water color painting of a red tree ornament
Savor the Holiday Season title
Make Memories, & Inspire Learning—Through Children’s Books!
Make Memories, & Inspire Learning—Through Children’s Books!
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Carrie Lambert Bozeman
If you’ve ever read a book to a child, you’ve likely heard, “Just one more chapter, please?” or, “Read it again!” A great children’s book often brings joy through the sweet, sometimes rhyming or lyrical text, and the beautiful illustrations! During the Christmas season, one of our family’s favorite traditions is to pull out our collection of Christmas books and keep them in a basket near the fireplace for easy access throughout the chilly days and long evenings of December.

Excellent children’s picture books offer joy for everyone—or as one of my favorite lines from The Christmas Song says, “to kids from one to ninety-two!” Humphrey’s First Christmas is particularly joy-filled with its beautiful, realistic, yet hilarious illustrations of a camel named Humphrey. Author and illustrator Carol Heyer chose to illustrate Humphrey’s face in ways that you likely have never seen, nor will ever see a camel…up close and personal, and this choice brings immense humor to the sweet story.

Humphrey's First Christmas book cover
Read Humphrey’s First Christmas out loud to your children before jumping into the learning activities below. You can purchase Humphrey’s First Christmas and add it to your family’s Christmas book collection, or you may access it through your local library. You can even watch it as a read-aloud video online if you aren’t able to get a copy of the book (all go-along books can also be found this way via an internet search using the title and “read aloud”).
Literature-based Activities, Lessons, and Craft Ideas
Children have different learning abilities; use the age guidelines below as a suggestion but feel free to do all of the activities together as a family or include older siblings in the lessons listed for younger kids. Each of the go-along books recommended is a version of the story of Jesus’ birth. It is interesting to read similar stories from different perspectives and see how two illustrators will differently portray the same story.
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For Ages 2-5
Asking a child to search for specific things in each illustration is a wonderful way to encourage a longer attention span and provide them with a way to interact with the book before they are capable of reading it themselves. In Humphrey’s First Christmas, you might have them look for Humphrey’s blanket in the illustrations. In the first few pages we learn Humphrey lost his blanket along the trail. See if your child can find the lost blanket—look for it on the bottom left-hand corner of the copyright page. It is green with a red-trimmed edge and gold flowers. The blanket that Humphrey manages to get from his master a few pages later is red with teal edges and gold flowers.
Or, have your children count Humphrey’s eyes, ears, and nostrils on each page and discuss how two items can be called a pair. You might ask them what items we buy in pairs. Answers may include mittens, socks, shoes, windshield wipers, etc.
Go-Along Book: Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck

*Go-Along Craft: Handprint Camel

Using brown paint, have your child press their hand down evenly in the paint and then make a print with their hand on white paper. Turn the handprint upside down so the fingers are pointing down. Add any height or roundness desired to the hump, the heel of the handprint. Extend the neck and head from the thumb with paint and a paintbrush. Add a small tail from the left-hand side of the handprint, just below the hump. Add one eye and one ear, since it’s a profile view, along with the nose, the mouth, and hooves using a black or brown marker.
handprint turned into a camel
handprint turned into a camel with other scribbling
For Ages 5-9
Stories provide wonderful new words for your child to hear and begin to add to their vocabulary. Hearing new words read aloud, especially when you reread the same book, provides excellent visual and auditory context through the illustrations and the story. Understanding the meaning of a word often comes simply by hearing it used. As a parent and teacher, you can create a fun game of charades using vocabulary words found in stories to apply yet another facet of learning—kinesthetic—to deepen your child’s understanding of the words.

After reading or listening to Humphrey’s First Christmas, look for the following vocabulary words within the story and discuss the meaning of each word (choose words that your child does not already know from the list below). Then, take turns acting out a vocabulary word from the list and guessing which word it is from the actor’s gestures.

Nudge—push or move gently

Chattering—(teeth) to make a rapid clicking noise by tapping together

Misery—a feeling of great distress

Weep—shedding tears (crying), often accompanied by sobs

Kneel—a body position on a knee or knees; done when praying or as a sign of submission

Sniffling—audible sound upon inhaling and exhaling (caused by congestion)

Many other words might be new to your child within the story but are not easy to act out. Be sure to discuss new words and their meanings with your child as you encounter them in a story to help them understand the story and build their vocabulary!

Go-Along Book: The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie de Paola

*Go-Along Craft: Handprint—Three Kings on Camels

Use the method described in the go-along craft for ages 2 through 5, but create three camels horizontally across the page. Draw kings sitting atop the camels. Add a dark sky and a bright star.
“A great children’s book often brings joy through the sweet, sometimes rhyming or lyrical text, and the beautiful illustrations!”
“A great children’s book often brings joy through the sweet, sometimes rhyming or lyrical text, and the beautiful illustrations!”
kid coloring with markers
water color painting of a red tree ornament
For Ages 9-12+
Older children, like adults, will love reading, hearing, and looking at a good picture book. For an older student, you could have them compare and contrast Humphrey’s First Christmas with the story of Jesus’ birth in the Bible found in Matthew 2:1-9 and Luke 2: 4-20. Explain that you must find what is the same and what is different from the two sources to compare two things. Have them list anything that the picture book drew from the Bible story and kept (this list might include any of the following: the star, three kings (or wise men), gold, frankincense and myrrh, Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph—who were not mentioned by name but appear in the story—and Jesus, the stable and manger, etc.). Then make a list of anything that was part of the fictional (made up or invented) story; this list might mention Humphrey, his master and his blanket…and squeezing into a “camel-sized” tent to regain the treasured blanket!
The go-along book mentioned below takes the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth and combines it with the written style and many of the same words used in the classic poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Have an older student work through another compare and contrast exercise using ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas poem. Have them note any similarities in word usage and any significant differences. A Venn diagram can be an excellent tool for a compare and contrast assignment. List the book title in one circle, the classic poem in another, and similarities in the middle section where the two circles overlap.
Go-Along Book: ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas by Glenys Nellist

*Go-Along Craft: Humphrey & Blanket Drawing/Painting

Have your student trace Humphrey’s face and neck from the book cover illustration (using tracing paper makes this easier). Color the tracing of Humphrey using colored pencils, marker, or paint. Cut out the camel as close as possible to the colored edges of his face/body. (You can double-stick tape or use a glue stick to attach the tracing paper to white paper or card stock for a sturdier piece.)

On a separate 8.5- by 11-inch piece of white paper, draw a vertical, rectangular blanket on the page. Fill most of the page, leaving just an inch or two border of white around the edge. Use the story’s blanket patterns as inspiration, or create your own pattern with or without fringe. When it’s finished, you will tape the drawing of Humphrey on top with his face in front of the blanket (position the left-hand corner of the drawing on the left-hand corner of the white paper with the blanket, matching up the corners). You can use foam squares or looped tape to add a dimension between the camel and the blanket.

kids process of tracing, drawing, and painting a camel
kids process of tracing, drawing, and painting a camel
Geography: Story Disk
Five in a Row units use a Story Disk correlating the story to place on a world or US map each time you read the story as a geography tool. Humphrey’s First Christmas is based on the wise men’s journey on their way to see baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem in West Bank, Palestine. If you choose to use the story disk you can download it here and then have your student place it on a world map on Bethlehem.

Note: The format of lessons and learning ideas provided to pair with Humphrey’s First Christmas loosely follow the format of the Five in a Row Mini Units for ages 2 through 12. You can access a FREE Mini Unit based on the book, The Day You Begin, by using the coupon code mini0920 here.

silhouette of a camel walking at night
Five in a Row is a children’s literature-based unit study that provides social studies, geography, language arts, art, applied math, and science lessons for every picture book selection. If you enjoyed the literature-based lessons and joy-filled art and crafts in this article, be sure to check out fiveinarow.com for FREE sample units of Before Five in a Row for ages 2 to 4, More Before Five in a Row for ages 3 to 5, or Five in a Row for ages 9 to 12.
Five in a Row book cover
Five in a Row book covers

arrie Bozeman was homeschooled K-11 before attending college; she began homeschooling her own children in 2012. She is also the author of More Before Five in a Row (ages 3-5) and Five in a Row Mini Units (ages 2-12). Both are children’s literature-based, unit-study curricula. You can find these products at www.fiveinarow.com

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