Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Little Lamb" Children's Song -- While Shepherds Watched by Jenni Fleetwood Book Review

Some songs stay with you your entire life, the words forever embedded in your heart. When I was in kindergarten I, along with two of my friends, sang a song called "Little Lamb" for our class Christmas program. My mom liked the song so much that she also had me sing it in church that same year. The rhyming verses in the "Little Lamb" song tell of the first Christmas. A little lamb sees the bright star, hears the angels' voices and goes to see the baby in the manger, Christ the Lord.

Little lamb, little lamb, lying on a hillside,
Little lamb, little lamb, What did you see?
I saw the light of a bright star, Shining down on me.

Little lamb, little lamb, lying on a hillside,
Little lamb, little lamb, What did you hear?
I heard the song of the angels, Singing loud and clear.

Little lamb, little lamb, lying on a hillside,
Little lamb, little lamb, Where did you go?
I went to see baby Jesus, Born on Christmas Day.

I'm not sure who wrote this song or where or when it first appeared in print. My mom did speak to my kindergarten teacher who said she remembered the song and that it was in a book that she left at school when she retired several years ago. I've found other versions of Little Lamb mentioned online, with alternate lyrics for the last verse: “I went to see the dear baby, Born so long ago.” If anyone has a copy of a book that includes this song, I would love to learn the title. For those that want to hear the melody, you can listen to a class perform the song in this YouTube video recording: Lily singing Little Lamb. (This is not my video, nor do I personally know any of the performers.)

This year my daughter carried on tradition and sang "Little Lamb" during our church Christmas program along with one of her Sunday School classmates. She easily memorized the song and sings it at random times at home. Hearing her sweet little voice singing about our Savior fills my heart with joy.

Every year my daughter makes paintings to give as gifts for Christmas. This year she chose to paint a little lamb on a hill. I'm sure the paintings will be cherished by all who receive them and will serve as a reminder of the year she sang the "Little Lamb" song.

What must it have been like to be one of the "lowly" shepherds who first heard of Jesus' birth as described in Luke's account of our Lord's birth? Imagine the shock, the awe, the amazement at the sight of the angel and the joy the shepherds experienced after hearing news of the newly born Saviour. Jenni Fleetwood, in her book While Shepherds Watched, gives us a fictional look at Jesus's birth through the eyes of a shepherd boy.

While Shepherds Watched by Jenni Fleetwood, illustrated by Peter Melnyczuk. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books (1992); ISBN 0688115985; 32 pages
Book Source: Copy from public library

"It was just an ordinary stable, but the starlight was so bright that Matthias could see every detail. Ever afterward he could picture it clearly in his memory."

In this first Christmas story an eight-year-old shepherd boy named Matthias experiences a night of miracles on his own birthday. For the first time in his life, he watches on as a ewe gives birth to a lamb. Shortly thereafter an angel appears to him and the other shepherds and a bright star leads them to Bethlehem to see the Christ child.

Fleetwood's story is a tender one that also reminds me of "The Little Drummer Boy"-- the shepherd boy in While Shepherds Watched shares a special gift with Jesus. The author describes the shepherd boy's coat as a "sheepskin jerkin," a rather unusual term we hadn't heard before. The shepherd boy keeps the baby lamb warm by carrying it under his coat. Fleetwood incorporates Biblical text into the book, using portions from Luke 2:10-15 (KJV). The story is on the longer side and the book is probably best for ages 5 and up.

The illustrations in the book beautifully portray the miraculous starlit evening and the area of Bethlehem appears as one would expect with desert dwellings bordered by rocky fields. Melnyczuk adds interest and depth to his illustrations with a special scratch art technique that gives the drawings a crosshatched look. In one picture baby Jesus appears to be a little older than a newborn child, but overall the illustrations provide a nice insight into what it might have been like for those shepherds living in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

The book was first published in Great Britain by J.M. Dent and Sons. A revised 1999 edition by Broadman & Holman is also available.

I am an Amazon affiliate and may receive a very small commission for products purchased through my Amazon links. (View my full disclosure statement for more information about my reviews.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Simple Block Nativity Craft for Kids

After reading a few picture books about nativity sets this past week, my kids wanted to make their own nativity sets for their bedrooms. Since they are welcome to play with our complete nativity set at any time, I thought that it would be easier for them to make a simple all-in-one nativity craft. The single block doesn't take up very much room, and it's something the kids can play with and display year after year. (Plus it's easier to store since it's only one piece as opposed to many.)

