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Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Review:  Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha SilvaMr. Dickens and His Carol: A Novel of Christmas Past by Samantha Silva
four-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

MY REVIEW:

Samantha Silva’s Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, heartwarming tale that follows Charles Dickens at a difficult time in his life.  Dickens has been a hugely successful writer for years, with each book selling better than the last.  That is, until Martin Chuzzlewit, whose sales have unexpectedly flopped.  Three weeks before Christmas, Dickens’ publishers pay him a visit to tell him the bad news about his book sales and to issue him an ultimatum:  write a heartwarming, best-selling Christmas book in the next three weeks or else face financial ruin.

Needless to say, this does not put Dickens into the Christmas spirit, especially when on top of his bad news, he also has to contend with his family who is expecting the same lavish Christmas that they are used to.  Additionally, one of Dickens’ cousins is lurking about because he wants money for an investment, and Dickens’ deadbeat father is also milling around town racking up debts and expecting Charles to take care of them.

Dickens begins to feel backed into a corner and starts to lash out at those around him, eventually driving his wife and children away from their home.  At first, Dickens flat out refuses to write a novel on demand because it’s not his style, but ultimately realizes he has no choice and sits down to write.  There’s just one problem – he has no inspiration whatsoever and a huge case of writer’s block.  Growing increasingly frustrated, Dickens begins to wander aimlessly around the city of London and eventually finds himself on an Ebenezer Scrooge-like journey that ultimately becomes the inspiration for what ends up being his most beloved novel, A Christmas Carol.

There were so many things I loved about this book, but I think the Dickensian atmosphere was what I loved the most.  I truly felt like I had been transported back to Victorian London while I was reading.  Silva does a marvelous job of capturing all of the sights, sounds, and smells (both the good and the bad!) of the time period and the overall effect was just magical! It was instantly clear that Silva had done her homework, both with respect to Dickens himself and to the time period.

I also loved the way Silva brought Charles Dickens to life for her readers.  She portrays him as likable and charming, and yet so flawed and human at the same time.  His family means everything to him and he’s worried that he may not be able to take care of them because of his lagging book sales.   I really sympathized with what he was going through –everyone wanting something from him because of his success,  his wife telling him that he has changed and that she and the children are leaving until he gets himself sorted out, and then having to write a Christmas story on demand in order to keep from falling into financial ruin.  It’s a lot for anyone to have to deal with and Dickens also feels the tremendous pressure of up-and-coming writers such as Thackeray and begins to doubt that he can compete with them.  Dickens’ frustrations were palpable and so very understandable, as were his feelings of self-doubt.  The writer’s block that follows is something that all of us who write can relate to, and I thought it was brilliant that Silva uses all of these pressures she has piled onto Dickens’ shoulders to take him on a Scrooge-like journey of his own, which is what ultimately inspires his writing of A Christmas Carol.

I’m a huge fan of both Dickens and A Christmas Carol, so every time I was reading and happened across a shout out to either A Christmas Carol or one of Dickens’ other works, it made me smile.  I thought it was especially fun when he came across names he thought would make good character names and jotted them down, or on other occasions when he met someone he didn’t like and vowed to use them in his book to exact his revenge on them on paper.  I also chuckled to myself that Dickens would grumble “Humbug, bah!” when he was in a particularly foul humor and then ended up incorporating the now famous words into his tale, since he obviously modeled Ebenezer Scrooge after himself.  In this sense, I would think the book would be a lot of fun for Dickens fans.

Overall, this was such an enjoyable read for me, but I will mention that there were a few spots that were heavy in description, which slowed the pacing a bit.  Thankfully though, the lulls were brief and the action picked back up pretty quickly.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, heartwarming tale that is perfect for fans of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, or even just Christmas itself.  I personally think it would make a lovely Christmas gift for the Dickens fan in your life.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Shakespeare in Love meets A Christmas Carol in this transporting debut novel set during the whirlwind period in which Dickens wrote his beloved classic, as he embarks on a Scrooge-like journey of his own.

For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself threatens to collapse around him. His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit.

Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him?

