We have two huge boxes of Christmas books for kids, collected over the years. As it should be, at least a half dozen of them are different retellings of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and another dozen are solemn versions of the first Christmas. We have the obligatory Bad Kitty’s Christmas and Snowmen at Christmas thanks to the kids’ more recent requests.
Still, my favorite books are the really old ones I’ve found. I’ve picked them up at garage sales and thrift stores. A few are from my own childhood. Their pages are worn and some are stained. Most have inscriptions with unknown names on the inside covers. They are nostalgic and well-loved and quirky.
Especially quirky. There is nothing like them when you need a good laugh.
A few of my favorites:
An Irish Night Before Christmas by Sarah Kirwan Blazek (Illustrated by James Rice) – This book is the youngest in my old book collection. Published in 1996, it’s still nearly 20 years old (which isn’t possible, and yet it appears to be true). It features Irish Santa and his seven wee lads delivering gifts while downing a fair portion of whiskey. It’s really great stuff (the story, I mean, not the whiskey, though I’m sure that was excellent, too). The poem is written in dialect, so I get to flaunt my awesome Irish accent to the kids when I read it. And I do read it to them. Every single year. They love it, too.
So much for the cultural diversity of the ’90s. If you want to really revel in the unintentionally bizarre, you have to travel back to the ”70s.
Clem, the Clumsy Camel by Virginia Mueller (illustrated by Betty Wind) – This is one of those Arch Books. You know, the ones labeled “quality religious books for children” and full of Bible stories set to rhymes which warped our understanding of the real events for decades? Perhaps you had a few when you were a child. This was always my favorite Christmas one. I mean, for starters, the title. Right? The whole story is just the right kind of ridiculous. Clem is too clumsy to properly kneel to let his riders get on his back. Still, somehow he is chosen to accompany the wise men on their journey to see the new baby Jesus. He does his job a little awkwardly, but of course he has a cheerful attitude (unlike the other grumpier camels).
The best page? Easily the last one. Because, listen up, kids, the magical healing powers of baby Jesus can make even a clumsy schmuck graceful. (Also, “regal camel grace’? Really? That is SO not a thing.)
Santa’s Beard is Soft and Warm by Bob Ottum and Jo Anne Wood (Illustrated by Rod Ruth) – First of all, pause a moment to acknowledge the brilliance of highlighting for children the strokability of facial hair. Now savor the fact that it took TWO people to write this book…AND IT DOESN’T EVEN RHYME. Clearly people were very excited about the possibilities of touch and feel books in the ’70s, so I grant you that a Christmas version was inevitable, but it is amusing to note that more than one page has you just touching a piece of felt. Like kids in the ’70s weren’t already familiar with the feel of felt.
The best page? It’s a real toss up on this one. After all, there is a page with a scratch and sniff pine tree, but since mine has lost its smell in the ensuing 40 years, I’m going with awesome page where the authors encourage kids to snap Santa’s suspenders. Genius.
So there’s my top three, and believe you me, the collection is only going to keep growing. And! Thanks to the power of the internet, you too can own any of these fine gems just by clicking the images above and ordering one brought to your door. If they had known about this in the ’70s, they would have thought they were tripping.
Happy Christmas, everyone. May the laughter outweigh the chaos, even if only a little.