Our focus for this nativity craft is specifically on the Holy Family -- Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. It's a fairly simple Christmas project that uses materials that are easily found around the home. (template inspired by this felt ornament from colophon design.)

All-in-one Nativity Block Craft

Construction paper - various colors
Scrap lumber (wood block)
Mod Podge (optional)

All-in-one Nativity Pattern [pdf] (may have to resize to fit your block shape)

1. Print out the pattern pdf, cut out the pieces and trace onto your choice of construction paper colors. (For a personalized craft, those more artistic may want to freehand the family shapes instead of using the pattern).

2. Glue the construction paper pieces to the block of wood, starting with Joseph's body and face, then Mary's and finally baby Jesus. Place and glue the star to top left-hand corner of the wood block.

3. (Optional) Using a sponge brush, apply Mod Podge over the entire top of the block to seal the block and collage work.

Here are our finished Holy Family blocks. I traced and cut out the construction pieces for my preschool-aged son. He glued them to his block himself (left). My first grader daughter freehanded all of her pieces and completed the project entirely on her own (right). It only took her about 15 minutes to make this craft. Both kids are very proud of their nativity blocks.

Later on in the day I noticed my daughter busily at work in her bedroom. She created a stable out of wooden building blocks and added a few other figures to complete her own personal nativity set! It's more special than anything we could ever buy!

Shibley Smiles
A Mommy's Adventures hosts the "stART" meme (Story + Art) each week. Add your kids craft post to the Kid's Get Crafty linky at Red Ted Art's Blog. Join the It's Playtime party! Find more great book tie-ins at JDaniel4's Mom Read, Explore, Learn link-up.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Children's Books that portray Nativity Sets - A Christmas Goodnight by Nola Buck; Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson

One of the things we like to do as family during the holidays is drive around our community and look at all the Christmas lights and displays. Some people really put a lot of effort into their decorations, and it's really neat to see houses lit up from top to bottom. But, my very favorite displays are ones that include a nativity scene. Last week, our pastor's sermon spoke of the importance of keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. With all the hustle and bustle during Christmas, it's easy to lose focus. However, every time I see a creche, I am reminded of the true meaning of Christmas and the best gift ever, the birth of Jesus, our Savior and redeemer.

This week we are reading a couple picture books that portray nativity sets. Both books would make neat gift companions to a child's nativity set.

A Christmas Goodnight by Nola Buck, illustrated by Sarah Jane Wright. Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins (September 2011); ISBN 9780061664915; 24 pages
Book Source: Copy from our personal library

On a snowy Christmas Eve, a little child's family wishes baby Jesus and all the visitors to the manger goodnight, one by one. "Goodnight to the baby in the hay. Goodnight to the doves, coo coo. Goodnight to the sleepy mother. Goodnight to Joseph, too." The simple story, told in rhyming verse, helps introduce young children (toddlers and preschoolers) to the Biblical Christmas story and encourages them to name all those who played a part in witnessing the glorious birth.

Sarah Jane Wright's adorably cute illustrations put the past and present into prospective, first showing images of the holy family and visitors at Bethlehem and then switching focus to a present day family who lovingly place baby Jesus in their Nativity set manger before getting ready for bed on Christmas Eve. The last image on the copyright page shows only a swaddled baby Jesus, a nice touch alluding to the central focus of Christmas. My kids especially like to point out the stuffed animal lamb the child in the book holds while sleeping and the little church in the final landscape illustrations. Due to the simplicity of the text, the book is best for very young children.

A Goodnight Christmas is Sarah Jane Wright's first picture book. If you are not familiar with the illustrator, I recommend that you read some of the posts on her well-written blog: She also sells all sort of lovely items in her online studio shop. She recently posted a couple of free downloadable activity packs to go along with her book:
A Christmas Goodnight Activity set [pdf] and Nativity Puppet Theater [pdf].

Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman. Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster (October 2005); ISBN 9780689855115; 40 pages
Book Source: Copy from public library

A little mouse named Mortimer is unhappy with his dark, dismal home underneath the stairs. He sees a perfect little "house" set up near the Christmas tree. He makes himself at home and settles down to sleep on a bed of hay after pushing the statues out of the way. Unfortunately, day after day, when he is out and about, someone replaces the statues in the house. Eventually, on Christmas Eve, he learns more about the statues and Jesus, a baby "born to save the world." Mortimer makes room for Jesus, remarking, "There was no room for you in the inn. But I know where there is room." After praying, Mortimer discovers a suitable home for himself. Wilson's sweet story shows that everyone is important to God and focuses on the true story of Christmas, by spreading the word about the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Karma Wilson also paired together with Jane Chapman to create the popular "Bear" books, and the illustrations in Mortimer's Christmas Manger are similar in style, full of lovely details and warm scenes. Mortimer is such an adorable mouse; he couldn't possibly be any cuter! My kids especially like to remark on all the decorations pictured on the Christmas tree (some of which Mortimer knocks down while trying to reach the creche.) This is a longer, but well-told story that keeps a child's interest and helps teach about the birth of Jesus.