In prose laced with humor, sumptuous Victorian detail, and charming winks to A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva breathes new life into an adored classic. Perfect for fans of Dickens, for readers of immersive historical fiction, and for anyone looking for a dose of Christmas cheer, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.

 

four-half-stars

About Samantha Silva

Samantha Silva is an author and screenwriter based in Idaho. Mr. Dickens and His Carol is her debut novel. Over her career she’s sold film projects to Paramount, Universal, New Line Cinema and TNT. A film adaptation of her short story, The Big Burn, won the 1 Potato Short Screenplay Competition at the Sun Valley Film Festival in 2017. Silva will direct, her first time at the helm.

Silva graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, where she studied in Bologna, Italy and Washington, D.C. She’s lived in London three times, briefly in Rome, is an avid Italophile, and a forever Dickens devotee.

Give the Gift of Reading: Do a Kids’ Christmas Book Advent Calendar

ideas-for

 

Those who know me know I’m always on a quest to make sure my son loves books as much as I do.  As part of this quest and also to offset the endless array of electronics and video games that always dominate his Christmas list, a couple of years ago I put together a Christmas Book Advent Calendar for him to make sure he gets plenty of reading time throughout the holiday season.  Like a traditional advent calendar, mine was comprised of 24 books, one for each of the days leading up to Christmas, and the books were an assortment of traditional classics that were favorites of mine when I was his age, as well as some contemporary stories that are popular now.  I also selected some books that were funny, some that were more serious, and I also tried to include a variety of both secular and religious stories.  Most of the books I selected could easily be read in a single night, although I did have a couple of longer ones that I assigned to weekend days in case he couldn’t finish them in one night. My son had just turned 7 that year so I of course tried to make my selections a mix of books he could read on his own coupled with books his Dad or myself could read to him.

I’m not super creative when it to decorating so my calendar display was pretty basic.  I just wrapped each book in festive paper, numbered them 1-24 in the order I wanted them to be opened and read, and then I arranged them in a decorative holiday basket.  You can always check out Pinterest for tons of more creative ways to display your calendar.

Cost was, of course, an issue since books are not cheap, but I scored a lot of great deals on Black Friday Weekend, which is why I’m posting this now, and I also picked up a lot of heavily discounted books at our local book fair and of course through Amazon.

I’m happy to say that my son LOVED doing the Advent Calendar.  He even got to the point where he would run down first thing every morning to unwrap the day’s book to see what we would be reading that evening.  We had a great time with it — lots of laughs at silly books like Jingle Bells, Batman Smells and lots of smiles reading all of the traditional favorites like How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  He still has all of the books on his shelf, has already pulled several of them out to re-read again this year, and is currently begging me to do another Advent Calendar this year.  I’m not sure I can come up with an age appropriate list on such short notice, but it does make me smile to know that he enjoyed it that much, considering it’s not an xBox game, haha.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the list of books that I used for my Advent Calendar in case there’s anyone else out there who is looking to do something similar for their children.  It’s a lot of work to put one together but so totally worth it.  Happy Reading and Happy Holidays!

 

24 Perfect Books for a Child’s Christmas Book Advent Calendar

 

1. Turkey Clause by Wendi Silvano

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Goodreads Synopsis: Turkey is in trouble. Again. He made it through Thanksgiving without becoming a turkey dinner, but now it’s almost Christmas, and guess what’s on the menu? Turkey decides the only thing to do is to ask Santa for help. He sets off for the North Pole, but getting in to see Santa at Christmastime isn’t as easy as Turkey expected. It’s going to take all his ideas—and his clever disguises—to find a way into Santa’s house. After many hilarious attempts, Turkey comes up with the perfect disguise, and Santa has the perfect solution! In this holiday treat, a companion to Turkey Trouble, Wendi Silvano’s story is once again matched with the artwork of Lee Harper.   (Read more…)

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2. The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving by Jan & Mike Berenstain

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Goodreads Synopsis:  In The Berenstain Bears and The Joy of Giving Brother and Sister Bear can’t wait for Christmas and all the presents they’ll open. But during the Christmas Eve pageant, something special happens! The Bear cubs learn a very valuable lesson about the joy of giving to others.   (Read more…)

