Another Christmas Story

Another Christmas Story
by Laura Koennecke
snow globesBright red mittens and peppermint candy. The bracket Pa made Ma for her china, with its hand-carved curlicues and crescent moons. This is Christmas, I like to think.

As we approach the holiday season, the picture of the Christmas I feel I need to create is shaped in large part by books: Little House in the Big Woods, Little Women, and the lesser known Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

My heart broke a little when I realized my daughter, Anna, didn’t share my love of these kinds of books. She loves a good hero quest, the more broken and conflicted the protagonist, the better. A map at the front of a book is always a good sign, and dragons are a bonus.

It made me wonder why I loved my poor little families. It became clear that their appeal wasn’t in their poverty, but in what they did for each other. In a nutshell, it was their Christmas stories. They fought the scarcity and darkness of winter with warmth and light and community.

The authors, through the families they shared with us, created what I imagine to be hygge, the comradery and coziness cherished in Danish homes and amongst friends. As readers, we can wrap ourselves in the warm embrace of a quilt that was carefully sewn by Laura and Mary at a quilting bee.

When the March girls of Little Women brought their Christmas breakfast to the hungry German immigrant family, they lit a fire and brought warmth and friendship to the home.

Polly and Ben Pepper created a Christmas for their younger siblings by bringing in a tree from outside and decorating it with popcorn and nuts wrapped in bits of bright paper. And they convinced their mother to give them leftover nubs of candles to brighten it. They have memories of better times and want to share those with the little ones.

Sometimes, in adult life, I find moments of soul warmth – the smell of wood burning in fireplaces that evokes images of warm hearths drawing families together, or the way headlights and holiday lights reflect on wet streets in winter. In these moments, decades wash away.

When I was a child, malls were being built everywhere. The closest one to us – in Fayetteville, New York – had a store that’s marquee was a wall of golden-hued lights. At night, Sibley’s glowed like a harvest moon but in a season of snow and short days.

Just before Christmas in those years, Dad would finish up chores in the barn a little early; we’d have a quick dinner, then head out to shop for Mom’s gift. We would climb into the station wagon – as many of us kids who were home and could fit – to go to the mall for Dad’s one and only shopping trip each year. The space between the back seat and the rear-facing third seat was my prime real estate. We’d drive to Fayetteville Mall with its beckoning wall of light.

There was something magical about going out at night in the winter, against the inclination to stay inside, to approach the light and energy of bustling shoppers. There was something magical about going on this adventure with my Dad.

I’m less inclined to go to the mall now. I more look forward to places like Jay Street – a fellowship of independent businesses, coffee shops, antiques and arts, with its brick pedestrian walkway and cobbled paths for skipping. It’s Schenectady’s Diagon Alley – the magical street in Harry Potter’s world – with its quirky store fronts and buildings of a certain age.

Now Harry Potter, this was a series that Anna and I read and loved together. Underneath all the epic battles and mythical creatures, J. K. Rowling created warmth and community and gave Harry a family. The big, loud, crazy Weasley family, with its misshapen hand-knit Christmas sweaters and no money, meant more to Harry than his piles of gold at Gringotts.

And Christmas always comes back to family – the ones we started with or the ones we pulled near to us – and the memories we create together.

I wonder what my 5-year-old will remember – maybe the cobbled street or the brightly lit window displays that reveal themselves as dusk settles or the warmth of hot chocolate chasing away the chill. Alas, it probably won’t be last year’s homemade snow globe that leaked all over the mantel and was quietly thrown away. (Thanks, Pinterest.)

Maybe he’ll remember going with his Dad to pick out my gift, and the way they conspired to sneak it back in the house without me knowing. Or maybe it will be the time that he and Anna, separated in age by 14 years, sat together painting green icing on sugar cookie trees way past his bedtime.

A few years ago, when my parents were downsizing, they had a garage sale. Drawers, closets and shelves were emptied onto tables, jarring memories loose from the deep storage of our minds. My sister Kris and I saw the Ziploc bag full of cookie cutters. Neither of us was going to let those get sold. So many of our memories are caught up in the preparation and in the anticipation that what we are doing will bring happiness to someone we love and in the moments that allow us to step outside the mundane.

It’s as likely as not that presents will end up on a garage sale table someday, but memories of shopping with my Dad and rolling out hundreds of leaping reindeer and lopsided angel cookies with my sisters and Mom, who didn’t even flinch when I tripled the already tripled recipe, will remain. The warm glow of the time we spent together will remain, and the glow is what matters.

Although that doesn’t mean I’m above dropping some heavy hints about the handmade bag in the bookstore on Jay Street.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years, though never under her own name. Her writing has been recognized through a recent Yelp “Review of the Day” and several well liked Facebook status updates. Another Christmas Story is her first attempt at “someday I’m going to write about this.” One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

Links to books mentioned in this post:

Little House in the Big Woods

Little Women

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Review: Ask Me

Ask Me
by Bernard Waber
Illustrated by Suzy Lee
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (July 14, 2015)
Ages 4-7

My Rating: 4 Stars

The bright autumn leaves on the cover of Ask Me by Bernard Waber drew me right in. It’s a beautiful time of the year, even if it is turning colder. The color is starting to pop all over the Northeast. It’s the perfect time for leaf peeping and curling up on the couch with your favorite kid to read fall-themed books.

