Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Library Book Advent Calendar

Hello there, Mary here again--I'm WendyLady@Good Books for Young Soul's daughter, and mother of her grandchild! Over the weekend, I shared my reflections and memories of observing Advent in my childhood Orthodox Christian home.  Today, I'll be sharing about a new tradition that I'm hoping to make an annual undertaking as my own family observes Advent: making an Advent Book Calendar! For this my first attempt, I used mostly library books from two local libraries, and also a few books from my own stash. Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll leave a comment on today's post, my previous post, or Good Books for Young Souls' Advent book giveaway post for the chance to win the beautiful book Can It Be True? by Susan Hill and illustrated by Valerie Greeley! Entries via comment must be made by 12pm noon Pacific Standard Time today, Monday November 17. 11/17 update: Giveaway over. Congrats to my winner was TawniM!

Now, onto the tutorial:
Step one: get some good tea--this project does take time! But is well worth the effort!

My son absolutely loves to read (though I understand that this is not so typical of a barely-two-year-old). He can sit with me reading to him for an hour if he's focused enough, but he also enjoys "reading" to himself. SO, making him an Advent Book Calendar seemed like the perfect way to really introduce him to the Advent season of anticipation, and especially to the story of what we are waiting for: the Nativity of Jesus Christ! We are Antiochian Orthodox Christians, and so observe a 40 day Advent from November 15-December 24. But whether you observe a 40 day Advent season or a 25 day Advent season in the month of December, this is a wonderful project and a great tradition to share with your family!

As I said about my son, he's barely-two-years-old, so for our first Advent Book Calendar this year, I tried to get a mixture of books. Finding nearly 40 GOOD Nativity and Christmas books at my local libraries--I felt like I was on a treasure hunt! Of course, I chose many books about St. Nicholas and different tellings of the Nativity story. Grandma gifted us with two wonderful Nativity books, Room for a Little One and Christmas in the Manger last year. But my local libraries provided other great versions in The First Night The Donkey's Christmas SongLittle Bunny Finds Christmas, The Friendly BeastsThe Story of Christmas, We Three Kings and a lovely 1952 vintage copy of Christmas in the Barn! I did also get some "seasonal" books that are by some of our favorite authors and illustrators...Jan Brett, Olivier Dunrea, Nancy Tillman, Jean de Brunhoff, Richard Scarry, Karen Katz, and Alexandra Day, to name a few. 

Gennady Spirin's ethereal illustrations depict the lyrics of the well-loved song in We Three Kings.
This might be the book I purchase this year! It looks like a medieval masterpiece!

I was so pleased to find this lovely book, Jane Ray's The Story of Christmas, at my local library!
The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and captivating, and the text is adapted directly
from the Gospel texts about the Nativity. A real treasure!

The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman.
Am I the only one who wishes my dreams were Nancy Tillman illustrations?!?!
So beautiful, I just want to jump into the book!

Here's how I did it:

Step 1 - Compile the books!

I am on a Budget (with a capital "B").  Advent is 40 days long, and buying 40 books is just not something I can afford to do right now. So I headed to my local library, and while my son played and looked at books, I went to the "Christmas" shelf in the Children's section. I found some books that were favorites from my childhood, but also some "new" treasures. Lucky for me, my library does NOT have a limit as to the amount of books I can check out (woohoo!), and I can also renew online twice (woohoo x 2!) so long as no one has requested one of my books. So off I went to the checkout with 22 Christmas books...in the second week of November. I had a couple books of my own at home, and the rest I got from another local library (I didn't want to "hog" all the good ones at the nearest library. SHARE the bookwealth, by all means!!) *NOTE: My mommy has listed some FANTASTIC Advent and Christmas books on her blog in past years, which you can see here and here and here!

Step 2 - Get organized!

Since I checked out SO many books, I needed to make a system to be sure I returned the right books to the right places. I didn't want 40 wrapped packages and then to get a notice that I had to return some due to requests and have to unwrap them all to figure out which one. I organized the books into categories: Nativity books (a big stack!), saints books (St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, the Magi), Toddler/Concept books (counting, alphabet books), and "other" (where I threw in The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss). I kept my receipt printouts from the checkout so I could reference the titles and due dates to easily renew the books online.