Related links:
Karma Wilson - Website
Jane Chapman - Website

Looking for a book that portrays a live, outdoor nativity? Last year I featured Lauren Castillo's book, Christmas is Here on Brimful Curiosities. It's a beautifully illustrated version of the Biblical text, Luke 2:8-14. Click the link for my full review.

What other books featuring nativity sets do you recommend? We'd love to read more picture book stories like the ones above.

Other children's books including images of or mentioning nativity sets: (we have yet to read these titles)
The First Christmas Present by Marilyn Sommerer, illustrated by Johanna Van Der Sterre
Angela and the Baby Jesus: (Children's Edition) by Frank McCourt, illustrated by Raul Colon
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

I am an Amazon affiliate and may receive a very small commission for products purchased through my Amazon links. (View my full disclosure statement for more information about my reviews.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Calico Critters Margaret and Halley’s Dress Shop

Do you have all your holiday shopping finished? During a last minute shopping trip yesterday I noticed many families in search of last minute stocking stuffers. If you are buying stocking stuffers and gifts for a little girl, she might enjoy a Calico Critters set. My daughter adores playing with these small, fuzzy animal figures. She received her first set at age four and continues to request new sets every year.

Earlier this fall we received a new set to review: the Calico Critters Margaret and Halley’s Dress Shop. This mother/daughter bear set is very cute! My daughter was so excited to see that the set includes a change of clothes for both of the bears, plus tons of accessories! Having extra clothes available makes imaginative Calico Critter play a whole lot more enjoyable. In fact, Mother Bear was kind enough to share some of her wardrobe with my daughter's other Calico Critter animals!

Calico Critters Margaret and Halley’s Dress Shop includes the following items:
• 2 Bear Figurines
• 4 Clothing Sets
• 2 mannequins
• Mother Bear Necklace and Purse
• Baby Bear Headband and Hat
• Tiny Hand Mirror
• Mini animal toy for Baby Bear
• Framed wall portrait

The Dress Shop set retails for $18.95. The mother bear figure has poseable arms and legs, but the baby bear is not poseable. My daughter is finally old enough that she can dress her animals herself so this set with all the mini accessories and dresses is perfect for her. She has spent many hours playing with her bears and other animals (she also owns the Calico Critters Dalmatian Dog Family and the Calico Critters Norwood Mouse Family).

Isn't it just the cutest thing how Mother Bear's tail sticks out of the back of her dress? The detail in all the Calico Critter products is remarkable. I can't imagine how hard it must be to manufacture such small clothes for the animals. All the clothing and items in this set live up to the high quality we expect in the Calico Critters lines. Because the set include very small parts, I would recommend you also purchase a storage container to keep everything together. Some of the items are easily lost. My daughter keeps her Calico Critters collection in a large, lidded container.

Thanks to Growing Tree Toys for sending along a Calico Critter set for my family to review.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Elf Christmas Countdown Calendar Craft

How many days until Christmas? Our Elf on the Shelf continues to move around the house and my kids are wondering how much longer he'll stay. According to the book, he returns home on Christmas Eve with Santa.

My son had a friend over yesterday, and they made elf countdown calendars to help keep track of the days until Christmas. This craft is perfect for preschoolers because not only do the kids learn about patterns (red, green, red, green leggings), they work on number recognition and practice counting backward. In addition, the craft provides a good introduction to the concept of even/odd numbers.

(Thanks to Musings of Me for the inspiration).

To make the Elf Christmas Countdown Craft, you'll need the following:

• 12x12" scrapbook paper for background
• red, green, and black construction paper
• glue
• scissors
• pom pom balls
• stickers

1. Precut the elf shoes out of black paper. (Sorry, I don't have a shoe pattern. I freehanded the shoes. It isn't too hard to draw shoes.)
2. Cut 2" wide x 1-1/4" long pieces of red and green paper for the stockings. (The kids can help with this part if you'd like. It's a good way to practice scissors skills.)
3. Help the kids glue their feet to the bottom of the background paper.
4. One leg at a time, encourage kids to make a red-green pattern for their elf stockings by gluing the pieces of paper above the shoe. (Each leg is made of 6 pieces of paper.)
5. After the glue dries a bit, help them number the pieces of paper (even numbers on the left, odd numbers on the right leg). Practice counting down the days.
6. Glue a pom pom ball to each of the shoes.