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3. The Poky Little Puppy’s First Christmas

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Goodreads Synopsis:  It’s the poky little puppy’s first Christmas, and he’s not sure what to expect. When he meets an animal friend who’s lost his home, Poky’s quick to help–and learns all about the spirit of Christmas.  (Read more…)

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4. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Adapted by Rick Bunsen

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Goodreads Synopsis:  In this comic retelling of the traditional Christmas story, Rudolph runs away from home to escape everyone’s teasing, travels to the Island of Misfit Toys with his elf pal, Herbie, and then faces down the Abominable Snow Monster -all before guiding Santa’s sleigh through that famous foggy Christmas Eve.  (Read more…)

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5. Frosty the Snowman by Diane Muldrow

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Goodreads Synopsis: Everyone’s favorite snowman with a magic hat, a button nose, and eyes made out of coal comes to life on Christmas every year. Based on the beloved 1969 television special, this Little Golden Book retells the whole magical story of Frosty the Snowman for boys and girls 2–5! (Read more…)

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6. The Little Christmas Elf by Nikki Shannon Smith

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Goodsreads Synopsis:  Nina, the littlest elf in Santa’s workshop, doesn’t finish the teddy bear she’s making in time for it to get loaded onto Santa’s sleigh-but, encouraged by Santa Claus himself to not give up, she works far into the night to finish it. While Santa is out delivering presents, a baby is born. Santa comes back for Nina’s now-finished bear—and guess who he takes along to deliver it? (Read more…)

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7. Junie B. First Grader:  Jingle Bells, Batman Smells (P.S. So Does May) by Barbara Park

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Meet the World’s Funniest First Grader Junie B. Jones!  Ho, ho…uh-oh! With over 50 million books in print, Barbara Park’s New York Times bestselling chapter book series, Junie B. Jones, is a classroom favorite and has been keeping kids laughing and reading for over 20 years! In the 25th Junie B. Jones book, it s holiday time, and Room One is doing lots of fun things to celebrate. Like making elf costumes! And singing joyful songs! Only, how can Junie B. enjoy the festivities when Tattletale May keeps ruining her holiday glee? And here is the worst part of all! When everyone picks names for Secret Santa, Junie B. gets stuck with Tattletale you-know-who! It s enough to fizzle your holiday spirit! Hmm . . . or is it? Maybe, just maybe, a Secret Santa gift is the perfect opportunity to give May exactly what she deserves. (Read more…)

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8. Bear Stays Up For Christmas by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman

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Goodreads Synopsis:

“The day before Christmas,

snuggled on his floor,

Bear sleeps soundly

with a great big snore….”

Bear’s friends are determined to keep Bear awake for Christmas! So they wake Bear up and have him help them find a Christmas tree, bake cakes, hang up stockings, and sing Christmas songs. Bear stays up — by discovering that giving is one of the best Christmas presents!

How a SURPRISE visit from someone very special gives Bear and his friends a Christmas to remember makes an enchanting holiday story for young readers. With Karma Wilson’s memorable text and Jane Chapman’s glowing illustrations, Bear Stays Up for Christmas is a book to cherish throughout the year.   (Read more…)

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9. How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Have you ever wondered what Santa did before he was Santa?  When Santa was young and needed a job, no one was looking for a man in a red suit to deliver gifts on Christmas. So Santa tried just about everything — from a chimney sweep to a postman to a circus performer. But none of these worked out. It wasn’t until he met a group of elves who helped him use all his special talents, that Santa was able to find his dream job.  (Read more…)

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10. How Santa Lost His Job by Stephen Krensky

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Santa has the best job he can think of — brining presents each Christmas to children all around the world. Every year he prepares for his trip: He trims his beard, takes a bath, gets dressed, and packs up his sleigh fort he long night ahead. But there are always a few unexpected delays that make things a little hectic. Muckle, one of the elves who helps Santa, thinks he can come up with a more efficient way of delivering the toys — a method that won’t involve Santa at all. (Read more…)

