Little Gosling’s Holidays: Our First Book Advent Calendar 2020

We did our first Book Advent calendar this past Christmas, when little gosling was 2 years 7 months. It provided us with such happy moments together, that it is a family tradition I intend to create and take forward through the years.  

I came across the idea early in the year, in an instagram post of a mummy who had organised one for her two pre-schoolers the year prior. I love the chocolate Advent calendars, but did not want to expose little gosling to sugar, however little (constantly, over more than three weeks) so young. It had never occurred to me to have one with books. I loved the idea and started doing my homework immediately.  

So, what is a book advent calendar? A special counting down the days in December till Christmas by reading one Christmas (or winter-themed) picture book each day. 

I found it exciting to set up and invested quite a lot of time in doing so. Instagram and Pinterest are full of suggestions and inspiration for putting together a Book Advent calendar. There were many factors to consider. Whether to have a 24 days countdown or 12 days of Christmas. Reading synopsis and (virtually) browsing through pages of Christmas and winter-themed books (thanks to many mommies, teachers, book reviewers that post glimpses into many pages of the books on Instagram, offering a first hand experience of the book that allowed me to determine whether I would really enjoy the text and illustrations!!). Drawing up lists upon lists of book titles and ranking them in order of preference. Ensuring a diverse and balanced selection of titles between different winter and Christmas themes and characters. Finding books in all three languages: English, Romanian and French. I loved researching and pondering it all! 

The end result? I opted for a 24 days/books countdown. There were so many books and stories I wanted to share with little gosling (and that even before the Christmas publishing season)! A mix of themes starting off with stories about season changes, weather and animals’ lives, homes and behaviour in winter, continuing with traditions around Saint Nicolas, snow and all snowy things (playing in the snow, the snowflakes’ trip from the sky to the ground, building snowmen) and slowly building up towards Christmas with stories about kindness, decorating the tree, gift offerings, singing carols, baking cookies, Santa Claus’ preparations and travels. I included mostly titles that had been published in previous years, including a few “classics”, but made last minute space for one or two newly published books. 

I wrapped them individually in Christmas themed papers of different colours. I attached to each book a number, written on small cardboard cards, which I cut out in Christmas-themed motifs: Christmas globes, snowmen and Christmas trees. I piled the books in random order, so little gosling had to find each time the number corresponding to the day in December. I also prepared a table with the order of the titles, to follow and track our countdown progress (see below for the different titles selected). 

Many mommies rely on library books for the Book Advent, which is a terrific and economic idea. Due to language preferences and COVID restrictions, I had no possibility to have recourse to the library at the time, so I bought all of the 24 books myself. Another economic idea is books swaps with other mummies. I did not have that possibility either. I followed the advice of the instamummy I had first seen the idea at and started acquiring the books a few months in advance (already in August) to spread out the costs over several months. This worked well for the books in English, but impossible for books in French and Romanian. I found French winter titles in the bookstores as early as November, but the Romanian titles only got published/re-edited in December, when it was too late for the Book Advent. I wanted to have my Book Advent ready and wrapped by the 1st of December. In the end, we had only one book in Romanian, which I had saved from the previous year.  

I set the pile of books on a coffee table in the living room and the evening of 1st December we started our marathon!

Every evening after dinner, we made a nice, hot herbal tea. I put out a platter with clementines, pistachio, cajou, apples and pears (ok, around Saint Nicolas, we also had to include a bit of chocolate, but only because Saint Nicolas visited the creche and left the 2-3 years olds way too much chocolate figurines for their own good). We lighted our Advent candles and put out the lights. We put on selections from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” in the background. We invited little gosling to find the book of the day. He looked in the pile for the book with the corresponding number for the day on it and unwrapped it impatiently. Handing it to me, he invariably asked “what is this about, mummy?”, before putting it aside and asking to read all the previous’ days books first, before we closed the evening with the book of the day. We snuggled onto the sofa the three of us together, among our cushions showing happily skiing snowmen, under a warm blanket and started reading. 

The first few days, he wanted to unwrap more books :). We gently explained we opened one each day and he would have to wait. What an exercise in patience and delayed gratification this was! 

This was our evening routine for the weeks leading up to Christmas. There were stories he liked better than others and we read them two-three times the first time around. We continued reading many of the Advent books through Christmas and New Year’s. Even now, months later, he is still asking for some of the Advent stories. He knows, however, that they are stored away and regularly asks about Christmas, patiently tracking the passage of the months on our seasons and months’ wheel. 

I was weary that 24 books would be too many for such a young kid to take in; that the game would become uninteresting over so many weeks. Although little gosling loved the game and the reading, towards the end, he was approaching it all with a certain fatigue and a bit less excitement. This did not diminish his enthusiasm at finding even more books under the Christmas tree 😛 or at reading during the holiday period. Nevertheless, in retrospective, a 12 days calendar would have been equally exhilarating – and a bit more economical. In any case, now we have a good stash of seasonal books to build on and quite a number of favourites to read in following years. It will be enough to add just a few new titles each year from now on. 

Take a look below at little gosling’s favourites (and mine, too!). All about snow, friendship and a bit of Christmas spirit. 

The first stories, Suzanne Barton’s “Robin’s winter song”, Yuval Zommer’s “A thing called snow”; Ezra Jack Keats’ “The snowy day” are sweet, slow introductions to winter. Beautiful, lyrical transitions from autumn to winter; birds migrating to warmer places; first snowflakes; squirrels digging out their hidden acorns; foxes sipping water from cold stream; bears hibernating; robins snuggling; woods and urban landscapes covered with snow; kids exploring full of curiosity and excitement all the entertainment winter and snow have to offer.