I glued the "Days Until Christmas" header on after the kids were finished with the craft. Older kids could write their own words on the header.

Place a sticker each day on the corresponding number to countdown the days until Christmas!

My son isn't the only one counting down. My daughter's music teacher taught her class a cute countdown song this week. Here are the lyrics (I'm not sure where this song is from as I couldn't find any additional information about it online):

Countdown to Christmas, it's getting very near
Countdown to Christmas, the best time of the year!
Candy canes and holly and a sparkling Christmas tree
Lights upon the housetop and a present just for me!
Countdown to Christmas, it's getting very near
Countdown to Christmas, the best time of the year!
10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 Christmas time is here!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Full to the Brim - Kid's Book Giveaway List (12/9/11)

Welcome to this week's edition! Full to the Brim is a weekly list I compile by hand of children's book giveaway online contests. Please check out my other "Full to the Brim" posts as well. Many contests are still underway. I *try to* publish "Full to the Brim" every Friday. If I missed your book giveaway, feel free to mention it in the comment section or send me an email.

But before you enter the giveaways, help Teaching Authors provide books to children in need! Leave a comment on their blog now through Dec 31 - They are donating $1 for every comment (up to $225).

My giveaways:
Can You See What I See?: Toyland Express Book Giveaway - Ends 12/12/11

Other Book giveaways:
There's A Book - Book Giveaway Ends 12/31
One Nosy Crow bag, two pins, one Bizzy Bear book, one Mega Mash-Up book, one Pip and Posy book, one Noodle book, and one copy of Dinosaur Dig by Penny Dale
There's A Book - Book Giveaway Ends 12/18
The Cats in the Doll Shop by Yona Zeldis McDonough
EB Mommy - Book Giveaway Ends 12/17
Treasured Christmas Gift Pack from Zonderkidz
Imagination Soup - Book Giveaway Ends 12/10
Art Journal Kits from Strathmore Artist Papers
Little. Lovely - Book Giveaway Ends 12/12
Parrot Carrot
My Little Me - Book Giveaway Ends 12/9
Blooming Buddies
Akron Ohio moms - Book Giveaway Ends 12/20
Brave Irene book and CD by William Steig
The Johns Family - Book Giveaway Ends 12/15
The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs
Everything Goes With Pink - Book Giveaway Ends 12/9
Christmas Baking for Children from Usborne, written by Fiona Patchett
Mom to Bed by 8 - Book Giveaway Ends 12/16
Ultimate Weird But True Book and $10 iTunes Gift Card
5 Minutes for Books - Book Giveaway Ends 12/14
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney
The World of Peachtree Publishers - Book Giveaway Ends 12/12
Peachtree Publishers Spring picture books prize pack
pbjunkies - Book Giveaway Ends 12/10
Ladybird First Favourite Christmas Book illustrated by Alicia Padron
That's IT Mommy - Book Giveaway Ends 12/14
Light Up the Night signed by Jean Reidy
A Mom's Take - Book Giveaway Ends 12/22
Reader's Digest Books for Kids
Arizona Mama - Book Giveaway Ends 12/18
Along Came You by Karona Drummond

Lee & Low Books December Giveaway: Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming, written and photographed by Jan Reynolds - Ends 1/3/12

KidToons Olivia Wintertime Cheer Prize Pack:
It's My Life - Ends 12/22
New Age Mama - Ends 12/26
Coupon Scribbles - Ends 12/19
Adventures of a Thrify Mama - Ends 12/24
Life with Two Boys - Ends 12/18

Fish for more children's book giveaways at Lori Calabrese's Fish for a Free Book linkup each Friday

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble - Star Twig Ornament Craft

If I were to write up a list of my very favorite Christmas picture books, Trinka Hakes Noble's Apple Tree Christmas would appear near the top. I found her picture book quite by accident at the library last week while searching for books with a "holiday" sticker, though I'm beginning to think that it was rather not by circumstance but by providence.

