Bear’s First Christmas

9780689869723_p0_v1_s260x420Holiday-themed books seem to often fall into one of two categories: religious and “North Pole related”.  I think that’s why I loved Bear’s First Christmas written by Robert Kinerk and illustrated by Jim Marche so much- because it felt like a category unto itself.  The title I think is a bit misleading because Bear and his friends never even realize they have experienced their first Christmas.  What they have experienced is what I think we want our kids to internalize most during the holiday season- the spirit of being peaceful and helping those in need, which in this book is synonymous with “glowing”.

The story is told in rhyme- which I don’t think was a necessary choice, but one that seems to add to the “bounce” and attention-grabbing quality in a book for young children.  Little Bear starts his winter off like any other- settling in for hibernation.  He’s next to a tiny, scraggly tree (which reappears at the end in a much more symbolic way) when he shuts his eyes and starts dreaming of spring.  But, then “a faraway sound made him open his eyes”.  So, off the curious Bear goes, leaving the safety of his cave on an adventure that has him cross paths with some friends in need.  The illustrations throughout are tender and realistic, not cartoony, which adds to the serenity of the whole book.

While Bear has the goal of finding this mysterious sound, he immediately starts to help the crow and moose who both need food.  And, since he doesn’t yet have a solution to offer the pheasants, whose home was recently crushed, he brings them along with him.

Soon after, they come upon the noise that Bear has been searching for.  The noise is actually the music coming from a family’s home that is contained within an illuminating glow.  The glow they peer in on is coming from the people and of course, a “wonderful tree”.  They leave, still mystified how such warmth could exist on such a cold night.  As they walk, they start to fully embrace their own glow (that I’d argue they had all along), and sing their own simple and sweet song back to Bear’s cave.

That’s when they notice the scraggly tree (I told you it came full circle).  This tree is a Charlie Brown kind of tree (my favorite kind) and now has its own glow from the moon.  They then settle in together with Bear and wait for spring.  Upon waking, Bear realizes that such a glow exists not only on that special night, but all year long, because the glow comes from his heart.

Seriously sweet stuff- a book I’m leaving on the bookshelf all year long.  I truly felt “the glow” this past fall when our family visited with my brother’s family and my parents.  We weren’t going to see any of them for Thanksgiving or Christmas that year, so over Halloween, my sister-in-law sat at the piano bench and played Christmas songs.  My two young boys and her young daughter (aged right in between them) clamoured up beside her and we all listened with pure joy.  Pretty sure if there was a bear, a crow, a moose, and some pheasants looking in, they would have seen a glow around us all too, even without a tree.

“Get your glow on” this holiday season by asking your children the following: Why do you think Bear stopped to help the other animals, even when he was already looking for something?  How did Bear know that something special was happening inside the home even though he didn’t know about Christmas? (Have them inspect the family picture again)

To take the message beyond the story, consider asking, “What is a small thing you’d like to do this holiday season to help someone else?”  You can brainstorm together or let them sit with the question for a while and see what they come up with.  Tying in with the book, one reading could involve a discussion about how some people in the world don’t have enough food and what kind of contribution your family could make to address that need.

Lastly, “What is something you’d like to do this holiday season that would make OUR family glow a little bit more?”  We usually think of traditions as something parents hand on down to their children- but I think they can hand some up to us.  If you need to get the ball rolling, I’ll suggest a holiday song party- if you don’t have a piano, flip on the radio or Pandora and get singing and moving.  Then, wind down with something like Silent Night and the literal glow of candlelight.

And, if your kids are anything like my brother was, they might come up with something like a Cool Whip-Rice Krispies-coconut-marshmallow-anything else in Grandma’s pantry “salad” that he’ll teach his sister to make (who he can really get to do basically anything because he’s the cool older brother) for everyone at every holiday for the majority of a decade.  Bless Grandma and her sisters for eating this every year with glowing smiles on their faces.



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