Little gosling loved them all and, as a result, he constantly asked for snow. “Is it winter, mummy? I want it to snow!” “Patience, my little darling, winter is long. Maybe we’re lucky to see snow this year” – little gosling’s first. I was also so much looking forward to making angels in the snow with him, just like little Peter does in Keats’ story. I’ve lived through many snowy winters, but never made snow angels. We ended up having snow in February and April, but it was not enough for snow angels. Next year, hopefully.. 

“Pick a pine tree” by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Jarvis came up right after Saint Nicolas. I wanted to keep some illusion of order and sequencing between the different celebrations and traditions in December. So, I thought, let’s read the book for one or two days before we decorate our own Christmas tree. 

First evening, little gosling asked to read it “encore” four times in a row. He likes rhymes and diligently observed each step: of selecting, transporting, preparing for the tree decorating, decorating and enjoying the Christmas tree. We took the time on each page to read, talk about the illustrations and recall how we had decorated the tree with his grandparents the year before. He may not have remembered much, but it was always useful to keep his grandparents on his mind in those times of distancing. 

He seemed to like the idea of taking a pine tree home on a sleigh.. It made his daddy and I reminisce about our childhoods; those big snows that lingered on for days and days, our dads pulling us around on a sleigh – that was our means of transportation from one place to another. No one bothered in those days to clear the snow from the sidewalks (to our delight). 

Then, of course, the lights – he really insisted on putting candles in the tree and finally accepted that we light several candles around the living room instead 😛 We played at identifying the different trinkets and ornaments spread out on the book’s pages; “jolly Santas”, “jingle bells” and “candy canes” were his favourite. “We don’t have a staar” for the tree top, he noticed, and determinedly asked for one. We’ll have to do something about it for next year. We enjoyed the build-up of the poem. Even after many readings, his excitement and happy expectation when turning the page to finally see the decorated Christmas tree remained unfettered: “it’s not a pine tree anymore; it’s a CHRISTMAS TREE!” :))))

In “A home in the snow”, text by Peter Bently, illustrated by Charles Fuge, our old friend, Bramble Badger, pulls his friends in his sleigh to a tea party (on his birthday) to which he has not been invited. It turns out to be a surprise party for him 😉 of course. Bramble has the gentlest eyes throughout, quietly reflecting upon his friends seemingly ignoring his birthday. Little gosling’s favourite part is all the animals coming out of the dark shadows to join the party, holding lanterns (he thinks they are candles, which he loves looking at), and, of course, the huge birthday cake :P. My favourite part is when all the animals gather around the fire to listen to Bramble telling stories… I wish I had a storyteller among my friends and family.. 

“Snowflake in my pocket”, written by Rachel Bright and illustrated by Yu Rong is an endearing depiction of friendship between young Squirrel and the gentle, more experienced Bear. Ohh, the playfulness of their days together and the strong bond between them, squirrel’s excited discovery and exploration of snow and the tender innocence with which it brings home “the perfectest” snowflake in his pocket so thai Bear can enjoy snow…. Only to find out with eyes drowning in tears that it had melted… It’s a lovely story, with enchanting illustrations, in a strong, contrasting palette. Little gosling’s favourite bit is squirrel waking up and enthusiastically discovering the first snow all around. My favourite part is Squirrel cuddling on Bear’s lap, to watch the fire burning.. Something I’d like to do someday…

“One snowy night” by Nick Butterworth is a lovely story about kindness and sharing. Percy the park keeper welcomes into his little wam hut all animals that come knocking on his door or digging their way up through the floor looking for refuge from the cold and the snow. Our edition came with a fold out big size illustration of the accommodation animals find for themselves around the hut and we’ve been using it to “talk about what we see” :). That’s little gosling’s favourite part. My favourite bit is Percy sharing his sandwich with the birdies and the squirrels in the park. 

“Little robin red vest” by Jan Fearnley tells the story of how robin got its orange-red breast – a Christmas present, of course, for his kindness and generosity towards its fellow animals. In the seven days before Christmas, Robin gives away, one by one, without a moment of thought, his beautifully colored warm vests, to animals who were suffering from cold. Santa Klaus sees it all and rewards him with a “very, very special” red vest that will keep him warm forever. Little gosling’s favourite moment is when Santa Klaus finds Robin and takes him away from the cold. My favourite part is the depiction of the winter wonderland: snow, pine cones, holly, snowflakes everywhere, in warm, contrasting colours. 

In “The most wonderful gift in the world” by Mark Sperring and Lucy Fleming, brave little Esme drags her reluctant friend Bear across the treacherous path, through the howling gale and the deep, deep snow drifts to Little Bunny Boo-Boo’s house to deliver Santa’s present: themselves, two new friends. Little gosling feels so sorry for Little Bunny having received no present and loves Santa’s short note (it inspired him to run around with “his list” of dear things). My favourite part are the facial expressions, particularly Bear’s fear and Little Bunny’s excitement with his new friends.

“Oliver Elephant” by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens is an endearing story of the attachment between little Noah and his stuffed blue elephant, Oliver. Little Noah goes Christmas shopping with his mom and baby sister. He and Oliver play together a lot – and get into mischief 🥰. After a snack break, Noah can’t find Oliver and they revisit all the shops to search for him, only to find him tucked in Noah’s baby sister’s pram. Little gosling loves the playfulness of Noah and Oliver’s bond, his eyes smiling at watching them together. And the big slice of chocolate cake that Noah orders 😋. My favourite bit is the tranquility and serenity of this mummy’s outing with two small babies.. I’m quite envious at how she’s pulling it off 😅.

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