IN PRISM'S BOOK BAG: Our annual selection of terrific children's gift books (for Christmas or any time of year)

by Kristyn Komarnicki

"Youth may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be:

I had a mother [and father!] who read to me."

– Strickland Gillilan

In my 12 years of motherhood, I have become a true and abiding fan of children's books. The best ones distill deep truths into poetic portraits, leaving readers of all ages with images that are often more effective and lasting than the most copiously penned volumes. Among my favorites are those that pair imaginative art with spiritual insights.

Below is my pick for this year. Many of them emphasize the joyful servanthood of Christ, available to us whenever we serve Christ by loving and serving others. All of them will be cherished by the little people in your life, and some will become family favorites to be kept and treasured for generations.

GORGEOUS PICTURE BOOKS THAT ARE APPROPRIATE FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY (ages 4 and up)

THIS IS NO FAIRY TALE by Dale Tolmasoff from Crossway Books (http://www.gnpcb.org) is a poignant book that contrasts the content of your favorite fairy tales with the true and greatest story ever told – the story of Jesus, God's Son.

"If this were a fairly tale, Jesus would have many servants to take care of him and do whatever he wanted. The truth is, Jesus served other people. Many times he did wonderful miracles to heal sick people, there is nothing that Jesus couldn't do for those he loved."

Children will appreciate the warm, inviting depictions of Christ's life. Older children will have their sense of adventure and story stirred as they discern the call to follow Christ, the King of all kings. And adults will marvel that Christ's story, so wrought with humility, betrayal, and sacrifice, could ever pass for a simple fairy tale.

THE SONG OF FRANCIS & THE ANIMALS by Pat Mora from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (http://www.eerdmans.com/youngreaders/default.htm) uses lilting verse and playful imagery to celebrate the tender relationship between the beloved saint and the animals he loved. Woodcut artist David Frampton captures the exuberant songs of Francis and the animals in colorful woodcuts that underscore the harmony between humans and the natural world.

CIRCLES OF HOPE by Karen Lynne Williams from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (http://www.eerdmans.com/youngreaders/default.htm) features a young boy who, wanting desperately to offer his new baby sister a gift, struggles to nurture a mango tree that he plants in her honor. A story of determination, faith, and love that introduces readers to the realities of rural life in the mountains of Haiti, it is imbued with brilliant colors, expressive characters, and vivid landscapes by artist Linda Saport.

YOU ARE SPECIAL by Max Lucado from Crossway Books (http://www.gnpcb.org) is part of an irresistible series of books about a village of wooden people who experience loneliness, dejection and absurdity whenever they stray from their creator, Eli the woodworker. These books work on so many levels that adults will find themselves convicted and moved to seek deeper communion with God, and children will be introduced to the consequences of life lived apart from a Creator who yearns for their company. (Other titles in the series include YOU ARE MINE and IF ONLY I HAD A GREEN NOSE.)

THREE KINGS AND A STAR by Fred Crump, Jr. from Urban Ministries, Inc. (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1932715525/qid=1133740224/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-9838617-9874350?s=books&v=glance&n=283155) is a delightful book that will be particularly welcomed by people of color as the characters are all depicted in rich Middle-Eastern/African garb and features. Your children will learn about the obedience of Mary & Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, King Herod's plot and God's gift to the world.

THE JESSE TREE by Geraldine McCaughrean from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (http://www.eerdmans.com/youngreaders/default.htm) features Mr. Butterfield carving a Jesse Tree in an old dusty church and a curious young boy who distracts him, asking about the various symbols on the tree. In 24 stories, illustrated with Chagall-like charm by Bee Willey, the old man retells the familiar tales that trace the lineage of Christ, from the Garden of Eden to Jesus' birth. Under the carpenter's skilled hands, the Jesse tree grows, and an unlikely friendship begins to take root as well.

[PHOTO – http://www.eerdmans.com/youngreaders/default.htm]

GOOD KING WENSESLAS by John M. Neale from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (http://www.eerdmans.com/youngreaders/default.htm) is based on actual events that occurred in the 10th century. It tells of a kind-hearted king and his page who set out to help a poor man on a cold winter's night and experience a miracle along the way. Tim Ladwig's energetic paintings bring new life to the familiar words and remind readers of all ages that helping others is a blessing.

ADAM AND EVE AND THE GARDEN OF EDEN by Jane Ray from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (http://www.eerdmans.com/youngreaders/default.htm) is a hauntingly illustrated and ethnically rich version of the creation/fall story. The border illustrations offer a quilt of fertile images that will keep your eyes busy for hours.

BOARD BOOKS FOR YOUR LITTLEST ONES:

The GOD MADE series (GOD MADE ANIMALS, BABIES, FAMILIES, ME, MUSIC) by Baby Faith from Integrity Publishers (http://www.integritypublishers.com/dept_browse.asp?deptid=25) tells Bible stories in the most accessible way possible, helping babies learn foundational truths while enjoying the attached squeakie doll.

BEGINNER'S BIBLES (Zondervan: http://www.zonderkidz.com) are a series of board Bible stories: Mary & Little Jesus, Noah & the Ark, Jonah & the Big Fish, Jesus & the Children. They feature racially diverse characters in brightly colored drawings.

SANTA, ARE YOU FOR REAL? by Harold Myra from Thomas Nelson (http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/dept.asp?dept_id=130000&TopLevel_id=130000) helps children discover that there really was a Saint Nicholas. Through colorful illustrations and a heartwarming story, children and parents will learn who the real Saint Nick was, when he lived, and why he gave gifts. Most importantly, you'll see how the original Saint Nick set an example for us today by keeping Christ at the heart of Christmas.

BOOKS FOR AGES 4 to 10:

The VeggieTales VEGGIECONNECTIONS FAMILY DEVOTIONAL by Big Idea from Integrity Publishers (http://www.integritypublishers.com/dept_browse.asp?deptid=25) help families work together to build closer relationships with God and each other through a shared devotional format. Tying in with the themes and Scripture studies of the VeggieConnections curriculum, this is a great way for the entire family to learn. A VeggieTales BIBLE DICTIONARY is also available.

The HELPING KIDS HEAL series of books from Zondervan: http://www.zonderkidz.com) helps kids deal with such things as grief, confusion and fear. Titles include SOMETIMES I'M AFRAID, THE DAY SCOOTER DIED, WHEN PETE'S DAD GOT SICK, MY BABY SISTER IS A PREEMIE, SARAH'S GRANDMA GOES TO HEAVEN, and WHY DID YOU BRING HOME A NEW BABY? among others. They are sensitively illustrated, featuring racially diverse children, and include a special section at the end of each book written by a Calvin College professor of psychology and clinical psychologist who provides suggestions for parents and caregivers of hurting children.

CHRISTMAS SOUP by Phyllis Dooley from Zondervan: http://www.zonderkidz.com features the Beene family, who dreams of a Christmas feast but every year gets the same old watery soup. When Baby Fannie prays, "Bless our home with something more", and that "more" turns out to be two hungry strangers to feed – it seems as if things can't get much worse. But the soup, a true feast for the hungry pair, is shared, and the Beene children learn a lesson about giving they won't soon forget.

THE NINETEENTH OF MAQUERK by Aaron Reynolds from Zonderkidz (http://www.zonderkidz.com) is one of a trio of humorously illustrated picture books that bring to life selected verses from the book of Proverbs. Other titles include BREAKING OUT OF THE BUNGLE BIRD and TALE OF THE POISONOUS YUCK BUGS. In them, children learn the rewards of diligence, the importance of listening to others, and how God desires us to use our spoken words.

A IS FOR ANGEL by Debbie Trafton O'Neal from Augsburg Books (http://www.augsburgfortress.org/augsburgbooks/store/category.asp?CLSID=151243) weaves the story of Jesus' birth into a rhyming, alphabetical journey. It also provides instructions for making four crafts inspired by the beautiful modern folk-art illustrations from Jan Bryan-Hunt.

 

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