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11. The Biggest Snowman Ever by Steven Kroll

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Kids will adore this sequel to the New York Times bestseller The Biggest Pumpkin Ever!  When the mayor of Mouseville announces the town snowman contest, Clayton and Desmond claim that they will each make the biggest snowman ever. But building a huge snowman alone is hard! They work and work, but their snowmen just aren’t big enough.  Soon they have an idea. As the day of the contest approaches, Clayton and Desmond join forces to build the biggest snowman ever. (Read more…)

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12. Mickey’s Christmas Carol by Disney

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Relive this wonderful Disney classic film in a beautiful, hardcover, 96-page classic storybook that accurately captures the movie magic and places it right into a child’s hands. With every turn of a page, adventure unfolds to create memories that will last a lifetime. (Read more…)

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13. Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Mortimer Mouse needs a new house — a house that’s not so cold, cramped, and dark. Where can he go?He sees a huge tree covered with twinkling lights. And next to the tree, a mouse-size house. And inside the house, a wee wooden manger just Mortimer’s size. But statue people seem to already live there! One by one, Mortimer lugs and tugs the statues out of the house — only to find them all put back in their places each evening! What is Mortimer to do?

It’s not until he overhears a very special story that Mortimer realizes whose house he is sharing and where Mortimer himself belongs. It is the story of Christmas and the ngiht the baby Jesus was born that warms Mortimer’s heart in this magical holiday offering from award winners Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. (Read more…)

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14. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

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Goodreads Synopsis:  The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale — the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating — has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year’s pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever. (Read more…)

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15. The Littlest Christmas Tree by R.A. Herman

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Goodreads Synopsis:  The Littlest Christmas Tree wants to find a home for Christmas in this companion to the bestselling favorite The Littlest Pumpkin.

There are only five days until Christmas, and the Littlest Christmas Tree is still waiting for a home. All it wants is for a family to take it home, decorate it, and sing its favorite song, “Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches…”

But as Christmas nears, and one by one the other trees find homes, the Littlest Christmas Tree begins to think that no one will ever take it home. And then, on Christmas Eve, its wish comes true when the man who runs the Christmas tree stand takes it home to his family. (Read more…)

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16. The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton

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Goodreads Synopsis:  n all the world, there is no place like Halloweenland, and Jack Skellington is Halloween’s most important figure. It’s Jack who devises the holiday’s most macabre tricks and frights, and he’s delightfully done it year after year. But this year, something isn’t quite right: Jack has grown bored with the usual Halloween pranks, and the joy of seeing shock and horror on people’s faces has faded.

Then one night, while out for a walk in the woods, Jack sees something he’s never seen before – a strange door carved into a tree. Stepping through the door Jack stumbles into a world unlike any he’s ever known. He finds himself in a bright, colorful place called Christmas Town. Jack has finally found what he’s been looking for, and knows right away what needs to be done. He will bring Christmas to Halloween – with Jack starring in Santa’s role!

The beautifully designed commemorative edition celebrates the twentieth anniversary of this classic book’s initial publication and features meticulously reproduced original artwork from the incomparable visionary Tim Burton. (Read more…)

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17. Santa’s Stuck by Rhonda Gowler Greene

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Goodreads Synopsis:  This playful picture book answers the age-old question: Just how does Santa shimmy up and down chimneys? Not very easily sometimes! When the rotund fellow with a sweet tooth overdoes it on the snacks, he gets stuck inside a chimney. The reindeer on the roof try pulling him out, to no avail. A dog, a cat, and some kittens try pushing from below, with no luck. It takes a tiny, ingenious mouse to come up with the way to POP! Santa out so that Christmas can go on. Good show—ho, ho, ho! (Read more…)

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18. A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Everyone is getting into the Christmas spirit — except for Charlie Brown. It seems like everybody has forgotten what Christmas is truly about. But Lucy, Linus, and the whole Peanuts gang have some holiday surprises that will make even Charlie Brown feel merry! (Read more…)

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19. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Late on Christmas Eve, after the town has gone to sleep, a boy boards a mysterious train that waits for him: the Polar Express bound for the North Pole. When he arrives there, Santa offers him any gift he desires. The boy modestly asks for one bell from the reindeer’s harness. It turns out to be a very special gift, for only believers in Santa can hear it ring. (Read more…)

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20. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

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Goodreads Synopsis:  “The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.”

