Great Christmas Books for Kids – A Holiday Roundup

Kids Christmas Books Roundup –
Reviewers Rita Zobayan and MaryAnne Locher
Share Some of This Season’s Kidlit Faves

Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish'Twas-Nochebuena-cvr.jpg written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by Sara Palacios (Viking/Penguin, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

While Christmas is celebrated all around the world, different cultures have their own traditions and ways of celebrating. ‘Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish is a new spin on the classic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

A Latino family is preparing to host relatives and friends on Christmas Eve. They are busy making tamales stuffed with pollo (chicken) and queso (cheese). When ready, they participate in posadas (the reenactment of the Nativity) where families stroll from house to house, asking for shelter. Once back home, the family drinks warm mugs of chocolaty champurrado (a thick hot chocolate drink) and play loteria (a game similar to bingo). Then, it’s time for Misa del Gallo (midnight mass) before the celebration continues with more food and a delicious dessert called bu~nuelos (a sweet fritter covered with cinnamon). It’s a wonderful night of family and festivities.

The artwork is bright and inviting. Little details, such as colorful banners and the town’s architecture, give a feel for the setting. I found the facial expressions, including that of the family cat and dog, to be especially engaging.

The rhyming text makes the book easy to read, even for non-Spanish speakers. With satisfied bellies and sleepy eyes, we head to the sala for one last surprise. Giggling and cheering, we dash for the tree, where regalos are waiting for you and for me! A glossary of 47 Spanish terms is included, as is an author’s note about the origin of this story.

With diverse literature in high demand, ‘Twas Nochebuena provides fun insight into a cultural celebration of Christmas Eve. Feliz Navidad! – Rita Zobayan

Link to review of Round is a Tortilla, also by Roseanne Greenfield Thong.

 

Maisys-Christmas-Tree-cvr.jpgIf you’re looking for a sweet board book to tuck in a special little person’s stocking this Christmas, Maisy’s Christmas Tree, (Candlewick Press, 2014; $6.99, Ages 2-5) is the perfect pick. Written by Lucy Cousins, the ever-popular Maisy is decorating her Christmas tree with her friends. Cyril the squirrel, Tallulah the chicken, and Charlie the crocodile are all helping out in their own special way, stringing lights, hanging candy canes, and wrapping presents. Eddie the elephant is in charge of the tree topper: an angel who looks exactly like Maisy!

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Interior image from Maisy’s Christmas Tree by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press ©2014.

Bright primary and secondary colors with a bit of silver sparkle make this a visually appealing book. Its small size and Christmas tree shape make it easy for little hands to hold and help turn pages. Even a toddler full of Christmas anticipation will sit through this book of under fifty words which gently builds to a grand finale. Maisy and friends sing carols around her beautiful tree then shout, “Merry Christmas, everyone!” – MaryAnne Locher

Link to review of Peck, Peck, Peck, also by Lucy Cousins.

 

Everything-About-Christmas-cvr.jpgEverything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book written by Diane Muldrow (Golden Books, 2014; $9.99, Ages 4 and up)

Little Golden Books are endearing. I’m not sure if it’s the vintage-style art work or the sense of innocence that seems to emanate from the words and pictures of a bygone era, but there’s no denying the “aww” that goes along with the series. So, it’s no surprise that Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow draws in both young and old. Compiled from the art of a variety of LGB, this is a guide to keeping your sanity during one of the happiest yet busiest times of the year.

“Christmas is coming!” waves a happy Santa. But, what about all that baking, the endless cycle of cooking and cleaning, and the rounds of social obligations…when you could be taking a nap. Then there’s the snarled holiday traffic…and the scary holiday crowds! The excess! The expense! Then comes the weight gain. Yes, Christmas certainly comes with stresses and obligations. It’s easy to get caught up in the commotion and consumerism. However, don’t spend all your time preparing…It’s a time for traditions, a time for giving the very best of yourself…a time to reach out to someone who’d otherwise be alone. For one night in a manger, under a star, a night witnessed by both shepherds and kings, when gifts were given to a waiting world…and the gift of hope for a peaceable kingdom.

