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
BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS
A ROUNDUP – PART TWO
As promised, Good Reads With Ronna continues this year’s roundups of great Christmas books and activities to share with your children before and during the holiday. There are so many terrific new books to choose from that we felt it was important to review as many as possible so you could find some special ones that appeal to everyone in the family.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Illustrated by Emma Randall
(Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages3-7)
The traditional Christmas song about a partridge in a pear tree can get to feeling a bit cluttered by the time seven lords are leaping around, but in The Twelve Days of Christmas, Emma Randall’s illustrations are a breath of fresh winter air, clear and colorful throughout. For example, each leaf and pear in the partridge’s tree is separate, forming a lovely mosaic that could be Swedish or Ukrainian. The characters are drawn in a homey style that reminds me of Jessie from Pixar’s “Toy Story,” with old-fashioned winter afternoon-wear replacing cowgirl duds. There are plenty of visual details to search for and enjoy, and of course you can sing the song while searching if caroling is your jam. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Susan Jeffers offers a new interpretation of another classic holiday song, Jingle Bells. Her cover illustration gives us the main characters: a boy carrying a gift, a girl snuggling a dog, a beautiful horse, and lots of snow, including raised sparkling snowflakes just asking to be touched by little fingers. Open the book and the front endpaper lays out the path the sled will follow, from the children’s barn, over a river, through a forest and on to a little house. Working with such a familiar song, Jeffers takes the opportunity to include new things for readers to ponder. The children would like to stay bundled up in the sled, but their dog is determined to discover every winter animal playing or hiding in the white world outside the sleigh. Readers can look for the animals, too; the last two pages identify them for reference. Near the end, we find out where the children are going and who will receive their gift. In a surprise, the story shares some insight about what it might be like to have a famous neighbor. Add this one to your songbook collection. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
A Charlie Brown Christmas
(Part of Peanuts)
By Charles M. Schulz
Adapted by: Maggie Testa / Illustrated by: Vicki Scott
(Simon Spotlight; $19.99, Ages: 4-99)
I tried to share my favorite holiday television special with my own kids twenty years ago — and it didn’t really work. Maybe the animation techniques or sound quality didn’t hold up, or maybe I had loved it partly because I could only see it once a year, whenever CBS decided to air it. At any rate, my kids couldn’t relate to my anticipation. I opened A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe Edition (Peanuts) hoping this book might be a way to share the Peanuts magic more successfully with my grandchildren. I’ll know for sure when I see them before the holidays, but I’m thinking this version is a “yes!” • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
This deluxe edition, by Maggie Testa (Adapter), Charles M. Schulz (Author), and Vicki Scott (Illustrator), is big, with an almost-velvet red cover framing a smiling Charlie Brown holding his special little Christmas tree. The endpapers are sheet music of the Christmas carols “Jingle Bells” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The art throughout pops with bold colors and stylized shading. In case you’re unfamiliar with the characters or story, Charlie Brown is a kid who has few friends and can’t do anything right. He is correspondingly depressed, yet embodies optimism, always coming back to try again. In the Christmas story, his true friend Linus thinks he knows how to cheer up Charlie Brown. “You need to get involved. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?” Charlie Brown takes charge, but after he gets a straggly little tree to decorate the stage, the other kids convince him he’s ruined everything again. Later, led by Linus, everyone comes together to decorate the tree. It shapes up like only a cartoon tree could, and the true spirit of Christmas shines. This adaptation hits the important notes I remember from the animated special, including my favorite scene: Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 after assuring Charlie Brown, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More!
Authors: Valerie McKeehan, Valentina Harper, Thaneeya McArdle,
Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam
(Design Originals, an imprint of Fox Chapel Publishing; $19.99, Ages 6+)
With a title like Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More! it’s no surprise that this book contains cards, envelope templates, and gift tags. The “more” includes bookmarks, mini cards, full-page images called frameables, and scrapbook paper (which makes nice two-sided gift wrap). Most pages are perforated and easy for a child to use on their own. Kids can choose an item, then draw or write on the mostly blank second side—some have short quotations. The envelope templates are straightforward as are the instructions for bookmark tassels or fridge magnets.
The artwork is that of best-selling artists Thaneeya McArdle, Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam, Valentina Harper, and Valerie McKeehan. A variety of styles showcases the holiday sentiments. Images are produced on thick paper and in full color—except for a few in black and white for self-coloring. While most pictures are appropriate for a range of holidays, in keeping with the book’s title, many of the quotes on the back of the cards refer to Christmas and some are of a religious nature. If the quotes aren’t suitable, the card’s second page can be omitted and used as postcard-size instead.