Dr. Seuss’s small-hearted Grinch ranks right up there with Scrooge when it comes to the crankiest, scowling holiday grumps of all time. For 53 years, the Grinch has lived in a cave on the side of a mountain, looming above the Whos in Whoville. The noisy holiday preparations and infernal singing of the happy little citizens below annoy him to no end. The Grinch decides this frivolous merriment must stop. His “wonderful, awful” idea is to don a Santa outfit, strap heavy antlers on his poor, quivering dog Max, construct a makeshift sleigh, head down to Whoville, and strip the chafingly cheerful Whos of their Yuletide glee once and for all.

Looking quite out of place and very disturbing in his makeshift Santa get-up, the Grinch slithers down chimneys with empty bags and stealing the Whos’ presents, their food, even the logs from their humble Who-fires. He takes the ramshackle sleigh to Mt. Crumpit to dump it and waits to hear the sobs of the Whos when they wake up and discover the trappings of Christmas have disappeared. Imagine the Whos’ dismay when they discover the evil-doings of Grinch in his anti-Santa guise. But what is that sound? It’s not sobbing, but singing! Children simultaneously adore and fear this triumphant, twisted Seussian testimonial to the undaunted cheerfulness of the Whos, the transcendent nature of joy, and of course, the growth potential of a heart that’s two sizes too small.

This holiday classic is perfect for reading aloud to your favorite little Whos. . (Read more…)

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21. Santa’s Birthday Gift by Sherrill S. Cannon

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Goodreads Synopsis:  If your child or grandchild has ever wondered where Santa fits in with the traditional Christmas story, now you can read them Santa’s Birthday Gift. Finally, a book that ties two holiday traditions into one inspirational tale of wonder – as Santa brings gifts to baby Jesus. The cleverly-written, rhyming book reveals Santa’s adventure from toymaker to star follower — right into the heart of Bethlehem where he meets Baby Jesus in the manger. Delivering toys to a king is a touching experience for both Santa and readers alike, as they discover where the tradition began — Santa makes a promise to Jesus to bring gifts to good boys and girls each year on Jesus’ birthday. This delightful story is engaging and delivers meaningful lessons using recognizable nativity characters, and of course, Santa and Jesus. Author Sherrill S. Cannon says her inspiration for this book came from her granddaughter who, after hearing the Christmas story, asked, “But where’s Santa?” Cannon has been weaving stories and poems even before she could write. She enjoys the creative process and says her goal in each book is to teach good manners, as well as caring for others. Her background is in physical education, sports photography and she also had a column in a newspaper. Cannon is already working on several new children’s books. (Read more…)

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22. Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer

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Goodreads Synopsis:  This book is suitable for ages 4-8. We have all heard the story of the three wise men, who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. But what about the camels who carried them? Here is the imaginative story of Humphrey the camel and his long, cold journey to Bethlehem. In addition to an engaging text and gorgeous, whimsical artwork, this story reminds readers of the importance of Christmas and the true meaning of gift-giving.  (Read more…)

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23. The Night Before The Night Before Christmas by Natasha Wing

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Goodreads Synopsis:  It’s December 23, and Christmas is just around the corner. But one family is having trouble getting its act together. Once again, Natasha Wing follows the rhythms and meter of Clement Moore’s classic Christmas poem, yet gives it her own entirely original twist.  (Read more…)

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24. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

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Goodreads Synopsis:  Once upon a time, children imagined St. Nicholas as a stern, skinny bishop who was as likely to dole out discipline as Christmas presents. But thanks to the anonymous publication of the poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” in the TROY SENTINAL in 1823, a plumper, merrier St. Nick was born, transformed into the sleigh-riding, chimney-diving, jolly old elf we now call Santa Claus. (Read more…)

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Question:  Have you ever tried to do a book advent calendar?  Which books did you use?