BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS
A ROUNDUP – PART THREE
Here’s the third of our kids’ Christmas books roundup. There’s really something here for everyone from ages 3 to 12 (we’ve even included some board books for the littlest ones). So please take a look, buy the books at your local independent bookseller then let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!
Written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Cynthia Rylant’s Nativity combines the story of Jesus’ birth with well known passages from His ministry in beautiful text adapted from chapters of the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke. Rendered in acrylic paints, Rylant’s colorful and straightforward illustrations allow young readers to experience the poetry of the King James translation of the Holy Bible.
The story begins on the cover flap: “A child is born…” which brings us to a pastoral setting. The animals are white and cloudy; human figures are faceless but, ironically, it’s the simplicity of their forms that communicates the scene: shepherds with staff in hand guarding their flock. As we follow their visit to the Baby Jesus, we notice familiar features, such as the star and wise men, absent from this Nativity scene. As a result, the presence of shepherds are highlighted all the more; they dominate over half the book — a fact I thought was interesting and appropriate, considering Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). Shepherds are spreading the news of Jesus’ birth to passers-by; in the privacy of their homes, they are wondering “at those things which were told them” by “the angel of the Lord.” Young readers may not understand the deep theological matters raised with the coming of Christ, but they can grasp its contemplative effect in the simple and humble bow of a shepherd’s head.
In addition to such quiet gestures, bold colors also help children connect with Scripture. As the angels proclaim peace on earth and “good will toward men” the sky is illuminated with a rainbow of warm, exciting colors-the colors of pure joy. My personal favorite is the way purple is used to illustrate the most poignant points of the story. Against a backdrop of rich purple, Mother Mary “kept these things” she witnessed “and pondered them in her heart.” The color appears once more when the story shifts to show Jesus as a grown man preaching His famous words (taken from the Sermon on the Mount): “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Both these scenes express powerful and profound principles that invite reflection and meditation. The depth of the color calls readers to pause and wonder about the mystery of God and the peace of His Presence. If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas story, this is a book I’d highly recommend. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Written and illustrated by Arree Chung
(Henry Holt and Company, $17.99, ages 4-7)
Every child hopes to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus placing presents under the Christmas tree or filling their stockings with candies and trinkets on Christmas Eve. Most share the tradition of putting out cookies and milk for the jolly old fellow. There are however, probably a lot fewer who, like Maxwell, a mischievous young ninja, in Ninja Claus!, set traps in an attempt to capture Santa. Utilizing nets, a fishing pole, ropes, hula hoops, and his best ninja tricks, Maxwell manages to capture his dog and his father nibbling the cookies, but he’s swept off to bed by his mother before he can capture Santa.
Arree Chung has written and illustrated yet another Ninja picture book, his third in the series, that is bound to be a hit. With his deft use of acrylic paint and Adobe Photoshop, Chung sets the tone of the night before Christmas, with only the lights from the tree illuminating the pages. And his writing? He had me holding my breath and praying that Christmas wouldn’t be ruined for little Maxwell. And then came the big exhale. The greatest ninja of all, Santa Claus, came and went unnoticed. Hands down, this book is a delight. • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
The Nutcracker in Harlem
Written by T.E. McMorrow
Illustrated by James Ransome
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
In The Nutcracker in Harlem, Tchaikovsky’s ballet comes to life in the dreams of a Marie growing up in a musical family during the Harlem Renaissance. I love the illustrations, by multiple award-winner James Ransome, most of all. In the opening pages, author McMorrow and illustrator Ransome invite us into a bright and boisterous living room, crowded with happy people enjoying music and each other. The clothing and hats in bold blues, greens, and reds transport us to the 1920s. A Christmas party is underway. Marie’s uncle is playing the piano, her parents are dancing, and Miss Addie is singing. Everyone encourages Marie to participate, but she hangs back, shyly watching and listening. The atmosphere is so real and wonderful it makes me feel nostalgic for a party I never attended. When the story shifts to the world of Marie’s dream, the deep, vibrant watercolor illustrations keep the mood warm and happy even when what could be more frightening elements — such as an army of mice — dance into view. By the end, the dream, combined with the magic of Christmas, gives Marie the courage to join in the jazzy celebration. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Red and Lulu
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
