Holiday books, games and music chase away winter doldrums

With snow finally blanketing Chittenden County, you’ll soon be stuffing your children into layers of clothing to brave snowball fights and sledding hills. However, with no guarantee that the snowfall won’t melt and replace the winter playground outside with a barren tundra, it doesn’t hurt to have some back up activities ready to go.

It doesn’t take much research to come across a strong consensus that reading to young children is extremely beneficial, but sometimes finding a book that holds your attention as well as your toddler’s can be difficult. To this end, I decided to ask my young nieces and nephew (and their respective parents) what they like to read during the holidays.

“When Santa was a Baby” by Linda Bailey and richly illustrated by Geneviève Godbout is a hilarious peek into the early years of the now jolly old elf. Using some of the familiar details from “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” as inspiration, Bailey encourages readers to be charitable and joyous from an early age.

Much less charitable is the title character in “The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher” by Robert Kraus and illustrated by former Disney artist Virgil “Vip” Partch. This story of confectionary crookery reads like Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but this story benefits from a brave child who seeks to liberate the town’s sugary decorations.

If you have a brave and busy child of your own, “How to Catch Santa” by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish is a veritable manual on creative ways to try and procure evidence of St. Nicholas’ nocturnal visit to your house. Parents will love the manageable ideas children can actually act upon to try and catch a glimpse of Santa on Christmas Eve.

But the award for most interesting story-behind-the-story goes to “Rudolph’s Second Christmas” by Robert L. May and illustrated by Michael Emberley. It’s hard to believe the original Rudolph story first found an audience in 1939, when it was printed as a Montgomery Ward & Co. promotion. This novel, also written by May, lay in a box until his daughter came across copies of the manuscript in 1991. Much like the original story, this tale finds a new timeliness in its continuing message of overcoming bullying by recognizing the value in your own unique talents.

If books are hard to come by in your household, there are online activities that can also encourage reading out loud. One such idea is holiday trivia. A website that we stumbled upon this year was usefultrivia.com, which is incredibly easy to navigate with each category leading to its own rabbithole of subcategories. The ads are minimal and don’t interrupt gameplay.

Best of all, the categories are stuffed with questions. The Christmas trivia category alone has over 200 queries ranging from film facts to origins of popular traditions and myths. Or if you are just looking to be goofy, wordblanks.com is full of holiday mad libs that will break out the giggles from young and old alike. This site also has minimal ads, easy navigation and a seemingly bottomless selection of the classic fill-in-the-blanks story creators.

Another simple idea that creates a surprising amount of wholesome competition is designating an ornament or a decoration to be hidden each day. Some simple rules: The object must not be hidden within other objects or furniture, and it should always be hidden in a common area of the house. You will be surprised how quickly the competition can escalate, especially if you sweeten the pot with a small piece of candy or dollar bill hidden with the holiday trinket.

Lastly, if you are going stir crazy inside and the roads are clean outside, why not pack the family in the car and find a decorated neighborhood to tool around in. Essex Parks and Recreation has compiled a list of lighted houses for their senior tour, and a quick call to them at 878-1342 should help you plan out a perfect route for a tour of your own.

And if you want to really put smiles on faces, try adding carols to any of these events. The past two weekends have seen trees lit in Colchester, Essex and Milton. This past Saturday, the Milton Independent lit the community tree in Hannaford plaza to a chorus of friends and neighbors singing alongside Milton Community Band members. A day later, the full band was joined by the same blend of trained and untrained voices during an audience sing-a-long in their holiday concert. Present at all these events were beaming faces and wide smiles. There is a natural lowering of inhibitions that seems to go hand in hand with the raising of voices, and it merely takes finding the right radio station and a brave soul to start the singing.