While younger children might not understand the message about keeping the crazy out of Christmas, they will almost certainly enjoy the illustrations and message of love and family. Filled with LGB favorites, such as the Poky Little Puppy and Richard Scarry’s artwork (among many talented others), the book harkens to the wonder and nostalgia of childhood. This is something that LGB does so well. Adults are transported back to their childhoods (and perhaps will remember reading LGB as youngsters), and children will adore the sense of warmth that the illustrations create.

Everything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book is a new Christmas favorite in our household, and once you read it, you’ll see why. – Rita Zobayan

Link to review of We Planted a Tree, also by Diane Muldrow.

 

 

 

The Mayflower by Mark Greenwood

The Mayflower written by Mark Greenwood
and illustrated by Frané Lessac
(Holiday House, 2014. $16.95. Ages 4-8)

A Voyage to the First Thanksgiving

The-Mayflower-cvr.jpgIn 1621, a group of nearly 100 people, many of whom experienced religious persecution, left England to find a place where they could worship freely. After an arduous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean–which included violent storms and the birth of a child, they sighted land and eventually founded a settlement near Plymouth Harbor.

Their troubles were not over. Arriving late in the year, they faced a cold and difficult winter. Many were ill. However, in early spring, Squanto, a native from a local tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and fertilize the fields with fish. That fall, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, and 90 of his warriors joined the Pilgrims for a harvest celebration, our first Thanksgiving

Greenwood’s narrative in this picture book can be read aloud to young children to introduce them to the traditional Thanksgiving story. Complex issues, such as religious persecution and the Mayflower Compact, are briefly, but clearly expressed in language young children can understand. The hardships the Pilgrims faced are not overdramatized and the author weaves in interesting “kid friendly” facts about daily life aboard the ship: food, sleeping arrangements, entertainment, etc.

Lessac’s colorful gouache illustrations, reminiscent of folk art, enliven the narrative and create a vivid and dramatic visual of the journey and the settlement. A stunning two-page spread of a beautiful, calm night at sea, the sky full of stars sparkling around a full moon, belies the dangers the ship would soon face on its journey to the new world. Sure enough, a month later, the Mayflower and its passengers and crew sail into the stormy season, which Lessac stylistically portrays with a pinkish sky dotted with dark storm clouds. Jagged bolts of lightning and torrents of rain fall from the clouds. The image of the ship rolling in the rough sea further demonstrates the ocean’s frightening power and the hardships the crew and passengers faced on their way to the new world.

An excellent and colorful read aloud to introduce younger children to the origins of our Thanksgiving celebration.

Visit Australian author Mark Greenwood’s website for more information about his books.

Illustrator Frané Lessac’s website is a must-see for her artwork and a video about how the illustrator works.

Click here for Holiday House’s Educator’s Guide for this book.

Enjoy this dramatic book trailer for The Mayflower.


– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Tired of Your Name? Visit The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe

Squashed inbetween a pet shop and an ice cream store is a magical place called The Change Your Name Store!

 

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The Change Your Name Store written by Leanne Shirtliffe with illustrations by Tina Kügler, Sky Pony Press, 2014.

Did you want to change your name when you were a little kid? I sure did! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have an exotic sounding name.  How cool to be a Ludmila from Russia, a Lenka from the Czech Republic or maybe an Anneke from South Africa!  Well in The Change Your Name Store written by Leanne Shirtliffe and illustrated by Tina Kügler (Sky Pony Press, 2014, $16.95, Ages 4-8), you can do just that because a shiny, nice new name is what’s for sale.

Shirtliffe’s chosen rhyme to tell this tale of Wilma Lee Wu who wants a more exciting moniker.

“But one tiny item
she longed to throw out.
My name! It’s so boring,
so blah,” she would pout.

So what happens when young Wilma gets to the store? What do you think she finds out? The proprietor, Ms. Zeena McFouz, is there to assist her customer. Yes, she’ll help her choose. But one rule applies. Wilma must try out the name which involves traveling to where the name comes from. That is absolutely my favorite part of this delightful picture book and it will be for kids, too. Half the fun is looking through Kügler’s cheerful artwork to search for recognizable names which are scattered throughout the store.