As each year passes I desire more and more for my family to escape the commercialism surrounding Christmas and focus on family, traditions and meaningful gifts including the true gift of Christmas, Jesus. While Apple Tree Christmas is not a religious book, it is a work of historical fiction that harkens back to simpler times, modest gifts from the heart and family togetherness.

Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble. Dial Books for Young Readers (October 1984); ISBN 0803701020; 32 pages
Book Source: Copy from our public library

Noble's story is set in the late 1800's. The Ansterburgs, a close-knit family, reside in one side of an old barn and live a simple, rural life. They cherish their beloved apple tree -- the tree provides a bountiful crop of apples every fall, and the family uses the apples to make applesauce, cider, apple butter and Christmas tree decorations. The tree also serves a special play space for the two Ansterburg kids, Katrina and Josie.
"Now that all the apples were picked, Katrina and Josie could climb the tree as much as they wanted. The snowy weather didn't stop them. Every day after school they would play in its branches.

On one side Papa had pulled a thick vine down low enough to make a swing for Josie.

The other side of the tree belonged to Katrina. One limb made the perfect drawing board."
Unfortunately, a blizzard comes in with a vengeance and a terrible ice storm knocks down the apple tree. The whole family feels awful about losing the tree. Katrina especially morns the loss of her favorite tree and her drawing perch. Christmas day arrives, but to Katrina "it just didn't feel like Christmas." However, her parents have a surprise in store. The apple tree, though in different form, continues to spread warmth and joy in a new way.

The lovely watercolor paintings in Noble's book provide children with a glimpse into a rural 1880s life, and this emotion-filled family story is similar to those found in Laura Ingalls Wilder's much-loved books. The story also provides a great example of how to craft thoughtful, handmade gifts with determined resourcefulness and shows how to make the most of what you are given even when faced with difficult situations. The suspense of the storm and the aftermath are particularly heart-wrenching and powerful. My daughter sat tightly against my side, her forehead scrunched up with a worried expression that changed into one of happiness as the book ended. Inspired from Tinka Hakes Noble's memories of growing up in Michigan, this is a story of resilience, joy and, most of all, family love. It leaves a deep impression. In my opinion, it is a Christmas book every library should own, especially libraries in rural midwest locations.

The copy we borrowed from our library is the original book published in 1984. This version is now out-of-print, but in 2005 Sleeping Bear Press republished Apple Tree Christmas with a new cover. Trinka Hakes Noble is also the author of the well-known picture book, The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash.

Related Links:
Trinka Hakes Noble - Website

☆ ☆ ☆ Star Twig Ornaments ☆ ☆ ☆

Like in Apple Tree Christmas, we decided to make something special for Christmas out of a tree. We recently lost our pussy willow tree during a windy storm. I saved a few of the tree branches to use for crafting. The smooth, straight branches of the pussy willow make lovely twig star ornaments.

We broke the branches into six inch pieces. The kids practiced making stars out of the twigs, using a star drawing as a guideline. We talked about how stars have five points and it takes five twigs to make a star. I challenged my daughter to make a star without using the guide, but that task proved a little difficult for her skills. We also made stars using popsicle sticks and talked about how popsicle sticks are uniform and straight unlike twigs from trees.

I used a hot glue gun to glue the twigs together into the shape of a star. This is not a project for kids because even I didn't manage to escape touching the hot glue with my fingers. I made a star template to use when gluing the stars together. We could have tied the ends of the branches together with string, but I thought that sounded like even more work than using the hot glue gun. While I glued the twig stars, the kids worked on painting their popsicle stick stars (I hot glued those stars together beforehand).

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things -
not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness.

- Bob Hope

Shibley Smiles
A Mommy's Adventures hosts the "stART" meme (Story + Art) each week. Add your kids craft post to the Kid's Get Crafty linky at Red Ted Art's Blog. Join in Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word. Wrote a post about play? Join the It's Playtime party! Find more great book tie-ins at JDaniel4's Mom Read, Explore, Learn link-up. Browse more book posts at Little Sprout Books' Feed Me Books Friday.

I am an Amazon affiliate and may receive a very small commission for products purchased through my Amazon links. (View my full disclosure statement for more information about my reviews.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Building Block Trees

We're in Christmas construction mode! My son and I spent the morning building Christmas trees out of blocks -- DUPLO and wooden alphabet block trees.

Earlier in the week, we built a tree out of picture books. We topped the tree with a bright star -- "What Star is This" by Joseph Slate and Alison Jay.

Find more of this week's Wordless Wednesday (or Wordful) posts at 5 Minutes for Mom.