Thank you, Matt Tavares! As a former New Yorker who experienced the majesty of the Norway Spruce at Rockefeller Center most years of my childhood, I was transported by Red and Lulu to Manhattan, not unlike the tree in this simple yet very moving story about love lost then found again during Christmastime. Red and Lulu, cardinals inspired by those in Tavares’ own backyard, make a massive evergreen their home. It’s there the pair see the seasons change in all their glory while always remaining close to the shelter that nature has so kindly provided. “Once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: ‘O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree.'” Then, while Red is away, the tree is cut down and Lulu clings to it not understanding what is happening. Written with few words that speak volumes and powerful and poignant illustrations, the story follows Red as he tracks the tree on its journey. Unlike adult readers sharing the story with their children, Red doesn’t realize the significance of his home being transported to New York City. He searches high and low to find Lulu amidst the twinkling lights, falling snow, skyscrapers and crowds. As carolers sing their special song, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Red’s determination is rewarded as the magic of the song, the holiday season and the Yuletide spirit in this famous city help reunite the cardinal couple and fill young (and old) readers’ hearts with joy. Don’t skip the back matter which includes facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition and an author’s note. Visit the Candlewick website to see a book trailer, some interior artwork and order the book for a 25% discount using the code CANDLEWICK at checkout. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Weird but True! Christmas: 300 Festive Facts
to Light Up The Holiday
(National Geographic Kids; $8.99, Ages 8-12 )
Here’s another great stocking stuffer for fans of outrageous facts. There are dozens of paper back books in the Weird but True! series and it’s no surprise since they are so entertaining. This one is no exception. Just when they think they’ve read all the facts, they’ll want to dive back in to share them and spread the holiday cheer. Included are some whammies such as “One family passed down the same fruitcake since 1878,” or “A whole sheep’s head is considered a holiday delicacy in Norway.” Do your children know that “In India people decorate banana trees for Christmas,” or that “During the Australian gold rush, people baked gold nuggets into their Christmas pudding for good luck?” As can be expected from any National Geographic book, the photographs included are fantastic as are the added illustrations. The 208 page count should not put off any child since the info is written in large font and the graphics are bold and bright.Weird but True! Christmas can be read quickly to get a general overview then returned to when specific facts require further study. If your tweens cannot get enough of all these fun facts, they can download the National Geographic Kids Weird but True app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Other Recommended Christmas Books This Year Include:
This Little Reindeer
Written by Aly Fronis
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 2-5)
(Barron’s Children’s Books; $6.99, Ages 1-4)
Don’t Push The Button!: A Christmas Adventure
Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
(Jabberwocky Kids; $8.99, Ages 2+ )
Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One
Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Two
Holiday Gift Books Guide
A FATHER’S DAY BOOKS ROUNDUP
I Love My Daddy
Written and illustrated by Sebastien Braun
(Katherine Tegen Books: $7.99, Ages 0-4)
Daddy bear adores his young cub as evidenced by his doting nature. This sturdy new board book edition, with its simple sentence structure, sweet illustrations and little cub narrator takes readers through 12 activities that demonstrate this father bear’s love for his child. Whether it’s washing time, feeding time, play time or tickle tie, “My daddy looks after me.” And isn’t heartwarming to know the feelings are mutual because best of all, “I love my daddy.”
Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too
Written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney
(Viking BYR; $9.99, Ages 3-5)
This story resonated with me because, like Daddy Gnu created by late author illustrator Anna Dewdney, my husband helped our daughter decorate her very own cardboard house when she was Nelly Gnu’s age. In this charming story, after making the cardboard house together, Nelly Gnu and Daddy head to the hardware store to get all the supplies needed to put the finishing touches on her “perfect little house for one!” When Nelly gets lost momentarily and panic sets in, Daddy’s there to make things right, like he always does. Between its vibrant artwork and the engaging storyline, Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too is a keeper.
You and Me, Me and You
Written and illustrated by Miguel Tanco
(Chronicle Books; $12.99, Ages 3-5)
I loved the thoughtfulness of this 36 page hardcover with its cloth binding that will make it feel like a big-kid book to the preschool crowd. You and Me, Me and You is a celebration of dads that says so much in under 100 words! The young narrator is wise beyond his years and not only shows readers what he has learned from his father, but what he as a child can bring to the relationship. “I give you the chance to tell stories … and I help you choose words with care.” Tanco’s retro artwork does a terrific job in conveying all the meaning packed into this well-crafted picture book. Insightful and moving, this You and Me, Me and You hits all the right marks and can be enjoyed year ’round.
Things to do With Dad
Written and illustrated by Sam Zuppardi
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Cooking pancakes with dad is lots of fun but a chores list tacked on the fridge is a reminder to bother father and son that there’s lots more to be done. The only catch is most of what needs doing can be done alone, by dad. That is until the young boy finds a clever, creative way to turn making the beds into sailing a pirate ship, hanging out the laundry the same as joining a circus and watering the garden a jungle beckoning to be explored, all by dad’s side. Things to do With Dad shows that with a positive attitude, a big imagination and dad’s willing participation, a bunch of boring chores can easily become a fun, father-filled adventure. Zuppardi’s cheerful artwork is a perfect pairing for this Father’s Day delightful read.
Additional Recommended Books for Father’s Day:
Ladybug Girl and Her Papa
Written by Jacky Davis
Illustrated by David Soman
(Dial BYR; $5.99, Ages 2-4)
Little Wolf’s First Howling
Written by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
Illustrated by Kate Harvey McGee
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 3-7)
Daddy Honk Honk!