Wilma first selects Babette Bijou, but after traveling to Paris and feeling a bit odd with her red beret and café-au-lait, Wilma picks another name. Trying out Samiya bint Sami al Sala brings Wilma to a market in Bahrain where she soon feels overwhelmed by heat. Kids will enjoy the repetition Shirtliffe employs after each of Wilma’s journeys.

And when she returned, she said with a start,
“Oh no, that’s not me. I can’t play that part.”

Back at The Change Your Name Store, Wilma’s still got two more names to experience before she realizes the most special name, the one meant just for her, is Wilma Lee Wu, her own name! Rather than discover she’s supposed to be another, Wilma learns that it’s actually being herself that is most ideal of all.  The message here is positive and shared in a whimsical way: Wilma Lee’s simply one in a million, so Wilma Lee she will stay!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

The Hunted: Polar Prey by Sara Louise Kras

Bundle up Because Sara Louise Kras is Taking us
to the Arctic in her new Fiction Book, The Hunted: Polar Prey

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The Hunted: Polar Prey by Sara Louise Kras, Speeding Star, 2014.

Sara Louise Kras, a local L.A. author, makes it easy for kids to forget the warm California sun when she transports them to below zero weather “way up north in the Arctic on the Hudson Bay” in The Hunted: Polar Prey (Speeding Star, $14.95, ages 8-9). With over 30 non-fiction books under her belt, Kras has now forayed into fiction, quite convincingly so, with this early chapter book. I have no doubt that even the most reluctant of readers will find it hard to tear themselves away from The Hunted: Polar Prey with its 21 short, fast-paced chapters and a story inspired by an article Sara once read (see Author’s Note in the back matter to find out more!). The action revolves around the “Global Warming Research Station,” a place that Kras has actually visited in Canada, and where the book’s main character, Jeremy, lives with his scientist parents.

The story is brought to life by alternating four characters’ perspectives. The book opens with the first chapter devoted to the polar bear, low on nourishment, and waiting by an air hole to catch a seal. He grows frustrated when the seal first eludes capture. Kras sets the tone immediately by introducing us to one very angry bear. Readers then meet Jeremy, the story’s 12-year-old protagonist. Kids will get a sense early on, of not only what the main character is thinking, but also what the polar bear is thinking. They’ll learn about fascinating polar bear behavior without even realizing it. The other chapters share viewpoints of Paula, Jeremy’s mom and Felix, Jeremy’s Inuit friend.

Chapter Two of The Hunted: Polar Prey has Jeremy getting a cell phone call from his mom alerting him to a crisis. The ice floor she was getting samples from cracked sending her drifting out into the Arctic sea. She quickly gives Jeremy her coordinates so he can organize a rescue. But how? His father’s away in Churchill stocking up on supplies and, at age 12, what can Jeremy possibly do to save her? One of Sara’s talents, evident from Chapter One, is her economy of words. She never puts in too many or too few words, again something reluctant readers will appreciate. The story’s the thing here and it moves along as quickly as a snowmobile. Kras also provides the right amount of drama and description to keep it moving forward without over-embellishment.

Once Jeremy learns his mom is floating away and facing imminent danger without provisions or a weapon, and limited cellphone battery power, he knows he must face reality and figure out a plan. The only possibility is enlisting the help of Felix, Jeremy’s Inuit friend along with his dad, Mr. Tugak, to help. The catch is, that even if Mr. Tugak has access to a helicopter, he has stopped flying since a crash shook his confidence and spooked him enough to believe that a horrible curse had been cast over him. Things continue to get interesting as Paula’s piece of ice cracks some more and the polar bear we read about in certain chapters has begun to smell fresh meat. He gets closer and closer as fear begins to envelop Jeremy’s mom.

Kras cleverly incorporates Inuit words like tuvag, or sea ice, into the story and readers learn the immense power of tuvag and how it can kill, hence the urgency in finding Jeremy’s mom. She also explains that, since Mr. Tugak believes an evil spirit haunts him, a shaman advises him to change his name so the spirit can no longer find him. Somehow though, this is not enough to get him back into the helicopter. Fortunately, it’s the thought of not helping his son and his son’s friend that drives him to take action. As the threesome attempt first to locate Paula before they can even try to rescue her, it becomes apparent that this is a life or death situation, a race against time and nature.