If you’re strapped for time, Christmas Paper Crafting can give your cards a more homemade feel. It may also be less costly than buying individual greeting cards or boxed card sets. Kids who enjoy making their own choices and crafting will appreciate the freedom to pick what they like then to embellish a bit, adding their special seasonal touch. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Mary Englebreit’s Color ME Christmas
Book of Postcards
(HarperCollins; $9.99, Ages 4+)
I picked up Mary Engelbreit’s Color ME Christmas Book of Postcards because it looked like a fun, creative project to do with my granddaughter, coloring in holiday postcards, gift tags, and ornaments illustrated with designs in Engelbreit’s signature vintage style. I love that at Christmastime, every arts and crafts project is also an opportunity for young kids to make presents for the people they care about. The book is printed on thick card stock, so after coloring, the items will be ready to mail, tie onto gifts, or hang on the Christmas tree. Paired with a package of colored pencils or markers, these postcards make a wonderful gift for any young visitors you may be expecting. Recommended for ages 4 and up, in other words, for anyone who’s a kid at heart like me. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One
Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Three
Holiday Gift Books Guide
CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR KIDS
A ROUNDUP – PART ONE
Here’s the first of several roundups full of great new Christmas books for kids that we hope you’ll enjoy. There’s really something here for everyone under age 10 who’s interested in a great story or activity during the long holiday break. Let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!
A World of Cookies for Santa:
Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World
Written by M.E. Furman
Illustrated by Susan Gal
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)
In A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World, Santa takes a journey across the globe to drop off gifts and savor treats children leave for him.
The story begins appropriately on Christmas Island in the South Pacific where Santa finds the children’s gift of chewy coconut macaroons. From Christmas Island, Santa visits Asia, Africa, Europe, South American and North America before heading home to the North Pole. Santa’s entire journey may be traced by using the map at the beginning of the book.
Splashes of orange and dashes of red flood the 48 pages and create warm cheery scenes. The joy of giving and receiving is vividly expressed on the faces of smiling children. Parents may stumble over a few foreign words, but there’s lots of opportunities for fun-learning. Furman provides recipes for baking Santa’s cookies which may inspire children and families to try new multicultural holiday recipes. Countries may have different Christmas customs, but they are similar in keeping the traditions of preparing and enjoying treats.
• Reviewed by Randi Lynn Mrvos
Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things:
Written and illustrated by Gergely Dudás
(HarperCollins; $14.99, Ages 4-8)
Growing up, I was always a fan of the “find the hidden objects” puzzles, so it’s no surprise that I love Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things even now as an adult. As the title suggests, the reader is invited to help bear find the items he needs for his upcoming holiday party. Children will enjoy the challenge of perusing through the crowd of cute critters, the jumble of gingerbread, and the sea of snowmen to get bear’s party going. The 32 pages of colorful confections, gift bags galore, and a multitude of mittens make a Christmasy camouflage that will keep the young ones engaged while they look for ice-skates, an ornament, and an array of other goodies. Some things are easier to spot than others so don’t be surprised if this turns into fun for the whole family.
If you’re looking for something to keep the kids entertained while you’re planning a party of your own, Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things should do the trick. And don’t worry, this is not a one-and-done book either. Even after they’ve found everything for Bear, little ones will enjoy looking through the wintery scenes again and again to see what else they might have missed.
• Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
Written by Martha Brockenbrough
Illustrated by Lee White
(Arthur A. Levine Books; $17.99, Ages 5 and up)
Will this be the year your child learns the truth about Santa? You may want to hold off sharing this purposely green foil-banded book until your youngest is ready to have “that conversation” with you about whether or not Santa is real. While Scholastic suggests that this picture book may be appropriate for children aged 5, another publication recommends it for ages 6-9 and still another says it’s for kids ages 9-12. To be honest, only a parent knows when their child will appreciate the heart felt message Brockenbrough so beautifully and thoughtfully conveys.
The story is interactive in that a little girl does her annual correspondence to Santa and young readers can actually open an envelope, pull out the letter and then have it read to them or read it themselves. Naturally she’s curious about all things North Pole, until she turns eight. That’s when she leaves Santa’s note for her mother instead, inquiring whether she is actually the wondrous world traveler. Her mom’s response will no doubt resonate with all readers of a certain age. “Santa,” replies the mother, “is bigger than any one person. He always has been.” The message that the truth and tradition of Santa is carried on by all who cherish the magic of believing in something good and selfless is one that will touch everyone this Christmas. Certain to be treasured by all who receive it, Love, Santa is THE book to reach for whenever a child questions the existence of Mr. Claus.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
MORE GREAT HOLIDAY READS HERE
Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Two
Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Three
Holiday Gift Books Guide
A ROUNDUP OF OUR FAVORITE
NEW BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS
With Labor Day kicking off the traditional start of a new school year,
what better way to ease little ones into the classroom
than with a great selection of back-to-school books to read as they settle into a new routine?