Written and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Heroes for My Son
Written by Brad Meltzer
(Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Diaper Dude: The Ultimate Dad’s Guide to
Surviving the First Two Years
Written by Chris Pegula w/Frank Meyer
BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR MOTHER’S DAY
– A ROUNDUP –
Written by Kate McMullan
Illustrated by Tao Nyeu
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
With starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, Mama’s Kisses is sure to be an in-demand picture book for many Mother’s Days to come. McMullan has written a sweet ode to the unwavering devotion and patience of moms, in this case, rainforest moms. The moon is on the rise and four mommy animals are on the lookout for their young ones, a baby panda, elephant, orangutan and leopard. As bedtime beckons, the babies engage in a playful game of hide-and-seek that seems so successful until all at once, when the moms are ready, their hiding place is uncovered. But being found means getting kisses, smooches, and hugs galore until tired eyes can no longer remain open. Dreamland is drawing nigh so the baby animals go to sleep soon followed by their tired moms, always close at hand. Conveyed in uncomplicated rhyme and calming rhythm, Mama’s Kisses is a gentle bedtime tale perfect for pre-schoolers. Nyeu’s artwork fills all corners of most every page and, though using only oranges, yellows and blues, she manages to create a subtle softness, warmth and calming mood with just these few well chosen hues.
Written by Diane Adams
Illustrated by Claire Keane
(Chronicle Books; $15.99, Ages 3-5)
Whether it’s for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Graduation or simply just because, Love is by Diane Adams will make a great gift. Love is a girl and her duckling. Looking after the fuzzy little creature is not unlike a mother caring for her child which is why Love is works on many levels. It’s a story about loving and nurturing something that is dear to you, as well as being about the responsibility involved in such a privilege. “Love is holding something fragile, tiny wings and downy head. Love is noisy midnight feedings, shoebox right beside the bed.” The little girl must also accept that her duckling is growing. She will soon need to allow her pet to move on, fend for itself, find a new home and start a family all its own, all the while knowing that the love she has shared will not be forgotten. This 32 page picture book is a delightful read aloud story with well-paced rhyme and evocative illustrations that, coupled with the meaningful verse, will tug at your heartstrings.
How To Raise a Mom
Written by Jean Reagan
Illustrated by Lee Wildish
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Another winner from the creators of the How To picture book series, How to Raise a Mom will totally charm moms, dads and kids alike.
“Raising a happy, healthy mom is fun … and important! Are you ready for some tips?” The sibling narrators take readers through their mother’s typical day as part of their instruction guide, and clearly based on the wonderful rearing and love they’re getting from her. After kisses to awaken her, and giving her choices for the day’s outfit, the kids take her to the supermarket and the playground to name a few places while also leaving quiet time for her to get some work done. It’s fantastic to be treated again to Wildish’s whimsical illustrations like those found in the other How To books, full of humorous not-to-miss touches and amusing expressions in every spread. Kids will especially get a kick out of the dog and cat Wildish includes in many scenes. The children also cover playtime, mealtime and finish up the full day with stories and snuggles. I loved how they occasionally mimic just what Mom always says to them such as “Thank you so much, Sweat Pea, for being so patient,” or “Remember to be a good sharer!” There is so much to enjoy in this picture book tribute celebrating moms everywhere.
More recommended children’s books for Mother’s Day:
Written and illustrated by Emma Dodd
(Nosy Crow; $12.99, Ages 2-5)
When I Carried You in My Belly
Written by Thrity Umriar
Illustrated by Ziyue Chen
(Running Press Kids; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
I Love My Mommy
by Sebastien Braun
(Harper Collins; $7.99, Ages 0-4)
by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben
(Chronicle Books; $5.99, Ages 1-3)
My kids grew up with Margaret Wise Brown for quiet, go-to-sleep, soothing bedtime stories. But when they wanted belly laughs, tales to memorize and repeat (and not necessarily go to sleep), they chose Sandra Boynton hands down. Her books are a constant in every baby book collection I give to new mom friends and relatives. In fact, I cannot imagine any starter book set without Moo, Baa, La La La!, The Going To Bed Book, Barnyard Dance!, Tickle Time! and Hippos Go Berserk! Now I’m delighted I can add a new fave, one of the Boynton on Board book series, to my gift list. The Bunny Rabbit Show! board book (Workman, $6.95, Ages 0-4), featuring an oval die cut cover revealing dancing rabbits, is as cute as can be.
Boynton’s in top form here with a catchy rhyming refrain and a feel-good, entertaining performance by the happy hoppers. What Boynton does best is create her books at two levels; the first appealing to the youngest child being read to, and the the second appealing to the parents and care-givers who will surely be sharing the story over and over again. And why not? What’s not to love about a bunny board book featuring a bunch of bunnies (ten terrific rabbits to be precise) in a Rockettes-like line on stage singing, dancing and strutting their stuff.
Add more to their listening and looking pleasure by asking, as you read, if your little ones can spot the cow, pig, duck and sheep in the audience for some guaranteed giggles. Maybe even pull out a pair of bunny ears so your child can join in the show! That’s a big part of what makes a Boynton book so very, very fun to read. It’s hard to keep them on the bookshelves. Enjoy!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel