there are likely important differences (even if very subtle) that make what happens at your home unique. Create a timeline in words or illustrations (or a combination) that outlines how your family enjoys the holiday from beginning to end. For example…the Christmas tree. Do you put up a Christmas tree? Is it artificial or real? If it is real, do you trek to the mountains to cut it down or go to a tree lot near your home? When do you put up the tree—a month before Christmas Day? A week? The night before? Think about all traditions surrounding Christmas and put them in order of occurrence on the timeline. You will be surprised by how much effort and time goes into preparing for the perfect Christmas Day!

Unexpected Delivery

In Ahlberg’s The Jolly Christmas Postman, each delivery from a beloved fictional fairy tale character both surprises and delights the recipient. The creative envelope contents (e.g., Christmas card, jigsaw puzzle, and board game) not only serve to enhance the storyline, but add a layer of novelty and fun for readers, too. Choose a special someone in your life and compose a letter filled with good wishes and holiday cheer. Using the picture book as inspiration, turn up your creative juices and make something extraordinary to include with the handwritten note. Address the envelope, add a postage stamp, and place it in the mailbox. This unexpected delivery is guaranteed to brighten someone’s day!

History of Holiday Traditions

Pick ten (or more) of the following Christmas traditions and research the history of each—when they started, how they are celebrated, and the role they play in the holiday season. Once you find the answers, turn it into a game by asking a friend or family member questions about each tradition. Because of your investigative work, you will know if they are correct, and if not, you can provide them with the answers.

  • Advent Calendar
  • Advent Candle
  • Christmas Bells
  • Candles
  • Candy Canes
  • Christmas Carols
  • Christmas Cards
  • Eggnog
  • Gingerbread House
  • Holly and Ivy
  • Letter to Santa
  • Christmas Lights
  • Mistletoe
  • Nativity
  • Poinsettias
  • Presents
  • Christmas Pudding
  • St. Nicholas
  • Star of Bethlehem
  • Christmas Stocking
  • Christmas Tree
  • Wassailing
  • Christmas Wreath
  • Yule Log

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from the store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’”~Dr. Seuss, Howthe Grinch Stole Christmas!



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