Angels We Have Heard on High
Can you believe we're already seven sausage slices into December? What? You don't have a salami advent? Us either. Alas.
But boy am I getting into the holiday spirit. Which you will see over at family.com if you read only about the eggnog cheesecake bars and skip the whole lice episode. Or kale slaw! I know! Festive or what? The column seems fixed now over there, so hopefully it will be updating regularly.
Meanwhile, I don't always understand the way it works, this receiving of gifts, but I wanted to thank you. I asked about great websites for kids, and your suggestions have been utterly fabulous. "Wow," Ben said. "These people really *know* me." I feel the same way. Already he's played Bookworm on popcap, a bunch of games on that sweet Orsinal site, something on the Vancouver 2010 site, and some strange car-crash thing on the edheads site. He has many more suggestions book-marked too--oh, and he completed the dance-mat typing lessons on the BBC, which we all loved. It's been so great to look with him at these tried-and-true favorites of yours. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
In return, I am offering a holiday gift-book round-up. Some of these are books that I have mentioned so many times that you'd think I'd be over them by now--but I'm not, apparently.
I know. I have been talking about Children Just Like Me for, like, a hundred years. But it's such an incredible book, the way it shows kids from over the world--their schools and houses of worship, their homes and pets and favorite toys and meals--and it prompts loads of conversation about sameness and difference, about privilege and hardship, without ever bonking you over the head with a moral hammer. We still read it all the time, and it would make a great gift for any child up to the age of 10 or 11 or so. But I'm warning you: the kids in the book are so beautiful that you will be a little bit heartbroken.
Okay. Jame's Herriot's Treasury for Children is another book that I can't say enough good things about. Did you ever read his vet books for grown-ups? You might think you don't want to hear about this tweedy English guy pushing his gloved hand into the yonis of various birthing farm animals, but actually, you do. Nevertheless, this is a collection of his gentlest, least gynecological vet stories, and they're beautifully illustrated. Plus, a) there's a Christmas story about a cat and, b) you get to read the dialogue in a heavy cockney accent. You know. If you want to. We have given it as a present to many children, and everybody loves it.
Now, Christmas Tapestry I have to mention because we read it every year, and every year it makes me cry, and every year the kids say, "Oh, Mama, this book makes you cry every year!" and yes, it does. It's kind of heavy--we used to edit it a little when the kids were younger--because it refers briefly to the Holocaust (though not in very specific terms), but it is the most devastating and romantic fantasy about restoration and reunion that I can imagine. Also, a good mix of Jewish and Christian stories.
Okay, those are my recommendations for children. Though I also wanted to mention a few chapter books. The Children of Noisy Village, which Beck once recommended to me right here, and which we loved: it's by Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking), and it's a collection of rustic little tales of old-fashioned daily life in Sweden; think Little House on the Prairie, only with less death defiance and more lutefisk. Also The Great Brain series, which I loved and devoured as a ten-year-old, and then ten-year-old Ben loved and devoured 30 years later (annoyingly, they don't seem to exist as a boxed set). And The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, which my ten-year-old mother loved and devoured and then, many, many decades later, her ten-year-old grandson loved and devoured (annoyingly, these also don't seem to exist as a boxed set in this country, though I was able to order one from the UK to send my nephews in Geneva. Shhhh.).
Those are my picks for kids. And for grown-ups:
My mother and I love, love, loved the novel Brooklyn, though my father did not. Maybe it's more of a women's kind of book? But Colm Toibin is a devastatingly fantastic writer, and I have loved all of his books. This one is worth reading if only for the most harrowing sea crossing you can imagine. Also, because it too is like Little House on the Prairie, only set in an Irish immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 1950s. If you can picture.
But maybe you wanted to give that special someone not a novel but a book of odd, melancholy drawings. Principles of Uncertainty, by the incomparable Maira Kalman, is one of the strangest and most beautiful books I have ever held in my hands. She is heartbroken and filled with gratitude all the time--a stranger's earnest fur hat can bring her to tears--and her grief-filled joy is always pitch-perfect. Always. I am giving this as a gift.
Or did you want to give a book of poetry? True, the white cover is not showing up very excitingly here, but Evidence by Mary Oliver is full of her stunning, grateful observations of love and the natural world, along with the the kinds of lines ("Tell me / what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?" is not in this book, but it could be) that have been changing lives for as long as she's been writing.
Or do you know someone who loves to cook? Local Flavors is a cookbook that I read cover to cover, like a novel. It is beautiful to look at, and full of fresh, delicious farmer's market recipes that are so sparklingly good you won't even miss the bacon. Also: grape chiffon pie. I just love her for having that recipe.
Please feel free to add more in the comments here about what you've been reading/loving/giving as gifts, book-wise. I am always so thrilled about your advice.
Meanwhile, I hope you are thriving and louse-free. xoxo