How can you not love Tomie dePaola? From Strega Nona to Big Anthony and beyond, his characters are among the most beloved in all of kidlit. And he's written a slew of great holiday books too, jam-packed with Christmas spirit along with adorably whimsical depictions of angels, Santas, and even the Nativity.
One of my favorite dePaola selections, though, is an older title (and a bit hard to get - except from the library!), Jingle the Christmas Clown. If you're looking for a title that focuses more on "giving" and less on "getting", this is a great choice. The only gifts that are given here are those of the heart, and what great gifts they are!
Like many dePaola titles, this one is set in the Italian countryside, and there's a sprinkling of Italian tradition and phrases throughout the text. Jingle is the littlest clown in Il Circo Piccolo (The Little Circus), and it's his job to care for the baby animals. Every year the circus plays a special Christmas Eve show in one particular village. But this year when the circus arrives, they discover that the village has fallen on hard times and there's almost no one left to perform for. The circus officials decide they need to move on to another spot for Christmas Eve, but the baby animals are too tired to keep traveling. Jingle is left behind to care for the animals until the circus performers come back through.
Jingle being Jingle, he can't help noticing that there isn't much Christmas spirit left in this lonely place. Jingle decides to take matters into his own hands, and bring Christmas to the villagers himself. The result is a more magical holiday than even Jingle could have imagined, and one that warms the hearts of young and old alike.
Sprout's a little young for this yet -- the story's just a touch too long to hold his attention, I think, and there's not a steam engine in the whole thing -- but I can't wait to share it with him. I'm betting he falls in love with Jingle just as quickly as his mama did.