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SALT LAKE CITY — What would Christmas be like without traditions? These yearly rituals are the very soul of this marvelous holiday. Traditions create memories, spread love, build bonds and teach important values. This Christmas, add to your family’s repertoire with book-inspired traditions. Because when books are associated with happy memories, books are loved.
These fun activities and crafts are a great way to keep Santa-anxious little people busy. They are also valuable teaching opportunities disguised as play, not only for reading skills, but life lessons. Each one is cheap, easy and memorable.
These suggestions are not written in stone; feel free to be creative and make substitutions. Or create new activities from your existing Christmas library.
1. “Russell’s Christmas Magic,” by Rob Scotton (Ages 2-8)
One of the best things about Christmas is the magic, the sparkle in a child’s eyes because she believes. This activity is all about the magic.
Supplies: a clear glass (or plastic) ornament, filled with a little bit of glitter. One for each child.
Russell the sheep is busy lighting the Christmas lanterns when something crashes in a nearby field. Russell finds Santa with a broken sled and Christmas in danger. Thankfully, the clever sheep knows just what to do, and after he helps save Christmas, Santa gifts him a beautiful, clear ornament that holds a little bit of the Christmas spell.
Once the story is read, give your child an ornament. This is her little piece of the Christmas magic, direct from Santa. Have her give the ornament a shake to activate the magic and then hang it on the tree. Every time this book is read, give the ornament a shake to help keep the magic alive throughout the season.
2. “The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree,” by David Rubel and illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Ages 3 to teen)
One of the most important lessons to teach at Christmas time is gratitude. This beautiful and deeply touching story about a family during the Great Depression and the beloved Rockefeller tree is the perfect way to inspire gratitude and a love of service to others.
Did you know that after the Christmas season the Rockefeller tree is milled and used to build a house for a family in need? After reading this book as a family, visit Habitat for Humanity International and make a donation that will help build more houses. Older children can give a little bit of their own money, if you so choose.
On the website there is a list of what each dollar amount can buy: $10 — box of nails, $35 — roofing shingles, $50 — low-flow toilet, etc. As a family, decide how much you can give and help children understand what the money will do and how grateful you are for your own house. After all, what would Christmas be like without a warm, cozy home to celebrate in?
3. “Snowmen at Night,” by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner (Ages 2-10)
In this whimsical story, all the snowmen come alive at night and have a big party. From snowball fights to ice cold cocoa, these magical snowmen know how to have a good time. Well-written, humorous and beautifully illustrated, this book is a fantastic winter classic.
Supplies: cardstock (any color), cotton balls, Elmer’s glue, colored construction paper for buttons, eyes, nose, mouth and hat.
After reading, have children create their own snowman. On the cardstock draw three large circles to form the snowman shape. Then allow each child to glue cotton balls inside the circles to form the snowman. Finish off with small black circles (buttons, eyes, mouth), orange triangle (carrot nose) and black top hat shape all cut from the construction paper.
To add to the fun and magic of this craft, hang the finished snowman on the fridge or wall and then after your child goes to bed move the snowman to another location in the house. The next morning it will appear as if her snowman came alive and played all night, just like the snowmen in the book.
4. “The Wild Christmas Reindeer,” by Jan Brett (Ages 2-10)
Beloved children’s author/illustrator Jan Brett’s beautiful tale of a young elf trying to get the reindeer ready for Santa’s flight is a wonderful addition to any Christmas library. With intricate folk-art illustrations, this book is a fresh, unique holiday read. And it's the perfect reindeer story for a reindeer craft.
Supplies: brown, green and red construction or cardstock paper, scissors, large red or black pom-poms, large craft eyes and glue.
After reading the book, have your child create her own reindeer. First trace both her hands on the green paper (antlers), then her foot on the brown paper (reindeer face). Cut out. Have the child glue down the brown face with hands as antlers on red paper. Add the pom-pom for nose and the eyes to create an easy, fun reindeer. Display proudly.
5. “Christmas in the Barn,” by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Diane Goode (Ages 1-8)
Master storyteller Margaret Wise Brown (“Goodnight Moon”) and Caldecott Honor artist Diane Goode have created a beloved picture book that perfectly depicts the Nativity story. This carefully simplified book is ideal for younger readers.
After reading this book a few times so that the concepts and characters are familiar, plan a family outing to a live Nativity event, like the one in Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, Dec. 15-17 and 19-21. Point out scenes and characters from the book. Making these connections develops important reading and learning skills as well as makes the event more memorable.
6. “Red Sled,” by Lita Judge (Ages 3-10)
This new book from author/illustrator Lita Judge is a pure winter delight. This spirited and extremely cute story is about a group of woodland creatures who take a child’s sled out for an adventurous joy ride. With bold watercolor illustrations, humorous expressions and only a few perfectly placed words, this is sure to be a new winter favorite.
The activity for this book is very simple: take the family for a fun day of sled riding. There’s nothing like romping in some fresh powder and speeding down a steep hill to complete the Christmas season. And to add that element of learning, ask your child what the animals say as they are flying down the hill and then enthusiastically yell these onomatopoetic words all the way to the bottom.
- Saratoga Springs Library: Used book sale, Dec. 1-3, basement of the American Fork Bank in Saratoga Springs. Paperbacks 50 cents, hardbacks $1 or fill a library tote for $15 (tote included). Large selection.
- Kimball Junction Library, 1885 W. Ute Blvd., Park City, will host the Summit County Libraries Book Sale, Dec. 1, 4-6 p.m.; Dec. 2, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Dec. 4, noon-5 p.m. (435-615-3900)
- Deseret Book, 45 W. South Temple, will host signings with Gale Sears, author of "Letters in the Jade Dragon Box," Dec. 2, 11:30 a.m., and Angel Randall, author of "Snow Angels," Dec. 2, 6:30 p.m. (801-328-8191)
- Deseret Book, 135 N. 545 West, Bountiful, will host signings with Kathy Jenkins, author of "The Essential Book of Mormon Companion," and James Fullmer, author of "Other Heroes of the Book of Mormon," Dec. 3, noon. (801-292-0480)
- Deseret Book, 754 N. Main, Layton, will host signings with Sarah Eden, author of "Seeking Persephone," Dec. 3, 11 a.m., and L.C. Lewis, author of "In God is Our Trust," Dec. 3, 2 p.m. (801-546-3391)
- Walmart, 7671 S. 3800 West, West Jordan, will host a signing with Richard Paul Evans , author of "Lost December," Dec. 3, noon.
- Salt Lake Community College Writing Center, 210 E. 40 South, will host "Homemade for the Holidays: Writing for Gifts," Dec. 3, 1-3 p.m. Registration is required and costs $15.
- Barnes and Noble, 1780 N. Woodland Park Drive, Layton, will host a signing with Clark Burbridge, author of "A Piece of Silver," Dec. 3, 2-4 p.m.
- The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, will host a signing with Christopher Paolini, author of "The Inheritance Cycle," Dec. 1, 7 p.m. For more events, visit the bookshop's website.
- Dolly's Bookstore, 510 Main, Park City, will host a signing with Michelle T. Ostrowski, author of "Lucy Goes to Paris," Dec. 3, 2 p.m. For more events, visit the bookstore's website.
Teri Harman writes and reads from home amid the chaos of three young children. Her bi-weekly column, Book Matters, appears on ksl.com and in the Deseret News. For more book fun, visit book- matters.com.