Written entirely as a dialogue between a young girl and her father, Ask Me paints a gentle portrait of an energetic child exploring her own sense of self and the relationship she has with her father who patiently plays her game, giving her the space to verbalize her every like and love in the world.

When the girl says she likes geese, the father simply asks, “Geese in the sky? Or geese in the water?” I am partial to this passage because, like the little girl, I am a fan of geese both in the water and when they fly in the sky. Watching geese fly together always gives me a sense of gratitude and a sense of something bigger than me. This book reads like a list of all the great things the little girl loves about the world, and it is clear that her father is one of her favorites (along with ice cream!).

There is no attribution to the dialogue, but the father’s words are written in purple to distinguish them from his daughters. It requires you to make voice changes when reading the book aloud. It would be hard to follow the story without them.

Suzy Lee’s illustrations match the innocent voice of the child, further bringing you into the world of the girl as she strolls along with her father on a lovely autumn day.

It’s likely that any child you read this to will want to tell you about all of the things they love, so be prepared!

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.

What Are The 10 Best Things About Your Dad?

It’s almost Father’s Day, so naturally I was planning to create a list of great children’s books about dads. Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen are two books that celebrate the special relationship between father and child. These two stand out for their award-winning illustration, and I certainly recommend them. But, when I was considering The 10 Best Things About My Dad by Christine Loomis for my list, I realized this post wasn’t going to be a list of books for Father’s Day. There are plenty of book lists out there already.

Instead, this post is about nurturing the bond between father and child and about letting our fathers know how much we love them.

Father’s Day is a great time to think about creating special rituals, like the one in Every Friday. Maybe you already have one, such as reading before bedtime or going to the park on Saturdays to throw a ball around. These moments that you give to your child create a sense of stability and strengthen your relationship. If you take a second to be in the present moment, you may see just how important these times are to you, too.

So, you’re still trying to think of a gift that your young child can give for Father’s Day? What better gift would there be for a father than a personal list from his child that mirrors the one in The 10 Best Things About My Dad? Golf clubs, you say? Sorry, this isn’t about material gifts. Dad needs to know he is loved, whether he admits it or not. And young children need ways of expressing themselves, just like adults. Why not help your child make a list, and then make one of your own for your dad?

For me, this Father’s Day is an oddly special one. It’s the first one without my dad, who passed away in January. In his honor, here is my list of the 10 best things about my dad.

  1. Dad loved his family. It was obvious that my parents loved each other. They treated each other with respect, and they treated their kids the same way. They had nine children, and we were lucky to have a father who made us feel like we were more important than anything else.
  2. Dad loved all children, not just his own. He believed in the potential of kids and, together with my mom, was involved in activities that were geared toward helping them grow, like the church youth group.
  3. Dad loved people. His kindness and generosity came across when he spoke to people. And he often thought and talked about others with empathy and a caring heart.
  4. Dad had a soothing voice. It was an understanding voice. More than one of us kids had a school friend or two that liked to come around to listen to him talk and to be around his fatherly presence.
  5. Dad loved to tell stories about his family history. He would talk about how his father came from Germany as a boy to work on a relative’s farm. He would tell of how his father ended up owning the farm where we all grew up. Hearing these stories always gave me a sense of connection to the people I came from.
  6. Dad loved music. His face would light up when he heard a favorite song. Johnny Cash, The Kingston Trio, Pavarotti, Alison Krauss. The list of his favorites is endless, because any good song brought him joy. It’s a feeling I share, and I always felt connected to him because of it.
  7. Dad worked hard. He was a farmer. That’s no nine-to-five job. That’s early mornings and late nights. It’s not only physical labor, but having the smarts and integrity to run your own business.
  8. Dad hung on to his sense of wonder. Late in life, after he retired, he took up gardening. Every winter he would start to peruse the seed catalogs, looking at all of the beautiful flowers and fun new vegetables. Planning out the garden was a way to make the dead of winter bearable. One of his favorite moments, though, was when the seedlings started to sprout up through the dirt. He saw it for the miracle that it is. Something that we, mere humans, have no control over, even though we do our best and do our part by planting the seeds and nurturing them.
  9. Dad was grateful for everything he was given. He rarely complained. He, like the rest of us, had stuff to grumble about, but he didn’t put those worries on us or anyone else. He chose to be positive and do his best when facing adversity, which is a lesson I still aspire to learn completely.
  10. Finally, for my number 10, I simply must steal the final line from The 10 Best Things About My Dad. “My dad is extra special – just because he’s mine!”

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. The commission that I make through Amazon helps me maintain this blog without other types of advertising. 

Every Friday
Written and Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published by Square Fish (May 8, 2012)
2007 New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year

Owl Moon
Written by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by John Schoenherr
Published by Philomel Books (October 23, 1987)
Winner of the Caldecott Medal

The 10 Best Things About My Dad
Written by Christine Loomis
Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
Published by Cartwheel Books, an imprint of Scholastic (May 1, 2004)