Step 3 - Wrapping the books!

Plan ahead--this step takes time! I bought a giant roll of Kraft Paper at Michaels that cost $5.99 but I had a 40% off coupon for the WIN! Once I wrapped each book, I lightly wrote in pencil on the back the title and author/illustrator for each one, so that in CASE I need to return one, I know exactly how to find it. 

It saved time and paper to wrap books of the same size at the same time!
I just sliced the paper between the books and voila!

Step 4 - Number the books!

I went through and compared the books to my calendar...the first books I numbered were those surrounding feast days (St. Nicholas books were the week around his feast day on Dec. 6, St. Lucia book on her feastday Dec. 13, etc). Next, I knew we'd be out of town for a few days at Thanksgiving and did not want to risk losing library books during the weekend, so I made sure to number those books from my own stash. Finally, I chose my favorite Nativity books for the week leading up to Christmas. The rest of the books, I spread out across the remaining days using my "categories". Phew-that was hard to explain, but really quite easy to execute! I'm SO glad I wrote the names in pencil on the back!!

Step 5 - Display the books!

Pinterest search for "Advent Book Calendar" and you'll be amazed at some of the cute and creative ideas that comes up! As for me, I'm all for cuteness, but let's be practical--my kid is two. I decided to try to make part of this project reusable: I made 40 felt ornaments for a felt Christmas tree for him (so cheap and very easy!) Each package has an ornament attached, and so each day he gets to fill up his tree a bit more. And I stuck with some sticker numbers leftover from another project to number the packages. I displayed them with my son's manger scene, which is great because then it's right there to reference and re-tell the story whenever we read a Nativity book!

Step 6 - Enjoy the books!

I think that my son will really love this tradition, and I can't wait to recreate it every year as my family grows.  I hope that it will help to teach him the anticipation and even fasting that we practice during Advent. We limit ourselves to one a day, but as we open each book, we get one day closer to the Nativity! My plan is to buy my children one or two books each year for our Advent Book Calendar, so that by the time they've "outgrown" this tradition, they'll have a wonderful arsenal of Advent and Christmas books to pass along to their children! I think that using library books is GREAT for this idea because it's a FREE way to discover what books your family will love most, and to THEN make the investment into those books.

Here is Peter, opening his first book, Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown.
He so enjoyed reading it and putting his little felt ornament on his tree!!

Other Ideas:

So thank you for letting me share my thoughts! Here are some additional thoughts I have that I wanted to share that might tailor better to your needs. If you've done an Advent Book Calendar with success in the past, please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below!
- If you don't like the idea of wrapping, try a large box or chest with a lock (or without and trust your kids not to open it!) and let them choose one book each day!
- If you want to be even more "economical" with this project, in addition to using library books, why not wrap them in newspaper, last years' wrapping paper, Trader Joes bags (seriously, I could write a book about things I've made with these!), or even cloth! 
- If you are looking to buy books, consider buying used books online, at thrift stores, garage sales, or (my personal favorite!) find a fantastic Library Used Book Store!
- For older children, why not print out the lives of the saint(s) of the day for them to read? There's a great resource on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Website for this!


  1. I love your books all lined up behind your nativity creche and figures!

  2. These are great, Mary! I've done this with my daughter (I think inspired by your mom!) except I usually just put books in a basket and she picks out a new one each night, and since I use library books for some, I can switch things out and freshen them up as Advent goes along.
    Your little boy looks so sweet with his book! This will be my son's first Christmas, and I cant wait to see what he thinks of everything!

  3. Great books, and a fun way to celebrate the days leading up to Christmas. I love the idea of using library books. Buying them could add up fast :)

  4. I have done this before, too: http://thescrumptiouslife.blogspot.com/2011/11/countdown-to-nativity.html I like the idea of using library books. I would wrap those to be opened first, so we could return them on time,. and then use the ones we own for days closer to Nativity.

  5. Superbly written article, if only all bloggers offered the same content as you, the internet would be a far better place.. Juanita Destra