Here Comes Teacher Cat
Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Underwood sure knows how to make parents and children laugh out loud. Here Comes Teacher Cat is full of sight gags that never fail to surprise and delight. So as not to spoil it for you, I’ll just say that once again Cat has outdone himself in cattitude. Whether you love the narrator having a one-sided dialogue with a cat who uses signs to communicate, or the laziness of this feline forever yearning to nap, Underwood’s got it all here when Cat is called in to substitute for Ms. Melba at Kitty School. The only problem is that Cat hasn’t a clue what to do first. When he approaches teaching with his own Cat brand of humor and zeal, there’s no holding him or the kitties back causing quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. What will Ms. Melba find upon her return from the doctor? Why, a very clean classroom, a confident Cat and happy kitties of course. Just don’t open the closet Ms. Melba! Fans of Underwood’s humor and Rueda’s low-key spot on artwork will not be disappointed in this Publishers Weekly starred picture book. Oh and don’t miss the opening illustrations before the title page.
Written by Nikki Ehrlich
Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(HarperCollins; $15.99, Ages 4-8)
Starting Kindergarten can be scary for most kids, but what happens if you’re a twin? In Twindergarten, author Ehrlich, a mom of twins, tackles the topic gently and thoughtfully, touching on the many issues twins might experience being separated at school for the first time. Though Zoe and Dax are as close as peanut butter and jelly at home, they wonder how they’ll cope being in different classes during the day. They soon learn that Kindergarten is not only fun, it’s a place where they can make new friends, try new things and still see each other during recess. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. Debut illustrator Abbott puts the emphasis on the main characters clothed in darker outfits in her illustrations making it easy to zoom in how Zoe and Dax are interacting with their environment. Not only for twins, Twindergarten shows the rewards of attending school and how children can be separated from siblings or friends and still thrive.
Don’t Go to School!
Written by Máire Zepf
Illustrated by Tarsila Krüse
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4+)
How enjoyable it was to read this clever spin on a back-to-school book. In Don’t Go to School, it’s young Benno who’s excited to leave while his mom wants him to remain at home. “Don’t go to school!” she wailed. And I laughed! The humor was not lost on me since I could relate to the mother in this lovingly illustrated picture book. I think there are lots of parents, like me, who have experienced separation anxiety when sending their child off on the new adventure and life stage that is attending school. Mommy is encouraged by Benno using language much like a parent would to reassure their new student. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” said Benno. “You’ll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice!” Zepf is clearly familiar with first day jitters and her tantrum scene may ring a bell with others, only this time it’s Mommy who’s lost it. My favorite part of the story is when Benno takes some of his own kisses and tucks them in his mother’s pocket so she can feel his love even when they’re apart. This comforting story will empower youngsters while also providing tips on adjusting to the big change in their lives.
(THE SELECTION SERIES #5)
by Kiera Cass
(HarperTeen; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)
Since Kiera Cass’ The Heir left off on a heart-wrenching cliffhanger, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the next and final installment of The Selection series, The Crown. Princess Eadlyn faces the fear of possibly losing her mother, while having to step into very large and heavy shoes in the absence of her parents. As Maxon stays glued by his ailing wife’s side, Eadlyn must fill the role of both King and Queen while also continuing her Selection for the sake of her parents and her country. Eadlyn must also provide comfort for her younger brothers all on her own, as they are all still mourning the departure of Eadlyn’s twin brother, Ahren, after his surprise elopement to France. While the situation is extremely daunting, Eadlyn takes on these challenges, following in the strength of her mother, and blossoms into the woman she was always meant to be. She still struggles with whether love is actually possible for her, ever comparing it to the truest and deepest love her parents share, but she must find a way to do what’s right for herself, her family, and her people.
I recommend rereading the last few chapters of The Heir before reading The Crown to remember all the Selection candidates and Eadlyn’s feelings for each one. It reintegrated me back into the palace and Eadlyn’s life, allowing me to be wholly invested in her once again. I waited an entire year to read this book, and Kiera Cass did not disappoint. She gave me everything I wanted in an ending and allowed me, as a devoted reader, to lovingly say goodbye to these characters. I’m sad it’s over and will likely read the entire series again, just to experience it one more time.