Rather than spoil the story by giving away the ending, I will say I was very satisfied with the outcome and the realistic touches Kras did not hesitate to include. These elements are what will pull your reader in and keep him reading. The Author’s Note in the back matter gives details about the inspiration for the book and also gives some insight into polar bears’ behavior and how to find out more.

Come back next week to read my interview with Sara Louise Kras and learn more about polar bears, what else Kras has written and what we can expect to read next.

– Ronna Mandel

Walk This World: A Celebration of Life in a Day by Lotta Nieminen

TRAVEL THE WORLD WITHOUT A PASSPORT
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Walk This World: A Celebration of Life in a Day (Big Picture Press, $17.9, Ages 5-8), illustrated by Lotta Nieminen and written by Jenny Broom, is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

Your child can visit ten countries from the comfort of home. Walk This World: A Celebration of Life in a Day is a large-sized, lift-the-flap (more than 80 of them!) book that presents splendid art and joyous prose. Children and parents will discover clues for each country and an adventure on each page. Can you spot flags, foods, animals, and landmarks? Who is hiding behind the window and door flaps? What are they up to?

The adventure begins in New York City and continues in France, Russia, Brazil, and India to name a few of the locations.  Although the narrative is sparse, it provides descriptive information about the countries.

Sunny streets and tilting towers, a waiter stops to mop his brow. From the water, gondoliers greet me with a friendly, “Ciao!”

Teaming streets and bhangra beat, rhythm moves me side to side. Brilliant saris can’t outshine the vibrant smile of the bride.

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The true feat in Walk This World: A Celebration of Life in a Day is the artwork, and that’s really what Big Picture Press is all about. There are dozens of details on each page: simple portrayals of everyday life that celebrate our planet.  Walk This World: A Celebration of Life in a Day is truly a celebration.

Round is a Tortilla by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Roseanne Greenfield Thong's Round is a Tortilla book cover

Round is a Tortilla, A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Greenfield Thong with illustrations by John Parra, Chronicle Books, 2013.

Round is a Tortilla, A Book of Shapes (Chronicle Books, $16.99, Ages 3-5) by Roseanne Greenfield Thong with illustrations by John Parra, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Round is a Tortilla has been chosen for the 2013-14 Macy’s Multicultural Collection of Children’s Literature!  

A great way for preschoolers to begin learning a foreign language is with picture books. They introduce new words in a simple, straightforward way making them fun to read with a parent and easy to remember, especially when presented in rhyme and coupled with shapes or colors. SoCal author Roseanne Greenfield Thong has done that so well with her picture books that she’s now written four in the series: Round is a Mooncake, Round is a Tortilla, Red is a Dragon, and the forthcoming Green is a Chile Pepper.

Thong does an impressive job incorporating circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, ovals and stars into scenes of daily life that could be here in the States or anywhere in Central America, places where Thong’s lived and taught English. Parra’s bright, cheerful, folksy illustrations complement every stanza making Round is a Tortilla an uplifting read-aloud.

“Rectangles are carts
with bells that chime
and cold paletas
in summertime.”

Paletas are ice pops and a little girl and boy character are about to enjoy them before they melt. They’re muy trio and muy delicious and writing about them just makes me want a cold and delicious popsicle, too! For triangles Thong’s described “Sandias (watermelon) chilled in tubs of ice, quesadillas by the slice …” She’s managed to rhyme what could have been difficult words, but everything flows beautifully. Some of the words in Round is a Tortilla are: abuela, campanas, huevos, masa and many more. Before moving onto the next shape, Thong always asks a question, “Square is a fountain from long ago. How many square things do you know?” so that parents or caregivers and children can discuss what’s been read, perhaps making a game out of searching for all the different shapes in the book, and maybe even in a child’s bedroom.  A helpful glossary of all the Spanish words in the book is included at the end.  I’m ready to learn colors now with Green is a Chile Pepper, the next book in the series which also happens to be just my speed.

RECOGNITION FOR ROUND IS A TORTILLA

Macy’s Multicultural Collection of Children’s Literature List, 2014 (Round is a Tortilla)

Georgia Book Award Nominee, 2013

Texas Library Association’s 2 x 2 List for 2014 (Round is a Tortilla)

 

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